A case of alleged harassment confronted by a European traveler in Srinagar prodded me to write this letter to the women of Kashmir. Although, to limit it to certain geography would be an injustice owing to the fact that challenges I am going to discuss are faced by women worldwide in their day to day life. I have women friends in Kashmir who keep talking about sexual harassment they have to face in public and private places just as they go about their business every day. Most of them do not make much noise about it, but unfortunately, as behavioural science suggests, keeping such behaviour under wraps not only emboldens the predator but it also has profound impact on the psyche of the victim. On one hand, while there are scores of studies and research work done on documenting the excesses done by Indian army and paramilitary forces in Kashmir, I see a general sense of denial about the rapidly increasing cases of molestation and rape in the valley at the hands of fellow Kashmiris.
In the Year 2014, National Crime Records Bureau has registered more than 3300 cases of crime against women across J&K, most of which are cases of rape and sexual harassment. In my opinion, this number is just the tip of the iceberg. In our society, where the women are almost always referred to as the honour of the family, reportage on cases of sexual violence is often meagre.
As a human being, I implore you to question this regressive belief system that associates the honour of a woman with her physiology while that of her male counterpart with his conduct.
If there are two major issues our society has totally faltered in comprehending, they are corruption and women’s rights. Indian judiciary has again denied recognizing marital rape as a criminal offence because it opines that the institution of marriage is sacrament in nature. Marriage in India, unfortunately, owing to this inherently demeaning court judgment, has become a license to rape.
Your marriage and the very institution of marriage will not rest only on your shoulders. Marriage, like every other institution in the society, is deeply flawed and is loaded against women. Never sacrifice your self-esteem and aspirations to keep the citadels of your marriage intact. Marriage is a contract of two mutually consenting adults who not only agree to share the bed but also the workload that comes along with it. The second part of the sentence, I am afraid, will have to be enforced by you in your marriage. Fortunately, inspiration to do household chores for Muslim men comes from the man they revere the most: Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In Sahih Al Bukhari Hazrat Aisha is quoted to have seen the Prophet sweep the house, milk the animals, and bring supplies for the house.
Says Bertrand Russell: “Marriage is for women the commonest mode of livelihood and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution.” Marriage, as clearly stated by the great philosopher, is an institution which still largely provides for the livelihood of a large percentage of women in India. To liberate oneself from the clutches of dependence, the easiest way is to work to earn a living. You would be surprised to see the change in the perspective of people around you once you work to earn a living for yourself and your family.
World in reality is a large men’s exclusive club. I don’t expect us to democratize it by inviting women to be an equal participant. As my Professor of Finance, Denise Naylor, would say: “Women, invite yourselves.”
The battle for gender equality is an important part of the larger struggle of equality globally. This is going to be a protracted battle which will begin at home and upset some of the people who you hold dear to you. But, if not for you, at least, for the generations of women coming after you, it is important that we leave a world with greater degree of freedom and equality.
On social media, I see quite a few men developing into fair weather feminists. It’s hilarious to see them unravel themselves when the odds are stuck against them. Men are too steeped into male privilege to be feminists (I include myself in this). Religious doctrines and books that are quoted to justify misogyny in modern world are masculine constructs. To forward some examples, in Bhagvat Gita, a male form of God delivers sermon to another man who was under turmoil about picking up arms against his own relatives. In Ramayana, Lord Rama made his wife undergo a trial by fire to prove her chastity as she was kidnapped and held hostage by another man. New Testament records four gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authentic proclamations recording the life and teachings of Jesus. None of these gospels are by a woman. In Sharia, the book of Islamic jurisprudence one has to look at the number of hadiths contributed by women (other than Prophet’s last wife Aisha), which remains either abysmally low or conspicuously absent.
So while these books/doctrines are detailed in describing the appropriate behaviour of women in society and in domesticity, there is hardly any religious theology which is feminine in nature. In a society which is organized and run by these principles, the status of women would always remain secondary.
Last two decades have witnessed a surge in dialogue around women empowerment and gender issues globally. I remember in a biographical film on ex-cop Kiran bedi, her father talks about how he raised his daughters like sons. My mother, on the contrary, raised me like a daughter. She taught me to cook, made me do the laundry, cleaning and other domestic chores. She enforced a strict regimen in the house: the one who works gets the food. She made me understand the value of love and the importance to treat others with sensitivity.
It is heartening to see the resurgence of the female agency in the world; it is imperative that women tell their own stories to counter the centuries of patriarchal template set in our society. Yet this is going to be a painful and protracted war. Moments of helplessness and despair remind you of this beautiful nazm by Kishwar Naheed:
Yeh hum gunahgaar auratein hain
Jo ahl e Jubba ki tamkanat se
Na roab khayen
Na jaan bechein
Na sarr jhukayein
Na haath jodein
It is we sacrilegious women
Who by the pomp of the clergy
Dont feel overawed
Don’t trade our life
Neither bow our heads
Nor beg for mercy