Ever since the Indian occupation, Kashmiris are forced to engage in a continuous battle for their rights. After every barbaric incident where human integrity is ruthlessly desecrated, the Valley erupts into infinite protests, sit-ins, gunshots, shrieks and illegal detentions. The turmoil has negatively affected women folk of the Valley in more than one way. Unending curfews have been a hurdle in providing timely medical assistance to the sick and needy and living under continuous fear of raids, search operations and illegal arrests have impacted their mental health tremendously. According to recent reports published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, 1.8 million Kashmiri adults suffer from mental distress 93%, 70% of adults have experienced or witnessed violent death, 50% of women and 37% of men are likely to suffer from depression, 36% of women and 21% of men have a probable anxiety disorder’ and 22% of women and 18% percent of men suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Lack of appropriate medical care and counseling is further aggravating the mental health of Kashmiri women. Half of Kashmiri women are categorized as ‘half-widows’ for they remain oblivious about the whereabouts of their husbands. In order to break the societal spirit, Indian forces have employed sexual violence against Kashmiri women, a grave heinous act that often goes unreported. India’s cruelties have been a strong factor in blazing the desire for independence in Kashmiris and transforming it into a full-fledged movement.
India, with the sole intention of crushing nationalist sentiments and morale of Kashmiri community, started illegal arrests and kidnapping of Kashmiri men. Women who were left behind have had no choice but to appear at the forefront and take it upon themselves to keep nationalist sentiments alight and to fight for their men who are illegally detained.
Kashmiri women have fought the freedom fight in the background by providing medical aid, protection in houses and by delivering messages. On the forefront, they have rallied, protested, sometimes even engaged in minor combats against their tyrant oppressors, such as pelting stones, pushing them away from their loved ones when they illegally enter a house to conduct arrests and search operations.
Since, the Shahadat of Burhan Wani the sight of women on streets, protesting, raising slogans has become common. These women march under the umbrella of a pro-freedom organization Dukhtaran-e-Millat, which advocates Kashmir's liberation from India and works for the establishment of an Islamic social and political system in Kashmir. This organization that works tirelessly for the cause of freedom was formed in 1987 by Asiya Andrabi.
Andrabi has been fighting on the political forefront for a long time. She has been vocal against Indian forces and the atrocities conducted by them, particularly against women. She delivered sermons and educated and evoked passion for freedom in desolate and depressed young women of Kashmir. She inspired them to unite and organize themselves and fight for their rights. She trained local young women to resist, fight and defend themselves against heinous attacks of the occupying forces. For this, she has suffered gravely. Her husband was arrested and tortured. He is reported to have been in jail for over 27 years, his physical and mental health is deteriorating swiftly, but the nationalist spark alight in his heart and hope of an independent future is still ripe in his mind.
Asiya, herself has been behind bars for over two years. She has faced innumerable detentions and torture by Indian forces over the years. Her family had to flee for their life and had to settle in Pakistan and other countries. She was charged and arrested for stirring insurgency on August 28, 2010, by the Indian authorities. She was arrested again on the charges of waving the Pakistani flag and supporting Pakistan out in the open on September 17, 2015. In July 2018, she was accused and arrested on charges of sedition along with her associates Sofi Fahmeeda and Naheeda Nasreen. Currently, Asiya Andrabi and others remain in Indian custody, locked behind bars in Tihar Jail. In August 2020, she was shifted to the punishment ward and suffered forced labour and torture at the hands of her detainers. In an interview her son said, “I saw my mother weeks before she was shifted to Tihar Jail from Srinagar. Her health was not good even at that time.”
Pakistan, on several occasions and forums, has vehemently protested against her detention and demanded her release at the earliest. In January 2021, Pakistan implored UN for her release, and that she be provided the right of fair trial and given protection. According to Pakistan’s foreign Ministry statement in January 2021, “India’s blatant attempts to portray the legitimate Kashmiri struggle as ‘terrorism’, and to prosecute its leaders through concocted cases, is a clear violation of the UN Charter, UN Security Council and UN General Assembly resolutions, and international human rights and humanitarian law.”
Another Kashmiri activist Anjum Zarmad Habib, a Hurriyat member was unjustly incarcerated and was thrown into Tihar Jail for five years. Her horrific experiences are detailed in her book, Prisoner No.100.
As the calls for freedom have become more profound, so have India’s attempts to crush the resistance. Among the many tactics, one of the most common is ‘enforced disappearances’. Millions of Kashmiri women have lost track of their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands as a result. One woman, who through her struggle has brought this notice to the world, is Parveena Ahangar, known as the ‘Iron Lady of Kashmir’. She founded the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in 1994. The organization not only aims to provide moral and emotional support to the families of missing persons but also tries to locate the missing persons. According to an estimate, 8000-10,000 cases of enforced disappearances are pending. Parveena started working on the cause after her son was forcefully taken, never to return, without leaving a trace. For her services, she has received numerous threats and faced detentions but she continues undeterred.
Countless other women, whose names remain a mystery to the mainstream media have worked towards the goal of Kashmiri freedom and on several forums protested against the tyrannical oppression of the Indian state by taking to the streets, by raising slogans, by marching, by using pen or by simple wiping of tears of their Kashmiri sister. Women, drawing inspiration from their sufferings hope for a better future for generations to come. They continue to resist and live a life of struggle. The fact that the independence struggle continues even after the infinite arrests and murder of separatist leaders proves that India might be able to extinguish the flame of a few lives, but Kashmir will be free because Kashmirs’ freedom is not just an idea, it is a roar and one day it will burn the chains of oppression.HH
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