Independent India, over the decades, saw a revolution in the way an average Indian woman was perceived in the society. But the same change did not take place in Kashmir. By the time of onset of militancy in 1989, the women of Kashmir suffered and their empowerment saw a steady decline.
Islamic terrorism which spread widely in the Kashmir Valley and beyond had a huge role to play in this decline.
It is an accepted fact worldwide that Islamic terrorism abhors empowerment of women. In Kashmiri society, women fell prey to the spread of illiteracy, segregation, and loss of individuality. In their social life, they were subjected to lack of freedom to pursue their aspirations and dreams. Their role was restricted to household work and menial jobs. In the traditional sphere, they are always considered inferior to the male supremacy. They were forced to remain under the shadow of the men in their households, their initiatives to become independent were arrested and their opportunities to develop their individual personality were closed. The social discrimination women had to face by virtue of their gender was a catastrophe created by the radical minds of extremists in the Valley.
There have been multiple instances where militants have tried to suppress women who were bold enough to aspire for a better future. They have used force and violence to either threaten or even kill women who were a source of motivation to young girls of Kashmir. In January 2011, two sisters Arifa and Akhtar from Sopore were shot dead by LeT militants for working as informants only because they had a mobile phone in their hand. The two girls were poor and helped their parents in running their household. The killing was targeted to inflict fear among the girls of Kashmir and to prevent them from aligning with the security forces.
Pragaash, the only girls’ rock band of Kashmir was another tragic story where they were forced to quit as they received threats of death, rape, and physical harm. Islamic scholars accused them of breaking the code of Islam by singing songs. The Grand Mufti even made a public criticism of the band of ‘indecent behavior’ and went on to describe the soulful performance of the band at Battle of Bands, Srinagar, as the ‘first step towards the destruction of Muslim society’. The band had received huge support online globally due to its performance.
On 16 April 2019, Khushboo Jan, Special Police Officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Police was shot dead at close range near her house at around 1440 hours at Vehil village of Shopian District. The incident was a reminder from the terrorist group about the fate of women who wish to pursue a career and move ahead in life.
These incidents are just a few from many more such examples from Kashmir. Numerous cases of domestic violence and rape by militants and extremists have gone unheard in the Valley for decades.
After decades of suppression, Kashmiri women started realising the unfair treatment they had received from the society as well as their households.
The media and policies of government have motivated Kashmiri women to pursue a career and come out of the delusion created by Islamic extremists in the minds of people. Initiatives by authorities to improve the educational standards of girls have started reaping fruits. The upper-class Muslim women and the Kashmiri Pundits responded positively and were greatly benefited by government policies. This gradually spread to rural areas and is gaining value in Kashmiri households. The radical ideology of restricting the educational aspirations of girls, being spread by militants and extremists holds no ground these days.
The abrogation of Article 370 was a turning point in the empowerment of women in Kashmir. The newly formed union territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is benefitted from various policies of the Central government which have been successfully implemented in the other states. The Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya scheme, Sakhshat Bharat Mission Programme, Beti Bachao Beti Padao, Mid-Day Meal schemes are focussed on the promotion of girls’ education, offering equal opportunities and removal of gender disparities.
Since the UT administration falls directly under the Central Government, the stress on social and economic upliftment of women in J&K has become a priority for the government. Women will be provided with better job opportunities in government and public offices. Government policies for women empowerment such as Ujjwala Yojana that aim to provide smokeless houses, toilets, and better sanitation facilities under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are milestones to maintain the dignity of women in the households. Mudra and Jan Dhan schemes are aimed at bringing economic stability and entrepreneurial opportunities to the women.
The girls in Kashmir are receiving quality education. The freedom they deserve to grab opportunities for a successful life are gradually coming their way. A change is required within the women to understand their importance in the society. They should not be carried away by radical religious ideologies preventing women from spreading their wings in the outside world.
Opportunities in India for women have increased manifold and their active participation and willingness to participate needs to be promoted by the people and authorities in Kashmir alike. Girls in Kashmir should try to broaden their horizons of knowledge about women power in the world today. Successful women who are leading various nations, companies, organisations, or corporates in the world should be their role models. The positive impact they can have in India and its economy is immense, provided they are nurtured in the right manner..