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The struggle of Kashmiri women during Indian lockdown

Although men are usually targetted, Kashmiri women are suffering from the lockdown in their own less visible way.
Updated Nov 08, 2019 03:19pm

A mother unable to get updates from the hospital about her premature newborn. A bride who couldn’t have the wedding of her dreams. The photojournalist who risks double harassment by security forces due to her profession and her gender.

Ever since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government stripped occupied Kashmir of its autonomy in August and placed the Muslim-majority region under a massive security lockdown ─ now in its fourth month ─ life has been a struggle for ordinary Kashmiris.

Indian soldiers from outside the region flooded the streets and thousands were arrested. A curfew was put in place. The Indian government cut of most of the region’s communications with the outside world, shut off the internet and telephone services. Even public transportation services were stopped.

Authorities have eased some restrictions, lifting the curfew, removing roadblocks and restoring landlines and some mobile phone services, but the other measures remain in place. India says they’re needed to prevent the violent street protests that are common in the region.

Sumaira Bilal, wife of Kashmiri detainee Bilal Ahmed, talks to her two-year-old daughter as they sit for photographs on a staircase of their house in Srinagar. Ahmed was detained on the night of Aug 5. Sumaira says her daughter points to the window often and calls for her father “Baba, Baba, when are you coming back?” ─ AP
Sumaira Bilal, wife of Kashmiri detainee Bilal Ahmed, talks to her two-year-old daughter as they sit for photographs on a staircase of their house in Srinagar. Ahmed was detained on the night of Aug 5. Sumaira says her daughter points to the window often and calls for her father “Baba, Baba, when are you coming back?” ─ AP

Mantasha Binti Rashid, founder of Kashmir Women's Collective, sits for a photograph in Srinagar. Since the lockdown, her organisation has seen a marked rise in violence against women as victims do not have a way to reach out for help. She cites examples: a woman attacked and brought to a hospital 90% covered with burns, many beaten by husbands or thrown out of their homes, another who faced abandonment. “Women suffer disproportionately,” she said. ─ AP
Mantasha Binti Rashid, founder of Kashmir Women's Collective, sits for a photograph in Srinagar. Since the lockdown, her organisation has seen a marked rise in violence against women as victims do not have a way to reach out for help. She cites examples: a woman attacked and brought to a hospital 90% covered with burns, many beaten by husbands or thrown out of their homes, another who faced abandonment. “Women suffer disproportionately,” she said. ─ AP

A Kashmiri woman Biba Malla stands for a photograph inside her house on the outskirts of Srinagar. Malla's cousin died on Aug 31, but she was informed about it almost a week later. "I missed the funeral and the Fateha Khawani. Our menfolk still haven’t visited fearing detention by police on the way to our relative's home," she said. ─ AP
A Kashmiri woman Biba Malla stands for a photograph inside her house on the outskirts of Srinagar. Malla's cousin died on Aug 31, but she was informed about it almost a week later. "I missed the funeral and the Fateha Khawani. Our menfolk still haven’t visited fearing detention by police on the way to our relative's home," she said. ─ AP

While men historically make up most protesters in the region and are often the first arrested or physically abused in security crackdowns, experts say Kashmiri women are suffering from the lockdown in their own less visible way.

Zahida Jahangir’s son was born premature and weak. He was rushed from the clinic where he was born to the neo-natal intensive care unit in a children’s hospital across town. The lockdown made it nearly impossible to visit her son or even communicate with the hospital.

Zahida was separated from her son for the first 20 days of his life, and though he is now healthy, the experience has created what she says is a pain only a mother could know and left her with regrets that will last a lifetime.

Kulsuma Rameez’s wedding was scheduled for during the lockdown and she was unable to go shopping for the wedding dress she dreamed of. Instead, she was married in a borrowed dress at a small ceremony attended by a few relatives and neighbors. After the ceremony, she had to walk to her new home as the roads were blocked.

Photojournalist Masrat Zahra was covering the first Friday protest since the lockdown when a police officer threatened to kick her. She notes that Kashmiri women can’t leave their homes without a male companion out of fear they’ll be harassed by soldiers. Nevertheless, she is undeterred.

“You cannot remain silent,” Masrat said. “If you come out and speak, someone will hear your voice. Coming out to work is my way of protesting.”

Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra stands for a photograph during a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar. "I’ll kick you with my boots and take you to the governor’s house," a policeman told Zahra as she covered the first Friday protest since the Aug 5 lockdown. ─ AP
Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra stands for a photograph during a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar. "I’ll kick you with my boots and take you to the governor’s house," a policeman told Zahra as she covered the first Friday protest since the Aug 5 lockdown. ─ AP

Newly married Kashmiri woman Kulsuma Rameez, 24, stands for photographs inside her home on the outskirts of Srinagar. Kulsuma says she was unable to shop for her wedding and borrowed her wedding dress from a relative. ─ AP
Newly married Kashmiri woman Kulsuma Rameez, 24, stands for photographs inside her home on the outskirts of Srinagar. Kulsuma says she was unable to shop for her wedding and borrowed her wedding dress from a relative. ─ AP

In this Oct 17 photo, a Kashmiri woman Zahida Jahangir holds her two-month-old son Mohammad Taimor and stands for a photograph inside their home in Lolab, about 128 kilometers (80 miles) north of Srinagar. Taimor was born premature and put on a ventilator in a children’s hospital while Zahida was receiving treatment in another hospital. Because of the lockdown, there was no way to tell Zahida when her son was ready for breastmilk so the hospital settled for milk supplement. Zahida was reunited with Taimor 20 days after he was first put on a ventilator. ─ AP
In this Oct 17 photo, a Kashmiri woman Zahida Jahangir holds her two-month-old son Mohammad Taimor and stands for a photograph inside their home in Lolab, about 128 kilometers (80 miles) north of Srinagar. Taimor was born premature and put on a ventilator in a children’s hospital while Zahida was receiving treatment in another hospital. Because of the lockdown, there was no way to tell Zahida when her son was ready for breastmilk so the hospital settled for milk supplement. Zahida was reunited with Taimor 20 days after he was first put on a ventilator. ─ AP

Ateeqa Begum has lived alone ever since her only son 22-year-old Fasil Aslam Mir, the family’s sole breadwinner, was detained on his way home after fetching medicines for her on the day the lockdown began.

“My son has been shifted to a jail in an Indian city and I have no means to travel there to see him,” she said.

A doctor at a hospital in occupied Kashmir’s main city, Sabahat Rasool, says she’s seen the lockdown forever alter lives. She tells the story of a pregnant woman who refused to be admitted to the hospital because she had no way to tell her family that she wouldn’t be coming home and didn’t want them to worry that she had been kidnapped. She was brought in unconscious the next day.

“She survived but lost her unborn baby,” Sabahat said.

A Kashmiri doctor Sabahat Rasool sits for a photograph inside her clinic in Srinagar. Rasool says she’s seen the lockdown forever alter lives. ─ AP
A Kashmiri doctor Sabahat Rasool sits for a photograph inside her clinic in Srinagar. Rasool says she’s seen the lockdown forever alter lives. ─ AP

A Kashmiri woman protestor Jawahira Banoo, carries her 3-year-old daughter Rutba and stands for a photograph outside a closed shop with a spray-painted graffiti after a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar. Banoo says she does not miss an opportunity to come out to the streets to protest. ─ AP
A Kashmiri woman protestor Jawahira Banoo, carries her 3-year-old daughter Rutba and stands for a photograph outside a closed shop with a spray-painted graffiti after a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar. Banoo says she does not miss an opportunity to come out to the streets to protest. ─ AP

Sahana Fatima, the first female entrepreneur in printing who runs the only sports magazine in the Kashmir valley, sits for a photograph inside her office in Srinagar. Fatima says they were unable to print the August edition due to the blockade. “Even if we had decided to print, what would we write about? There was nothing happening as far as sports activities were concerned. Everything has come to a standstill.” ─ AP
Sahana Fatima, the first female entrepreneur in printing who runs the only sports magazine in the Kashmir valley, sits for a photograph inside her office in Srinagar. Fatima says they were unable to print the August edition due to the blockade. “Even if we had decided to print, what would we write about? There was nothing happening as far as sports activities were concerned. Everything has come to a standstill.” ─ AP