• She Dares to Dream: Book Extract from Garrisoned Minds

    Editors Laxmi Murthy and Mitu Varma in conversation with Vidhya

    November 14, 2016

    Garrisoned Minds, recently published by Speaking Tiger, Delhi, is an attempt to put the collective ear to the ground and hear the voices muted by our media narratives. Most important, it takes note of the ways in which women face the might of the State. Each section begins with an introductory essay laying out the history of struggle in the geographical area in focus. The essays that follow probe the impact of militarisation on the lives of people. Vidhya from the ICF editorial collective spoke to the editors, Laxmi Murthy and Mitu Varma.

    What are the material conditions that drive the political choices of the women of Kashmir? Women in Kashmir appear to be overwhelmingly speaking of Azadi. How do we locate this aspiration in the light of the history of militarisation?

    With the two nuclear-armed neighbours upping the ante over Kashmir and both articulating territorial claims – ably assisted by the hyper nationalistic mainstream media, it is easy to forget the most important protagonists: the Kashmiris who breathe, live, work and play in this disputed territory.

    The profound alienation which represents the dominant mood in the Kashmir Valley has deepened over the decades, and the assertion of a separate identity has been the hallmark of every period of insurgency. New Delhi has systematically used military power instead of dialogue and discussion to quell each upsurge of rebellion, and the Valley has earned the sobriquet of ‘one of the most militarised zones in the world’ with the blatant use of military might, legitimised by draconian national security laws.

    Like in many parts of South Asia – with the exception of suicide bombers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – Kashmiri women have mainly played supportive and enabling roles to aid the armed insurgency fought by men. Feminine tasks such as cooking, mending uniforms, first aid, fund raising, recruitment, and sacrificing their brothers, husbands and sons to the cause rendered women’s involvement in the conflict traditionally gendered. Kashmiris have vehemently espoused the cause of Azadi in these roles, while also moving into surveillance; aiding financial transactions and other crucial but behind-the-scenes activities. Women have also been the bulwark of Kashmiri society, attempting to live their lives and nurture their families in the face of unspeakable human rights violations; enforced disappearances and combing operations and incredibly tough daily lives amidst curfews, shortages, lockdowns and roadblocks. Few complain, fired as they are by the vision of Azadi.

    Women have been subjected to sexual violence, intimidation and indignities by the security forces, and few have dared to speak up. Breaking the silence has severe consequences, and without a cushion of support, few women have dared to take the risk.

    The decades-long militancy in Kashmir, constantly up against the powerful Indian army, has spawned its own distortions in the shape of the counter insurgency, dragging women relatives of the hated Ikhwanis, or ‘surrendered militants’ into a vortex of betrayal, guilt and isolation. Garrisoned Minds, in an insightful essay by Shazia Yousuf (extracted here) touches upon an unspoken reality of Kashmir. Convenient labels of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ do not accurately fit those left behind to live out a “widowhood of shame”. This counter insurgency strategy left in its wake death, destruction, and families that could not hold up their heads in a land where pride and dignity are the foundation of the struggle for azadi—freedom. The women, who had little say in their husbands joining the Ikhwan, are torn between loyalty towards their men and that for their land, an independent Kashmir. Their alienation is complete, and their suffering is not on the agenda of even human rights groups.

    The complex stories of the women of Kashmir demand recognition of the real perpetrators of injustice: a state that prohibits self-determination and an army that uses brute force as well as manipulation and devious means to suppress the aspirations for freedom.

    Manipur and Naga resistance to occupation has tried to find a vocabulary of resistance that breaks the language of 'patriarchal nationalism' and the 'language of rights (that) is predominantly masculine' by weaving and wearing resistance. How do we try to build and nurture such languages of resistance?

    The history of militarization and resistance in the hills and valleys of Manipur and Nagaland is as old as independent India itself. The struggle for a unified independent Naga homeland started with the Naga declaration of independence in 1947, spilling over to Manipur in the 1950s. This morphed into various ethnic constituencies and armed groups battling each other as well as the state for their rights. As Yirmian Arthur in her biographical essay in this volume titled “This Road I Know” on growing up as a young Naga woman traversing the land says, “How does one relate to age-old neighbours, waking up one day to see them at war?”

    Women have often stepped in as peace-makers to bridge these divides, besides struggling against the overwhelming presence of the Indian army and the atrocities perpetrated by it in a bid to quell resistance. In her incisive essay “The Art of Defiance” (extracted here), Thingnam Anjulika Samom traces the trajectory of resistance by women to militarization and its inevitable corollary – sexual violence through silences, to speaking out through different modes of protest – including the dramatic nude protest in the Manorama case – to selective silences when the perpetrators are from the resistance movement, but across ethnic divides. 

    The calendar and the kashan remain living testimonies to Luingamla’s molestation and murder by two soldiers of the Indian army even three decades after the incident. It is a mode of protest evolved and organized by the Tangkhul Naga women of Manipur, putting in their own resources and effectively speaking of their struggles in the search for justice. It delineates their active role as resistors instead of "victims" to be subdued into silence since speaking out would bring dishonor to a land where the dominant patriarchal narrative sees women’s bodies as the repositories of nation, home and honour.

    It is relatively easy to evolve effective means of protest when the perpetrator is the Indian army, which is seen as an outside occupying force. But it calls into question the dominant narratives of nationalism and resistance when the perpetrator is from a different community from within. The women themselves tend not to raise their voices on these issues. To build and nurture these modes of protest then becomes a challenge. Anjulika, on her part, calls for a collective response not only from women’s groups but also civil society organisations engaged in such nationalistic movements, to break this conspiracy of selective silence. Weaving and wearing resistance would then become a strong statement that upends patriarchal narratives of both nationalism and rights.

    Weaving memory and resistance into effective symbols of defiance by women’s groups across the board and resistance movements across ethnic divides needs to be highlighted by media and brought into “mainstream” discourse, extolling their effectiveness in order to firmly ensconce these narratives in the collective consciousness. This is what we have sought to do both through the book and through articles and documentaries in mainstream media.


    Widowhood of Shame
    —Shazia Yousuf

    Where dreams die

    Sixteen-year-old Mudasir, Dilshada’s youngest son, has just styled his hair. He is very conscious about it. While talking, his hands involuntarily reach for the gelled spikes to pat them into order. While the rest of the family dresses almost alike, Mudasir stands out. An over-sized green T-shirt and multiple-pocketed trousers overwhelm his frail frame. Besides, he talks only in English: ‘I wanted to become a pop star,’ he says.
    A dark, narrow corridor leads to Mudasir’s room. A guitar hangs on a wall alongside posters of Western pop singers. Mudasir stops near his glass cupboard. This is where the remains of his unrealised dreams hide. There are dozens of merit certificates bunched to each other, almost screaming for attention. Medals dangle in the middle of the cupboard, alone, like nooses around the neck of a just-hanged hope. ‘At one point, this seemed the beginning of a journey; now it reminds me of the abrupt end,’ Mudasir says, with his eyes fixed on the glass cupboard. ‘I am sad but have accepted defeat. I will never become a pop star now.’
    As an award for Dar’s ‘excellent’ services, the Indian Army had sponsored Mudasir’s education. Barely five years old then, Mudasir was sent to Allahabad and enrolled in the prestigious St. John’s Academy. ‘My parents accompanied me and I was crying. I was too scared to live without them. But when they took me around the campus, I stopped crying. It was like home.’ It was at St. John’s Academy that Mudasir discovered his love for music. He took part in music competitions and brought laurels to his school. The school administration and his music teachers assured Mudasir all possible help in realising his dream. But then Dar was killed; the Indian Army withdrew its sponsorship of his son’s education.
    ‘All of a sudden, I was thrown out. I was brought to this place which I had left as a little kid. It felt like someone killed me too.’ Mudasir now studies in Class Eleven in a Srinagar school. He wants to forget his past and move on but sometimes when he thinks of his childhood and how it became victim of a dirty game, he gets angry. ‘That time, I was a kid and believed that fathers could never be wrong. But now, when I have grown up, I can tell you that he shouldn’t have done what he did,’ he says. ‘My perception about Kashmiri people and their demand for freedom has also changed. One day when I saw Indian soldiers ruthlessly beating stone throwers almost my age, I suddenly felt like going out and throwing stones at them with all my energy.’
    Dilshada and Mudasir love to watch India-Pakistan cricket matches together. They shout, hug and cook special food when Pakistan defeats India, something that Dar would not have allowed. ‘His father would make me pray for the Pakistan team’s defeat. I would lie to him and pray for their success.’

    The Art of Defiance
    —Thingnam Anjulika Samon

    Weaving resistance

    ‘We wanted to tell Luingamla’s story through a calendar with her picture on it. Even if we stop talking about her or forget the incident, we will surely remember every time we look at it,’ Zamthingla said, showing a torn copy of the calendar. The calendar became an act of defiance and recovery. Inscribed in red are the words: ‘An innocent 18-year-old, Miss Luingamla Muinao, was shot dead by Capt. Mandhir Singh of the 25 Madras on the 24th of January, 1986 at Ngainga Village.’
    The women of Ngainga village raised the required sum of around 15,000 Indian rupees for the printing by donating one day’s pay of khutlang (wages for agricultural labour) and by selling poultry. Zamthingla recalls, ‘the army said that the NSCN was funding us. We were called to the camp and asked to give proof of our source of money for printing the calendar. We gave our accounts and they were silenced.’
    Zamthingla took a step further and came up with the idea of a new design on the traditional Tangkhul sarong known as kashan. Utilising the expertise of a few other weavers, she then set to work ‘to tell the story of Luingamla and show the unity of the various people, the organisations, the groups who worked together through this design.’
    The imagery starts at the front panel of the sarong itself, the bigger white-and-green twin comb patterns, the rikshi-phor and phorei-phor. Crossing her hands in front of her bosom in a protective gesture, her fingers spread wide, Zamthingla explains, ‘This is the first fencing for a woman. To protect oneself we do this, we cross our hands across ourselves. Luingamla too must have done this when she came to know the intentions of the army men.’
    A string of motifs run at regular intervals across the breadth of the kashan. Zamthingla points to each aspect as she explains the significance, a story that she must have told a hundred times over. ‘We ran about from one place to another, searching for the path to justice, back and forth, just as this white line, the shongwui shili, runs zig-zag across the motif,’ she narrates. Then come the konghar angacham and khaifa akashan—wings of butterflies and waists of frogs—which signify the places of judgements, the courts of justice. Framing these motifs on both sides, twin strings of beadslike patterns in white and light green threads—the malum-mik or termite’s eyes—run through the sarong, representing the neverending support of organisations like the Tangkhul Shanao Long. ‘We moved together united and relentless till the end in our fight for justice,’ she explains.


    Vidhya is part of the Editorial Collective at the Indian Cultural Forum.

    The extracts and essays featured here have been published with the permission of the publisher. For this we are grateful to Laxmi Murthy, Mitu Verma and Panos South Asia.

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