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Hilal Her

Women of Conflict: Life and Struggles of the Women of IIOJK

February 2024

The signing of the instrument of accession by the Sikh Maharaja enabled India to annex the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir against the wishes of its people. The Indian denial of the right of self-determination led the people of the state to engage in a movement to try to ensure this fundamental human right for themselves. However, the Indian handling of the issue has created a conflict in the region that remains unresolved even after over seven-and-a-half decades despite the adoption of Resolution 47 by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1948 and several subsequent resolutions, all endorsing the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people through a free and impartial plebiscite. This ongoing conflict has left the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) to find themselves ensnared and bearing the impact of the conflict.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has published two reports in 2018 and 2019, extensively documenting India’s systemic and flagrant human rights abuses in IIOJK. The reports indict India for its excessive use of force, including pellet gunshots, extrajudicial killings in the garb of so-called cordon and search operations, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture against Kashmiri civilians, journalists as well as political and human rights activists. They further draw particular attention to the persisting climate of impunity enjoyed by the Indian occupation forces under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA).
Martyrdom of over a hundred thousand Kashmiris, destruction of thousands of houses and structures, molestation, blinding of youth, etc., are glaring proofs of how India is hellbent on annihilating Kashmiris and continuing to occupy their land forcefully. The violence in IIOJK has caused widespread devastation in the lives of the people, with women being the most severely affected. The military occupation has greatly impacted women. They bear the brunt of it, direct and indirect, on many levels, facing challenges that infringe upon their access to basic necessities and their ability to live a life of dignity, free from the constant threat of arrests and violence. Women residing in IIOJK encounter a multitude of difficulties across many spheres of their existence, e.g., restricted educational opportunities, financial instability, limited economic mobility, challenges in accessing healthcare, psychological effects of the conflict, and the loss of loved ones, media representation, etc. In essence, women are affected materialistically, physically, and emotionally as a result of the conflict that surrounds them.
Security concerns and the hostile environment in IIOJK have impeded women’s mobility, making it challenging for them to pursue education or employment opportunities. Socio-economic factors and the ongoing conflict have limited access to quality education for Kashmiri girls, mainly because of the frequent curfews and the threat of violence and sexual assault that the Indian occupation uses as a weapon against women and girls to break the resistance. The fear of violence and harassment discourages parents from sending their daughters to school. Economic hardships and cultural norms sometimes force girls to drop out early, affecting their educational attainment and future opportunities.
There has been a continuous rise in the number of female-headed households because of the violence in IIOJK. This can be attributed to various factors, such as deaths in the conflict and enforced disappearances of the primary breadwinners of the family. This often means that women now have to become the primary earners for their families. However, limited access to education, resources, and financial capital hinders women from seeking employment or starting businesses to become economically independent and help their families raise their living standards. Countless families of victims of enforced disappearances have been tirelessly working to locate their missing loved ones, taking time away from earning a living. A significant number of women have experienced the loss of their means of making a living due to the violence and have been compelled to depend on humanitarian assistance to sustain themselves. 
The conflict situation has also adversely impacted the healthcare infrastructure, limiting women’s access to quality healthcare services, especially in remote areas. Women in IIOJK face numerous health challenges due to the prevalent volatile security situation in the region. The frequent curfews and checkpoints make it difficult for them to access necessary medical facilities, exacerbating their health issues. Often, this leads to higher rates of fatalities among women and children. In times of crisis, there were instances where pregnant and unwell women faced difficulties in reaching or accessing hospitals because of the curfews imposed by the state. 
The violence in IIOJK has led to the extensive displacement of families, with women and children compelled to evacuate their homes and reside in overcrowded and unhygienic environment. The persistent instability and apprehension in the area have also had a detrimental impact on the psychological wellbeing of women, resulting in a significant number experiencing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Communication blackouts and the military blockade imposed by India are negatively impacting the mental health of women whose male family members are often forcibly removed to undisclosed locations. These women are burdened with the responsibility of navigating through India’s arduous judicial system within IIOJK to secure the release of their loved ones, in addition to being subject to constant fear for their safety and having to take on the responsibilities that the men of the family previously had.
Women’s displacement from their residences has become a distressing experience due to the widespread incidents of sexual violence supported by the Indian government in IIOJK. The oppressive forces have been employing rape and molestation of Kashmiri women as a tactic of warfare to suppress the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination, which has persisted for over seventy years.
A report released by Kashmir Media Service on March 8, 2023, said that Kashmiri women are the worst-affected victims of Indian state terrorism in IIOJK. Kashmiri women face harassment, abuse, and sexual violence at the hands of Indian forces. The report quoted an incident in which Indian Army personnel assaulted a family during a cordon and search operation in the Tral area of Pulwama. The report also said that Indian forces are using rape as a tool to humiliate the Kashmiris and intimidate them into submission. There is glaring evidence that the suddenness of bereavement and general, as well as sexual, violence has caused an immense rise in psychiatric and psychosomatic illnesses in people.
As we observe Kashmir Solidarity Day, it is important to remember that the women of Kashmir have a long ‘lineage of gendered resistance’ in rejecting the oppressive designs of the Indian state. Women suffering from traumas, which are untreated and unrecognized, often pass on the stress to their children. This has meant that generations of children who have never known a normal childhood have to confront and eventually absorb the traumas of their mothers. However, the Kashmiri women and children are still resilient in the face of Indian evil designs. TRT World recently met some female protesters in Srinagar city for a documentary and spoke to them about their political aspirations. Mehjabeen, a resident of Srinagar’s uptown Soura neighborhood, said: “I cannot think of anything but our Azadi. Our emotions run very high that we hardly care about any pellet or bullet.”
Women’s individual and collective support for the Kashmiri struggle for justice and freedom continues despite the formidable odds. Although 187 nations have officially approved the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), there is a lack of attention towards the pervasive violence being meted out to the Kashmiri women by the Indian forces.
Living a life free from external interference is a fundamental aspiration for everyone. Unfortunately, the women of IIOJK have been denied this basic right. The Indian Army has been accused of denying, distorting, and burying evidence, as well as suppressing the truth. The residents of IIOJK, especially women, persistently suffer from recurrent human rights violations, with India being the perpetrator of these severe transgressions. No fraudulent election process, disguised as a delimitation exercise, can replace the authenticity and necessity of a fair and unbiased referendum. Enlightened opinions of the world must converge to resolve the conflict by emphasizing the inherent right of Kashmiris to choose their future as per the UN resolutions.

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