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Kashmiri women on forefront

Friday, February 3, 2017
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The saga of their heroic tales is an inalienable part of the resistance movement of Kashmir- a grand narrative of courage, resilience, and determination’ 
By Z. G. Muhammad 
In South Asia men, out of share bravado often use the phrase, ‘we are not wearing bangles.’ Interestingly, even top generals often use this phrase for sending a terse message to the enemy country that we are not as weak and breakable as women. This South Asian phrase is comparable to the famous soliloquy of protagonist in Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’ that depicts women in a negative context as frail beings weak in a character who fail to rise to the occasion and fight adverse situations with fortitude and courage. 

Women of Kashmir have long before belied these medieval patriarchal and Elizabethan ideas by not only standing by the side of men but also being in the vanguard of the resistance movement. From the early twentieth century to the twenty-first century (2016) they have added one after another derring-do story to our history. The saga of their heroic tales is an inalienable part of the resistance movement of Kashmir- a grand narrative of courage, resilience, and determination.  

In early spring of 1924, we see women of Kashmir for the first time directly involved in the freedom struggle in the frontline.  In July 1924, the labourers of the Srinagar Silk Factory exclusively owned by the government rose against the discriminatory wage policy and corruption.  The factory despite making huge profits paid the paltry wage of 4.5 Annas per day to the Muslim workers not sufficient to meet their daily requirements. The official who enjoyed patronage from their co-religionists even pocketed a part of their hard earned wages causing a lot of resentment in the workers. The resentment had thrown a rubicund young man popularly called as leader of the silk factory workers. He along with some other comrades was arrested. To express solidarity with their leaders and demand workers of the silk factory workers held a massive demonstration. Thousands of women all over the city bidding adieu to their hearth and home joined protesting men to raise their voices against the bigoted and discriminatory rule of the Maharaja. Large contingents of cavalry armed to the teeth with bayonets and spears led by Raja Hari Singh used brute force against the demonstrators without discrimination. The injured included scores of women- young and old. From the place of happening women also shifted many injured men to places of safety and looked after them. The same year, just after a couple of months thousand of women joined men on the Jhelum banks to protest against the Viceroy of India, Lord Reading. From every ghat, both men and women in symphony raised slogans for justice, fair play and against discrimination when a majestic boat of Lord Reading passed through it.

In 1931, women of Kashmir had graduated to the next level of political consciousness. This awareness was first manifested when Muslims of Kashmir had to select seven representatives for meeting the Maharaja with their list of demands. In a crowd of fifty thousand people that had gathered on the lawns of Khanqah-I-Moula for this major political event- the first step towards freedom struggle women comprised about thirty percent. The women did not join the movement just to clap their hands in approbation of the young leadership that had challenged the mighty but as participants.  On number of occasion Women took exclusive protest rallies like one in protest against army killing three persons outside Jamia Masjid in last week of September. Near Gow Kadal, police and mounted soldiers lath charged women procession injuring many of them. In 1931, when the Dogra army waylaid men with impunity women were not spared. Historians have recorded names of some women martyrs including Sajadia Begum 25, Shopian, - a pregnant woman   shot from close range. Jana Begum 35, Nowshahra, Pheezi of Maisuma and Freechi of Baramulla. Freechi in an expression of courage and resentment had fired a Kangri on the face of a Police Officer in Baramulla town during a women procession disfiguring him permanently.  Many women were jailed. C. Bilqees Taseer wife of M.D. Taseer has documented the story of one of the women volunteer’s writes she was arrested nine times during the Dogra rule. 

Women of Kashmir did not only partake in the resistance movement during the Dogra rule but after 1947 also raised the voice of dissent along with men of courage against Sheikh Abdullah’s political decision. The role of Nasira Sidiq an intelligent women in 1947 outshines that of many a Muslim Conference leaders.   Despite suffering a bullet injury, she worked relentlessly perused her political objective at the grassroots levels all over Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah and his government made all out efforts to prevent dissenting voices from meetings the members of the UNCIP on their arrival in Srinagar. Two ladies Begum Birjis, Inspector Schools and Begum Masrat and fifteen students were arrested. The two ladies had drafted a detailed memorandum highlighting how the government had suppressed the genuine public voice. The two ladies were first put in the Central Jail then shifted to Jammu jail. The Commission members on learning about the detention of the two ladies insisted on visiting Jammu jail. From Jammu jail, they were shifted to the Bahu Fort. In 1965, we saw lots of women dissenting voices marches to the United Nations Military Observers Office at Srinagar and presenting a memorandum to General Nimmo. Some of the women students had the potential of emerging as the resistance but for the then leadership close-mind and women activists not showing adequate resolve. 

For past twenty-six years, women of Kashmir on a daily basis have been en masse adding pages of sacrifices and courage to the history of the land. The story of thousands of mothers, who lost their dear ones has no parallel in our two hundred years struggle for freedom and dignity.  Some women activists despite suffering prolonged detentions and unprecedented persecution have refused to compromise their cause and submit to the mighty. It will take volumes to document the saga of sufferings, courage, and determination of Kashmiri women. 

Source: Greater Kashmir