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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Power of "Shakti" in Kashmir

Imtiyaz discusses how Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon left an indelible imprint of feminine sensibility on the Kashmiri literary world

(Mr. Imtiyaz Ahmad Aafreen, 25, was born in Kanir Chadura, Badgam. He completed his schooling from the Government Higher Secondary School in Zoohama, and graduted from the Amar Singh College, Srinaar. He has received the following degrees: M.A.(English), M.Phil and B.Ed from the Universiy of Kashmir. He teaches English at the Government Higher Secondary School Surasyar.H as received several inter-college awardfs in various debate seminars and essay competiions. His interests are literature, Sufism and oter spiritua philosophies, and ejoys writing poetr and exploring nature. He wites under the pen name, Mir Imtiyaz Aafreen.)

Kashmir Women and Feminism

The term feminism can be used to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. Feminism involves political, cultural and sociological theories, as well as philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference. Feminist criticism is a development and movement in critical theory and in the evaluation of literature which has well underway by the late 1960s and has burgeoned steadily since. It was an attempt to describe and interpret (and reinterpret) woman’s experience as depicted in various kinds of literature. Feminism questions the dominant male phallocentric ideology, patriarchal attitudes and male interpretations of literature, male ideas about how women feel act and think. Thus questions numerous prejudices and assumptions about women projected by male writers. Feminism boils down to a sensibility which advocates social, cultural and economic emancipation of woman.

Feminist discourse is multi-dimensional. Western feminism seeks to reinterpret literature against established patriarchal tradition; an Indian feminist has to dislodge first the patriarchal, then colonial and lastly the cultural prejudices. The Indian feminist has to focus on women’s psychology, which is, religio-cultural. Western feminism is rooted in individualism but Indian woman seeks to validate herself within the family and social structures.

As far as Kashmir is concerned, the historical narratives from the early times down to the 13th century glorify women. Several queens acted as sovereigns in their own right and as queen-regents or commanders of armies in ancient times. However a close look at the narratives reveals the inbuilt discrimination and biases against women. There is no way to justify them. Yet, the worst followed during the middle ages under the rule of Mughals and Afghans. Both men and women in the valley were traumatized. However, women being more vulnerable became commodities and objects of lust. Humiliated and terrorized, they lost their voices and were driven to seclusion. Women have generally been projected as “devoted”, “self-sacrificing” and yet devoid of thinking or making decisions. Feminism, as a well organized movement, is yet to take its roots in Kashmir, thus feminism has not really the subject-matter of Kashmiri poetry.

Nonetheless, the spirit of womanhood resurfaced in the poetic expressions of legendary poets like Lal Ded, Habba Khatoon and others. Their verses enlivened many gloomy lives. Both, Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon, were victims of patriarchal oppression. Their poetry heralds the emergence of a female voice in the galaxy of male poets of Kashmiri language. Lal Ded’s indomitable spirit and profound creativity were too expansive to be encased in the outmoded familial and societal structures. The proverbial ‘neelvathh’ (Blackstone) that her heartless mother-in–law covered with thin layers of boiled rice to look a huge mound, became a metaphor for oppressed Kashmiri womanhood. She called it a day and chose the life of a wandering ascetic, a course seldom charted by women in the middle ages.

Lalla, tormented and intimidated by her in-laws tried to free herself from the patriarchal bondage, undertook a spiritual odyssey for the realization of the inner truth and transformed her feminine selfhood, capable of exploring the spiritual and philosophical dimensions of life. She destabilizes the patriarchal society by challenging its rotten and decadent mindset. She reaches a spiritual state where the discrimination on the basis of colour, creed and gender is dissolved and the concept of Unity of Being emerges from the deep recesses of human heart.

When my mind was cleansed of impurities, like a mirror of its dust and dirt,
I recognized the Self in me:
When I saw Him dwelling in me,
I realized that He was the Everything and I was nothing.

Habba Khatoon’s poignant rendering of her longing for the paternal home, her melodious response to inflictions laid upon her by her in- laws can be reinterpreted from a feminist point of view.

“O maternal home! Come for my rescue
For I left my home to fill the pitcher
On the way it broke
Either come up with a new one or give its price
The fanciful childhood got eclipsed
I am not strong enough to cross the heights”

Her expression of feminine self and the persistent ability to endure the torments of the patriarchal system offers a kind of active resistance. Her poetry became a rhythmic refrain for the Kashmiri women victimized by the patriarchal system. In her poetry, she gives a lyrical expression to compassionate and love-sick female self and voices her perpetual longing for love.

Have you seen that one who dazzles?
Look Upon him!
A sleepless stream in search of him I run,
And like a restless brook.
In far off woods, like a lonely pine I stood
Till he appeared,
My woodcutter, and came to cut the wood.
His fire I feared,
Yet though he burn my logs, behold I shine!

The poetry of Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon suggests how the rosy narratives of the ancient historians overlooked the internal dynamics of patriarchal and hierarchical Kashmiri society. Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon made Kashmiri women proud as they left the imprints of the Kashmiri feminine sensibility on the everlasting map of literature.

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