“In the last month, we have mobilised our Samanbal network to campaign for the enactment of a gender act in the local assembly. Most states in India have approved the Domestic Violence Act to protect women against violence but the Indian controlled side of Kashmir hasn’t as there is always resistance to law changes seen to come from ‘outside’.
We want the Samanbal network to campaign on this issue to teach the women how to assert their voices in the political arena and prepare them for the bigger fight. If we win this battle then the women will have faith in the power of their movement. The issue of gender violence cross-cuts all the Samanbals.
The Domestic Violence Draft Committee of which I, along with other Athwaas members, am a part is facing tremendous resistance from several local groups and sections of the media who feel that the Act will ‘unnecessarily empower women.’ They fear this will lead to the break up of families and defer attention away from the ‘larger’ cause, being led by men, to resolve the Kashmir issue. These groups, including some women’s groups, are claiming that there is ‘”o violence within homes and those women who are articulating these are harming the interest of the Kashmiri society.”
We have experienced stiff resistance from the media, other civil society organisations and even some women groups who strongly dispute the existence of domestic violence in Kashmir. There is a fear that our idea has come from ‘outside’ and that we want to break up the family unit in Kashmir. With the use of multimedia evidence, testimonies and street theatre, we have been able to gain the upper hand in public opinion and forced a debate in the assembly.
Now the assembly is conducting a wide review on the draft bill and our Samanbal members are at the forefront of ensuring women’s voices are represented. We are so proud that the women can now recognise and articulate forms of domestic violence. We are optimistic that the bill will be enacted before the elections in November.”
“All our Samanbal members are working on issues of women’s rights and domestic violence as these problems are a common link between women from the three regions of Kashmir – the Buddhist majority in Ladakh, the Muslim majority in Kashmir Valley and the Hindu majority. These women come from regions with different cultures which have all been impacted by the conflict in different ways, but the way they have experienced violence within their own communities is similar. To create common ground, domestic violence becomes the leitmotif through which they can be connected to prioritise their issues and agenda.
Narratives about domestic abuse were brought out of women from the Samanbals through role-plays used during trauma counselling workshops. In Kashmir, political discourse completely overshadows private humiliation and assault on dignity. The voices of women are submerged in larger political interests. As such women bear the double burden of being victims of both political violence and of domestic violence as well.
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.”
“From this experience, we have decided to form a women’s political caucus in preparation for the regional elections in November. All Athwaas members are meeting in Leh in August to discuss how we can push our agenda into the heart of political decision making in Kashmir. We strongly believe from our experiences that women bring a uniquely different perspective/understanding to the table. If we can get our foot through the door we will transform/redefine the political agenda on the Kashmir conflict and certainly work towards a realistic resolution, which is out ultimate goal.
In the meantime, to keep the momentum of our political activism, we have embarked on a campaign to ensure that the ‘Right to Information’ bill is enacted in Kashmir. This is very useful for the Samanbal members in finding out the truth on what happened to their sons, families and properties. We know it will be a tough struggle, but other states in India have passed the bill and we believe that our campaign can capture the public’s imagination and create a will for change.”