We held a meeting between Kashmiri Pandit women from the Purkho refugee camp and the Muslim women living in the towns they’d been displaced from. For the Kashmiri Pandit women it was the first time they’d come back to the Valley where they once lived in 17 years. We knew this would be a very difficult meeting and trauma counselling workshops had been conducted previously to prepare the women for this collective workshop.
Initially the Kashmiri Pandit women found it very difficult to negotiate the pain, bitterness and anger they felt having been ‘forced’ to leave their homes in the Valley in 1990. They could not respond to the Muslim women’s ‘overt openness and warm welcome for them’. In fact when one of the Pandit women went and sat with the Muslim women, the other Pandit women passed sarcastic comments and shunned her. “Now you have joined those who had forced us out. We were their age when we were forced to leave. Our dreams were shattered,” they told her.
Unable to bear the segregation between the two groups, one of the young Muslim girls quietly went to the room of the Kashmiri Pandit women who had taken the initiative to engage with Muslim women and borrowed her bindi (coloured dot often applied on the forehead by Hindu women) and applied it on her forehead. She then went to the group of Kashmiri Pandit, sat with them and said with a broad infectious smile: “I now look exactly like you. Now there is no difference between us. Whatever you have suffered as a woman, we have suffered the same pain as women too.” The Muslim girl’s gesture melted the heart of the Kashmir Pandit women and they hugged her with tears in their eyes.
For the next two days, all of the women shared their personal life stories and there was a visible change in attitude and behaviours as they discovered common experiences of suffering, pain and resilience. This intimacy allowed each of them the space to question the position and status of women within their respective communities. Our next step was to introduce wider political themes of patriarchy, socialisation processes, and women’s and human rights.