Kashmir: Lives of Women in a Conflict Zone and Major Interventions for their Empowerment

Mughal Emperor Jahangir once quoted “Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” to describe Kashmir, the Switzerland of India. That means if there is anywhere paradise on earth, it is here. Indeed, this valley on the lap of the magnificent Himalayas is a piece of heaven on earth. A valley between the Great Himalayan range and the Pir Panjal mountain range, Kashmir is a place of beautiful simplicity and pristine natural beautyKashmir is painted with a unique culture that keeps you intrigued throughout your journey, from Srinagar to Sonamarg and Gulmarg to Pahalgam. The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir came into being in 1846 after the First Anglo-Sikh War…………………………………………………………………… Thus Gulab Singh became the Maharaja of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, founding a new Dogra Dynasty. The Treaty of Amritsar continues to be widely regarded by the Kashmiris as a “sale deed“.

Islam is the major religion practiced in Kashmir, with 97.16% of the region’s population identifying as Muslims, as of 2014. Islam came to the region with the influx of Muslim Sufis preachers from Central Asia and Persia, beginning the early 14th century. The State of J&K is divided into three provinces Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Jammu known as the ‘City of temples’ is famous for its beautiful temples and also aromatic Basmati rice. The Vaishno Devi shrine located on the beautiful Trikuta hills is the center of attraction.

Kashmiri, which is an Indo-Aryan language, is also known as Koshur. People living in  Kashmir Valley speak Kashmiri. People living in Ladakh speak Ladakhi, whereas people in Jammu mostly speak Dogri. Hindi is mostly spoken by the Kashmiri Pandits and the Gujjar people of the state. One of the most important parts of the cultural identity of the Kashmiri people is the Kashmiri (Koshur) language. This language is spoken only in the Valley of Kashmir by the Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. Besides language, Kashmir is also famous for wazwan. Wazwan is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. Almost all the dishes are meat-based using lamb or chicken with few vegetarian dishes and culture has been greatly influenced by Central Asian and Persian culture.

Pakistan claims Kashmir based on its majority Muslim population, whereas China claims the Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin. The Kashmir conflict is a territorial conflict primarily between India and Pakistan, having started just after the partition of India in 1947 India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, including the Indo-Pakistani Wars of 1947 and 1965, as well as the Kargil War of 1999. Although thousands of people have died as a result of the turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir, the conflict has become less deadly in recent years. Protest movements created to voice Kashmir’s disputes and grievances with the Indian government, specifically the Indian Military, have been active in jammu and kashmir since 1989. Elections held in 2008 were generally regarded as fair by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and had a high voter turnout in spite of calls by separatist militants for a boycott. The election resulted in the creation of the pro-India Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, which then formed a government in the state. According to Voice of America, many analysts have interpreted the high voter turnout in this election as a sign that the people of Kashmir endorsed Indian rule in the state. But in 2010 unrest erupted after analleged encounter of local youth with the security force. Thousands of youths pelted security forces with rocks, burned government offices and attacked railway stations and official vehicles in steadily intensifying violence. The Indian government blamed separatists and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group for stoking the 2010 protests. However, without going into deep political fabric, the focus here is on the lives of women in the conflict zone and interventions for their empowerment.

An old saying “only things straight in kashmir are poplar trees“. Specially after the period of 1990s due to onset of militancy in the valley the biggest victims have been women. Kashmir, as rest of India (except a few north-eastern States or a few selected south Indian communities) have been a deeply rooted patriarchal society, women and issues related to their empowerment have been rarely discussed in the media, amongst political and diplomatic agenda. Women are the worst sufferers of the long pending kashmir conflict. They are sufferers of rape, molestation cases, enforced disappearances and the number of half widows, half orphans. Violence has badly affected them physically, psychologically, socially and economically. To conclude, the lives of kashmiri women have been deeply rooted in Kashmiri culture, their resilience amongst decades of suffering within the world’s highest ranked conflict zone has been remarkable.

One of the main reason for women suffering in the valley is patriarchal society resulting in stereotype mentality, gender discrimination, observing woman as a object and in that sense valley is no different from rest of the India, ironically women in valley are destined to face more victimization as natives of a hardened conflict zone. The State and Central Government both need to rethink the plights of women in the valley and come forward to address our concerns with appropriate policy decisions. The Governments have already taken some major interventions for empowerment of women in the valley but that is not sufficient enough. Resilience and empowerment is interrelated. Forced and acquired resilience is a long debate but understable. Empowerment enhances resilience, and empowerment needs internal and external support both. Women of the valley are resilient but more because of inherent hardship being faced by them rather than measures taken by the system for their empowerment.


Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK): The State Women Development Corporation has been declared as the channelizing agency of Rashtriya Mahila Kosh for the women in J&K State. This is also a centrally sponsored loan scheme. Under this scheme, micro loans are provided to the poorest of the poor women of the target group, i.e. those below the poverty level at an interest rate of 9.5 percent as against an interest rate of 8 per cent charged by Rashtriya Mahila Kosh.

The corporation could charge interest at 12 per cent per annum from the beneficiaries but keeping in view the economic condition of the poor women artisans of the state; the Board of Directors has fixed the same at 9.5 per cent. During the year 2002-03, the corporation proposed to lift and disburse an amount of Rs. 10.00 lakh to cover sixty women. An amount of Rs. 0.50 lakh needs to be earmarked as monitoring charges. Why 8 or 9.5 percent interest rate (almost equal to a housing loan in urban India) to be taken from the poorest of poor females, who have been victims of the conflict zone and have supported societal fabric beyond all adversities.

National backward class finance and development corporation (NBCFDC): This is also a centrally sponsored loaning scheme wherein the loans are being lifted from the apex corporation, viz., National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation for assistance to the women of the backward and other classes. An amount of Rs.1 crore stands allocated to J&K Women’s Development Corporation during the year 2002-2003; the corporation intends to lift the said amount as the case for government guarantee is under process in the administrative department. For this purpose an amount of Rs.10.00 lakh (10 percent contribution) will have to be earmarked. The corporation has also released an amount of Rs. 5 lakh under the micro financing scheme. The amount is to be disbursed through NGOs.

Swayam Sidha women empowerment programme (SWEP): The J&K State Women’s Development Corporation has been appointed as a nodal agency by the administrative department, viz., Social Welfare Department Government of Jammu and Kashmir to implement the scheme of Swayam Sidha Women Empowerment Programme (SWEP) in J&K. It is an integrated scheme for women’s empowerment and is basically designed for formation of women into Self Help Groups (SHGs) wherein awareness and confidence will be generated in them both economically and socially regarding their status, health, nutrition, education, sanitation, legal rights, upliftment, control over resources, saving habits, access to micro credit, involvement in local-level planning, etc.

The women of the valley have become resilient and have learned to live with their destiny preserving the culture and traditions of Kashmir. After decades of suffering in a conflict zone the old generation has adapted to  it but at the same time they fear for the next generation. Women are the pillars of social fabric the Government needs to focus towards education of girl child, health issues, especially mental health issues of women. If the government has any mechanism they need to measure PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) rate amongst the women of the valley. I stress the results will be striking, beyond imagination. Incentive based skill development programmes especially designed for women with no interest or very low interest rates are yet another very important way of empowerment. With educational, health and economic empowerment, legal and psychosocial counselling aligned with campaigns against stereotype patriarchal mentality can change the future of the valley.

Ms. Gianna Gancia, Member of European Parliament

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