Yakjut: Kashmir’s New Age ‘Yarbal Kakini’ 

‘Very often, I transmute this virtual group and transport it to a past through my imagination. I place myself and other women on the banks of Jhelum and feel connected to our past.’

IN the days of yore”, as nostalgia goes — we’re told stories in sepia. Our mind’s eye dwindles our surroundings and erects history in imagination. We see our reality disintegrate to aid the creation of old days we’ve only heard of and never lived. Perhaps, we enter this vision through our grandmother; significantly younger in black and white.

My ancestral house feels full of life even as memory deters me from imagining it otherwise. Perhaps, I can ask my grandmother for a photograph and place my family in the visible one dimensional precincts of the house — in monochrome.

It becomes easier thinking about my mother. The memory is not mine but is still coloured enough for me to vividly understand. It is interesting the way I disintegrate and reintegrate to understand the history of women in my family.

Why must I not? There’s a thread that connects us.

We’ve all had a shared history of challenges that come with being a woman but there’s so much more to us than enforced silences.

My grandmother used to narrate the story of women who would spend an extra minute on the banks of the river, passing alongside the old city to have a session of what was deemed to be “gossip”. These women are still remembered as Yarbal Kakini. 

I wish I could join these conversations and sneakily eavesdrop to see what was brewing there. I’m sure our grandmothers and mothers would have had a lot more to say than mere jibber jabber. How else would they have made us into the women we’ve become and the women we’re trying to become?

The culture of sisterhood or vyeston still exists. This feeling is accessible to a lot of us these days through a Facebook group called “Yakjut”.

It is a platform solely meant for Kashmiri women. But it is only ethical for us to note that a virtual group available only to smartphone users can hardly represent all Kashmiri women. Nonetheless, it has reached some of us.

“Yakjut” is not limited in purpose. Women in this group engage in a spectrum of issues. It is a mirror that lets us through the lives of women in Kashmir. Many dismiss it as a space meant for gossip without considering the radical potentials of it. So many women in the group anonymously post queries about extremely personal matters.

Romance and divorce, which are the two most discouraged topics pertaining to women in Kashmir are rigorously discussed here.

A quick look through the comments makes us come across conventional as well non-conventional views. This proves as an opportunity for many in the group to enlighten each other and engage with those with problematic views.

In a world where women are expected to know motherhood by instinct; Yakjut helps young mothers navigate through the initial years of motherhood.

Clueless and paranoid, young mothers often post urgent queries and are assisted by everyone as much as possible. This also helps to normalise newly married women not knowing what to do.

How many of us have had mothers, sisters and friends who could declare to her in-laws, “I am clueless”?

As stated earlier, women’s talks have radical potentials and this is truly epitomised by this group’s entrepreneurial thrust.

In our social circles, we often joke about women being obsessed with shopping. This obsession has sociological and cultural reasons as well but we gloss that over with a sexist joke.

In any case, Yakjut’s work speaks for itself. It has tokenised this shopping habit and allowed home-based and local online-businesses by women to sell their products here. This has given women especially single mothers, homemakers, unmarried and divorced women a space to make a living.

The group is also democratic in the sense that many have managed to secure pro bono services from a female psychologist, a dermatologist, a dietician etc. It has also been used to assist brides from underprivileged families as nuisances in our wedding ceremonies refuse to tone down.

However, Yakjut as a group is not infallible. There are many negatives and they’re a reflection of issues that plague our society in itself. In fact, it is also a valid argument raised against the group that it does not let Kashmiri women discuss themselves and their lives as political beings in a conflict zone.

These aren’t brushed under the carpet and are often dealt with through conversations. However, the group does shy away from this part very often.

Even as the group does not encourage any talk that would actively let Kashmiri women articulate their political sisterhood, it has also helped many navigate through the challenges conflict brings.

Home-based business is one of the paramount ways that this group has helped women past the constraints of lockdowns to some extent.

Another criticism of the group is that it also participates in the culture of promoting certain social evils such as those related to male dominance, moral policing and Kashmir’s caste system.

However, these don’t go unchallenged. Additionally, there’s also a possibility of the group acting as an advertisement in itself.

Women who are economically privileged, knowingly or unknowingly, promote certain luxuries which others may start aspiring to. This is also a reflection of how a society functions and Yakjut plays a crucial part in this field as well.

Nevertheless, even as it propagates certain trends, it also radically subverts them.

Very often, I transmute this virtual group and transport it to a past through my imagination. I place myself and other women on the banks of Jhelum and feel connected to our past.

I place myself alongside my great-grandmother and laugh with her; relieved that I have preserved her resilience to some extent.

I look at everyone and realise that as women of the valley, we shoulder the responsibility to ensure that we endure, resist, improve and excel.

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Tooba Towfiq

Tooba Towfiq is the Opinion Editor at Kashmir Observer. She tweets at tooba_tweets

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