Where Are the Women in the Narrative of Violence?

In 2011, a woman named Hanifa Begum Wani of Kreeri, Baramulla in Kashmir, was shot outside her home during a spell of consecutive curfews spanning 35 days. The bullet paralysed her and after battling injuries for about a month, she died leaving behind a young daughter, Humaira.

After reading this story in a book, I was left with many questions – why? Who? What now?

The State legitimises the use of coercion and right to violence in the name of unity and protecting their territory. They use the army and the police to prevent external threats and justify military actions under the pretext of an inevitable and dangerous attack by the enemy. We are made to accept all of these even if it infringes on our basic human rights as a justifiable bargain for security concerns. The state, hence, acts as a saviour and guardian of individual lives while simultaneously oppressing the very people it claims to protect.

The community, on the other hand, presents itself as an alternate political identity. It challenges the idea of state being the primary source of all the values by trying to reclaim authority over its own private, individual lives.

Since the state threatens their lives and, as they believe, appropriates their identity; they try to fight the excesses of state structure inhabiting the same area of repression. They reproduce the same structures of oppression that it seeks to challenge and in that process, keeps the individual, especially the women, within firmly restrictive circles.

So, what happens to the individual or the women within the repressive mechanism of the state as well as the community?

Well, Hanifa’s story gives us a very distressing picture. Since she is caught between the repression of the state and that of the community, she is dismissed as yet another protestor who engages in clashes with the security forces.

Her death is, therefore, made sense with a state-centric rationality which is in competition with her life as a woman.

Also read: Kashmiri Women Considered the Night Their Friend, Then Militancy Happened

The community, on the other hand, appropriates her death to strengthen the cause of liberation while subsequently marginalising the very people it wants to liberate. At every level of a male-dominated society, the woman becomes a pawn in the hands of the state and the men of her community.

Hence, the question that I want to ask is – who is Hanifa? Is she, as media reports suggest, one among the many protesters that engage in violent conflicts with armed forces or is she, a single mother, who according to her family, was desperately seeking medical attention for her child who was down with typhoid.

Incidents of people getting injured or being killed during violent clashes with security personnel in Kashmir is common but the experiences of people who are affected by continued violence and unrest in the region though heard (and at times sympathised about) are usually brushed aside as unintended consequences of security actions.

Emotions generated through lived experiences are not adequately represented by abstract systems of knowledge which seek to explain them. The process of formation of a discourse by the state, the media or the community undermines the complexity and nuance of individual lives. While seeking to explain violence and conflict it inscribes its own discourse on the individual’s body and reorganises knowledge to fit its own structural ends.

The question posed here is not just about Hanifa but reflects the life of every individual, especially the women, as she oscillates between the security regulations of the state and the regulations of her own community. These women can also find themselves on both sides of the conflict, perhaps due to marriage and conflicting familial ties.

Hanifa’s story provides a heterogenous location of individual existence which challenges both the impersonal authority of the state as well as the encompassing claims of community life.

We need to create a discourse that highlights the double location of individual life and the complexity of everyday existence. We require a narrative which organises knowledge not just to explain certain events but to arrive at a truth – a truth which doesn’t embody state, community or bureaucratic rationality but the truth of individual life and the everyday experience of being violated.

An ethnography which is foregrounded in such an analysis will surely be very helpful. Institutions of state, community, family gender etc. are more interconnected than we would like to believe. The question, as Veena Das rightly puts it, is whether we want to protect the truth that conspires with violence or the truth which is personified in the victim.

Maryam Rashid graduated from St Stephen’s College, Delhi

Featured image credit: Reuters