Athwaas came into being when there was no space for dialogue, no civil society initiatives. A group of women dared to travel to each other and create common ground. People who have had different experiences of conflict showed they can come together.
But there are some internal divisions within Athwaas, particularly over when and how to start work on the Pakistan side. Lack of progress at the political level can be demoralising – there was immense voter turnout for last year’s elections and people had high hopes of the new 39-year-old Chief Minister, who got 60 per cent of the votes. But now they feel he has spent too much time in New Delhi (20 trips in six months) at the expense of rallying people in Kashmir. Some in Athwaas think they should not engage with the State because they want to challenge its very right to rule.
However the Samabals (centres for reconciliation) supported by Athwaas have been gaining momentum, and it is rural and less educated women who are taking these forward, and who have so much to gain and whose input will inform the Domestic Violence Act. Domestic violence is the common concern and workshops are planned over the coming week. Samanbal spaces have enabled women to speak out about their trauma and abuse within homes and families. Samanbal spaces have acquired special energies, visibly transforming women to assert their agency of compassion, unity, inclusivity and co-existence.
Women’s narratives during the Samanbal workshops tell the real story of domestic violence. Their testimony will help the Draft Committee formulate a holistic Domestic Violence Act and challenge those who deny the existence of domestic violence.
Reconciliation is becoming more difficult because of the political situation. Every day there is a complete shut down in the Valley – the local paper even publishes a calendar of when stoppages are being called. Then everyone has to obey. However the domestic violence workshop will go on, but has been moved to Jammu.