Reviewer Bani Sodermark. Bani has a Ph.D in mathematical physics and has been a teacher of physics and mathematics at the university level in both India and Sweden. For the last decade, her interests have been spirituality, healthy living and self-development. She has written a number of reviews on Amazon. Bani is a mother to two children.
Author: Freny Manecksha
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Author: Freny Manecksha
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Churning the Kashmir Cauldron
If there is one book that lays bare the story of the ravaged Valley of Kashmir in terms of a long term perspective, it is this book. In it, the author, Freny Maneksha, tells the story of the Kashmiri people through the eyes of its surviving women who have had to pick up the pieces of what is left of their lives and carry on after their menfolk have been arbitrarily abducted away by the armed forces, never to return, their right to do so being legitimized by the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Protection Act). In addition to the abductions of dearly loved ones, they were subjected to enormous physical, mental and even sexual abuse.
Yet despite the intense suffering documented in this book, the message it carries is a positive one. This book shows how the Kashmiri woman manages to emerge a winner, with a redefined identity, in the process, helping others to do so, all this against tremendous odds. It is a paean to the determination and resilience of the Kashmiri women’s spirit, who has to battle against two fronts, the second front, in addition to dealing with the security forces, being the patriarchal norms that govern a society based on misunderstood and obsolete Islamic mores.
To understand the reason behind the agitation in the valley and the insurgency that ensued, the author begins with a brief background as to the historical nature of the conflict. Kashmir was not a part of British India. The kingdom had been offered to a Hindu king, with a perceived anti-Islam bias. When, soon after Partition, Kashmir was attacked by marauding tribesmen trying to take over his kingdom, the king acceded to the Indian state in a bid to save himself. This hurried accession was never accepted by Pakistan and they actively fuelled an uprising of Islamic militants around the late eighties and nineties. The military insurgency was triggered by a series of ill conceived moves by the Central Government spread over decades that made the people feel alienated from the democratic process. The last straw was the holding of elections in the late eighties, that were far from free and fair.
The Indian Government’s response to the uprising was repressive in the extreme. There were enforced disappearances, custodial and extra-judicial killings, torture and even sexual violence. Fear of reprisal for the armed forces was insignificant due to the draconian PSA, which bestowed them with full rights to enter anybody’s property and abduct civilians. The situation was further exacerbated by the presence of surrendered militants, who “unleashed untold savagery on civilians and created distrust and suspicion among people”.
It is within this troubled, unnatural scenario, that the author takes up the issue of the womenfolk of Kashmir, in order to document the changes they underwent as they lived through the agony of being forever separated from their fathers, husbands and children, of being relegated to the status of half-widows who did not know if their husbands were alive, and of their children growing up with deep psychological scars.
At the start of the insurgency, there was a heady sense of euphoria as many young men crossed over the border to military training camps in Pakistan. There was the overwhelming desire to attain the glory of martyrdom in the cause of azadi (freedom). There were even mothers who, despite losing their sons to the conflict, basked in the reflected glory. But this was not the fate of most of Kashmiri women who were raised in the tradition of the famous woman mystic Habba Khatun who transmuted the pristine Kashmiri landscape into her music with words revealing her oneness with Nature. They began to protest. They held protest marches, demonstrations and demanded infiórmation on the fate of their loved ones. Two women are particularly worth mentioning here. One of them is Parveena Ahangar who founded an organization called APDP (Association of Parents of Displaced Persons). This organization created a database of missing persons with photographs and organized sit-ins by mourners with the photos prominently placed.
Another important activist Anjum Zamrud founded an organization called AFKP (Association of Families of Kashmiri Prisoners) who documents the number of custodial killings and prison rights violations of those incarcerated in Kashmiri jails.
“They may physically incarcerate us, but they cannot shackle our minds.”
Another important aspect of the conflict is that Kashmiri women are coming out on the streets, thus going against the decrees of a conservative Islamic society and learning to defend their own selves and their needs. Many also go to shrines of saints, where they can recharge their spirits and find strength to go on with their lives.
There is a great deal more content in this book but to do justice to it all would be outside the scope of this already lengthy review. One last point that the author wishes to convey is the emergence of the modern Kashmiri young woman who refuses to follow any star other than her own. And she knows how to follow her own star.
This book is very well written. It explores very subtle nuances of a society divided between the longing for freedom and democracy and the obsolete dictates of a misunderstood religion.