Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Prominent Women's Rights Scholar Highlights Structural Inequalities by Which Women are Deprived of Their Rights

Hameeda Nayeem writes on the status of Kashmiri women at present.

(Dr. Hameeda Banu, 40+, was born in Tral, now in Pulwama district. She received her primary and secondary education in Tral and completed her college education in the Government Women's College, Srinagar. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Kashmir, and has been teaching in the Department of English at the University for the past 17 years. She is an excellent orator and an internationally travelled human rights activist. Her personal interests include campaigning for women's rights, global peace, interfaith dialogue, philosophy, psychology, literature, history and religious studies.)

Where are Kashmiri women today?

On behalf of the Asian Women''s Commision and Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies, I am highly elated and elevated to welcome you all this morning to a one day seminar on violence against women on the eve of the International Women's Day. However to cut the cackle and come to horses, let me straightaway come to the topic.

On the occasion of Women’s International Day, one can’t but begin by assessing how much progress women’s empowerment has made in terms of education, in terms of economic empowerment, in terms of socio-political empowerment and on top of all, in terms of human empowerment. Because empowerment is a multifaceted, multi-dimensional and multi-layered concept. It is not mere economic empowerment as is generally understood in our context. It is rather the action and reaction of various factors – physical, mental, socio-political, economic, psychological, attitudinal and so on. It could be described as a process in which women gain greater share of control over resources – material, human and intellectual - like knowledge, information, ideas; financial resources like money and property and control or equal share in decision-making in the home, community and society and nation to gain ‘power’. It means giving voice to the voiceless. The term has come to be associated with women’s struggle for social justice and equality. It refers to a range of activities from individual self-assertion to collective resistance, protest and mobilization that challenge basic power relations. To have power is being listened to, being recognized and respected as equal human beings with a capacity to make contribution to the society.

While we can take some satisfaction from the progress of women’s education and also from the availability of equal opportunities to women for economic empowerment, there is a grey area so far as her human empowerment is concerned.

The structural inequality by which women are subjected to systematic injustice and violence has not been addressed to so far. The never fully articulated invisible assumptions by which a society has been operating have not been changed. These invisible false assumptions of a patriarchal structure of society are the main culprits. We have not yet deconstructed the cultural constructions of gender by which women are objectified and turned into worthless, powerless, invisible victims of violence.

In the estimate of a common person, women are not only to be used for sexual gratification but a constant mastery has to be maintained over them by men and the patriarchal families by the use of physical, emotional and psychological violence. Unless the mindset – its thoughts and perceptions that shape individual and collective beliefs, values and attitudes – ways of perceiving thinking, feeling and analyzing undergo a correction, a positive change human empowerment of women is not possible. It needs an immediate co-ordinated response from academia, media, intelligentsia and the civil society at large to fight this menace and to change the mindset and ideology that tolerates and perpetrates violence against women. Violence against women has been paradoxically on the rise ever since the process of her ‘empowerment’ began with modernization and now coupled with Globalization.

While conflict situations, communal tensions, ethnic deprivations and colonial situations have completely objectified women and inflicted indescribable sufferings on them yet there is a need to introspect and turn the gaze inwards to confess that all of us all responsible in varying degrees for the rot within and need to rectify the mindset and the attitudes that perpetrate as well as condone violence in all subtle forms.

The UN General Assembly in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) defines violence against women thus: ‘Any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private’.

This definition encompasses physical sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the general community including battering, sexual abuse of girls and girl child, dowry-related violence, rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional barbarian practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and at the work place and elsewhere; trafficking in women, forced prostitution and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state. It includes patterns of behaviour characterized by the misuse of power and control by one person over another. It can occur in mixed gender – relations and same gender relationships and has profound consequences for the lives of children, individuals, family and communities.

When I cast an impartial glance on my part of the world, I am greatly pained and disturbed to say that all these abuses take place daily in our midst except the female genital mutilation which is the sole ‘prerogative’ of Afro-Arab world.

Domestic violence includes wife-beating, dowry related violence, sexual harassment, sexual abuse of children, verbal taunts, innuendos, insinuations abusive language, emotional and psychological torture and intimidation. The same is true of violence at the work place including discrimination and black mailing. According to recent survey forty thousand marriageable girls could not get a match in Srinagar city alone because they are not economically empowered. The dark side of economic empowerment has been disastrous for women because now they have become saleable commodities.

Leaving for a movement Euro-American women empowerment ideas aside, because western women’s movement and commitment to women’s rights is only a century old. We, who are the proud followers of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) - even though pride is somehow out a place in these - should remember that fourteen hundred years ago, one of the prime movers of Prophet’s mission was to liberate women from the patriarchal tyrannical yoke and reinstate their human status. With him it was an intellectual commitment, a great spiritual yearning actualized through a political movement to seek human justice for women and liberate them from the oppressive effects of male dominated society. He strove to build a just, peaceful and humane social order by bringing women on the equal human plane with men. So much so that he culminated this struggle in his farewell address thus while addressing men: ‘you have rights over your women and your women have rights over you’.

We have only to renew our pledge to the Prophet and through him to God that we will follow Him in letter and spirit and try to eliminate all forms of violence against women and acknowledge their human rights to build a justice humane and peaceful society and show the way to the world in these violent times.

(This paper is based on the speech Dr. Hameeda Nayeem made in the seminar titled Violence Against Women in the Gandhi Bhawan of Kashmir University on 7th March 2008)

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