Kashmiri women speak

A group of Kashmiri women, including a Kashmiri Pandit forced to migrate to Jammu, choose to go calling on the conscience of the rest of India, starting with Mumbai

Eight women from the violence–hit state of Jammu and Kashmir visited Mumbai in late December, bringing tales of deep rupture and brutal violence to its people. “We hope that Mumbai will listen and try to understand what we undergo everyday,” said Naseem Shifai, a Kashmiri poet who was part of the group. Over the next four days, at three intense meetings held in different parts of the city, Mumbaikars tried to do just that.

“Kashmir, once romanticised for it’s beauty, peace and prosperity, is torn apart by the ruptures caused by brutal, everyday violence; our children draw guns and blood and play bunker games,” said Samia, a doctor at a public hospital in Srinagar.

Hospitals do not have sufficient blood, amputation is a severe problem, and children suffer from blindness caused by explosives and explosions. Yet the territorial dispute and the politics of the struggle there drive the images of Kashmir in the rest of India. The people are rarely remembered, their tragedies easily forgotten.

Kashmiri Women — A Time for Listening, was a programme especially undertaken by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation and Sabrang to open communication between the hapless state and the rest of India, beginning with Mumbai. Three separate meetings with different sections of Mumbai’s citizens saw this vibrant group pour out their anguish and plight to an audience that was shaken each time.

At least 30-40,000 widows and as many orphans are crying out for a massive humanitarian drive to help heal the pain of alienation and violence in the Valley. The meetings of the group, which included four social activists, including Nighat Shafi Pandit of HELP, a foundation that runs an orphanage; generated widespread response, especially from the group of Marathi, Hindi and Urdu intellectuals and writers who hosted a meeting through Akshara Publications– resulting in immediate links and offers of assistance.

More importantly, however, it has led to what may result in more enduring links with writers, journalists and artistes making plans to carry regular team visits to the state.
Among the team of eight women from J&K, who were accompanied by Sushobha Barve of the CDR, was Professor Indu Kilam, a Kashmiri Pandit who was forced to leave the valley in 1989, after sections of the militant movement turned distinctly threatening to the Pandit minority.

Living in refugee camps for years until she could obtain a house in Jammu, she still feels utterly alienated in the place that gave her refuge. “I have no address here; no one knows me or recognises me. My parents died in Jammu, heartbroken at what we had left behind. We need to have the strength to put our suffering behind us and forge a new beginning. We have suffered for sure. But the Kashmiri Muslims who stayed there have suffered in a way, much more. We need to make a new beginning.”
More meetings have followed the initiative between different groups from the Valley, elsewhere in the state and the rest of India. One of the thrusts of the campaign is the question: Will India assume moral responsibility for the widows and orphans, survivors of brutal violence? As important is the question whether different sections of the state are willing to dialogue and reconcile their differences?    

Archived from Communalism Combat, January-February 2002 Year 8  No. 75-76, Special Report 2



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