What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word kasher koor? Beautiful, fair fragile, rosy cheeks pink lips, obedient, dainty and meek are some of the adjectives that I can think of. But,the narrowness of these attributes have been haunting me before I chose to look up for the contribution Kashmiri women have made in our society.
Is it just the dainty-femininity we are known for or have we done something bigger than that? What is our history and how acquainted are we with our roots being the women of Kashmir?
Men hog the headlines in terms of being more resilient against oppression and the struggle and the rich history of Kashmiri women somehow dies in the background. It is a paradox that women who otherwise in the present scenario are benign in the political aspect, have been very active in driving out invaders and aliens from our homeland during the past alien rules. Our recent history will always remember names like Sajida Bano, Jan Begum, Freechi, Fazli, Jan Ded, Zoon Bibi Mujahida, Khaet Ded, Fatima Raja Kacher, Zainab Begum, Mehmooda Ahmad Ali, for exhibiting an enduring fighting spirit against the cruel Dogra regime.
Kashmiri women have always been an active component in the society and yet the role of those women who failed to get into the limelight was forgotten. Being a Kashmiri woman myself, it comes as a sad reality that the only claim to fame that we garner is our ‘beauty’, forgetting the socio-economic and political contributions women have made and are still making.
From helping the nation in achieving the goal of freedom to showing artistic skills in designing world famous exquisite crafts, to lifting the standard of Kashmiri literature, to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with men in economic activities, to farming the worlds most expensive spice and to ruling the state, Kashmiri women have done it all.
Kashmiri literature has been shaped by the contributions of prolific poets like Habba Khatoon and Lal Ded. From introducing mystic poetry to defying social conventions, these women stand as inspirational figures in the history of Kashmir. Kashmiri literature is synonymous with Habba Khatoon and Lal Ded.
Contrary to their stereotyped nature, apart from contributing in the areas of poetry and literature, women have taken authority as rulers are well. Women held the seat of authority during the ancient and the medieval times. Kota Rani and Rani Didda have left a distinct impact on the history of Kashmir. Rani Didda, famously called as Catherine of Kashmir, held on to power for forty years at a time when women were not given a seat of authority elsewhere. Kota Rani was the last medieval Hindu ruler. Renowned for her intelligence and constructive thinking, the construction of canal named Kutte-Kol will be remembered as her major contribution. Even though women didnt hold any authoritative position in the coming years of modern era and the ending years of medieval era, women were politically active. History bears witness to the fact that women fought the alien (Sikh, Dogra, Afghan and Mughal) regimes head on.
Even though the status of women during that time was reduced to commodities and they were gifted as objects for sexual gratification, women resiliently fought against the oppressive rule. During the Quit Kashmir movement, women took to the forefront. The earlier years saw rallies that only comprised of women, some of them breastfed their children in their arms, raising slogans and raising their voice against the oppression of autocratic rulers. Taking on the charge of the Quit Kashmir movement, during the time when the freedom struggle against the Dogras was at its peak, women defied the Purdah system, led rallies, took to arms and formed military groups to drive out the draconian incumbency of the Dogras. Women have been martyred, assassinated and murdered.
Amidst these events and the intrepid bravery that women showed during the times of war and freedom struggle, it would be unfair to disregard the extraordinary role Kashmir’s ordinary women-folk played in shaping the society and help their families withstand economic pressures. In addition to being the nurturers and caregivers, our women deftly took to markets, virtually ran bakery and diary shops and managed fishery and farming business thus shouldering the economic burden of their male counterparts. Still, in our Mohallas , the kandur has wife by his side selling the tsot while he does the baking. Women rowing boats and selling vegetables in their Shikaras is a common sight in Dal waters. While men catch fish from lakes or rivers women take over marketing of the produce.
The world-famous handicrafts of Kashmir are essentially indebted to Kashmiri women as its the magic of their delicate hands which have produced masterpieces of art.
Intricately designed Pashmina shawls or unique rugs Kashmiri women have been the inseparable part of the industry from time immemorial.
A symbol of luxury and elegance, Pashmina has always been the love and desire of women all around the world.
It may be the men who traditionally weave pashmina but it is the women of the house who takes the laborious task of spinning the fibre into thread.
The same can be said about Saffron farming. Not an easy job. For at least six hours a day, starting from dawn, you have to pluck stigmas from thousands of mature flowers and the Saffron-picking season is incomplete without a woman’s touch.
Right now, women empowerment is one of the major issues in our male-favoring patriarchal society. Issues like these die in the background because the bloodbath is viewed as a greater issue. Even in present times women like Parveena Ahangar, the founder of APDP, who has been internationally recognised for her contribution in the helping hundreds of families get justice in the courts of law. She is rightfully christened as, The Iron lady of Kashmir. She gives voice to mothers desperately looking for their missing children ‘devoured’ by the ongoing conflict.
It is a matter of great pride that Kashmir is one of the few places in the region which allows its women the liberty they deserve. We still have a long way to go, the deeper we delve into the women-empowering past of ours, the easier it would be for women to break these shackles of patriarchy and societally mandated gender roles. Kashmiri women have been at the forefront.
Being a predominantly Muslim society, Kashmiri women have always enjoyed more freedom than the self styled ‘flag-bearers of Islam’ have given to their womenfolk elsewhere. From having an inherently modest dressing code to letting our women row boats, run kiosks and to pray in mosques side by side men, Kashmiri women have not only been a mixture of modesty and resilience but a dominant force in family and society at large. They are to be praised for a lot more than mere beauty.
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