In Pics | Dispatch from a Locked-Down Kashmir: ‘Women Suffer Most’
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous powers in August and placed the region under a massive security lockdown, life has been a struggle for ordinary Kashmiris.
While men historically make up most protesters and insurgents 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.
A Mother Who Wants To See Her Son
Ateeqa Begum, mother of a 22-year-old Kashmiri detainee Fasil Aslam Mir, stands for a photograph inside her house in Srinagar. Begum has lived alone ever since her only son Fasil, in his late 20s, was detained on his way home after fetching medicines for her. “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.
‘Baba, Baba, When Are You Coming Back?’
Sumaira Bilal, wife of Kashmiri detainee Bilal Ahmed, talks to her two-year-old daughter on a staircase of their house in Srinagar. Ahmed was detained on the night of 5 August, the day Prime Minister Modi’s government repealed Article 370, stripping Kashmir of its statehood. Sumaira says her daughter points to the window often and calls for her father “Baba, Baba, when are you coming back?”
An Opportunity To Protest
A Kashmiri woman protestor, Jawahira Banoo, carries her 3-year-old daughter Rutba 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. “The men are at a higher risk of being detained,” she says.
A Helpless Doctor
Kashmiri doctor Sabahat Rasool tells the story of a pregnant woman who refused to be admitted in hospital because “there was no way she could communicate with her family and tell them that she needed to be admitted.”
She was brought in unconscious the next day. “She survived but lost her unborn baby all because she could not afford to stay back the previous night for fear her family would think she was missing or kidnapped.”
An Unconventional Wedding
Newly married Kashmiri woman Kulsuma Rameez, 24, says she was unable to shop for her wedding and borrowed her wedding dress from a relative. Her ceremony was small, attended by a few relatives and next-door neighbors. After the ceremony, she walked half a kilometre to her new home as the roads were blocked.
‘Everything Has Come To A Standstill’
Sahana Fatima, the first female entrepreneur in printing who runs the only sports magazine in the Kashmir Valley, 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.”
Hospital a Challenge For A Sick Baby
A Kashmiri-born Australian, Sumaya Rather, sits with her eight-month-old daughter Noor Rather and four-year-old son Ahmed Rather inside her maternal home on the outskirts of Srinagar. Sumaya said Noor fell ill because she couldn’t adjust to the milk supplement brands that were available in Srinagar. Taking her to a hospital was a big challenge as there were protests and road blockades set up by both soldiers and Kashmiri youths.
‘Coming Out to Work Is My Way of Protesting’
"I’ll kick you with my boots and take you to the governor’s house,” a policeman told photojournalist Masrat Zahra as she covered the first Friday protest since the 5 August lockdown. “Women cannot move out of their homes without a male companion for fear of harassment,” she says. But adds, “You cannot remain silent. If you come out and speak, someone will hear your voice. Coming out to work is my way of protesting.”
A Dream That Didn’t Get A Chance
“Because of the lockdown and internet blockade, we have missed three tournaments. I was hoping to make it to the international level but after missing these national tournaments, that is no longer possible,” Peer said.
It Took 20 Days For Her To Meet Her Newborn
A Kashmiri woman Zahida Jahangir holds her two-month-old son Mohammad Taimor 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 supplemenst. Zahida was reunited with Taimor 20 days after he was first put on a ventilator.
A Halt To Education
Twin sisters Tabeer Shafi Bhat and Taseer Shafi Bhat said that they've had nothing to do since the lockdown started on 5 August, and that they miss going to school. Authorities encouraged students to return to school but parents have largely remained unwilling to send their kids to educational institutes due to the restrictions in place.
‘Women Suffer Disproportionately’
Since the lockdown, Mantasha Binti Rashid’s 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.
‘Missed My Cousin’s Funeral’
Biba Malla's cousin died on 31 August 2019, but she was informed about it almost a week later. "I missed the funeral and the 'Fateh Khani' condolence meeting, which is held on the fourth day and is very important for us. Our menfolk still haven’t visited fearing detention by police on the way to our relative's home," she said.
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