Sexism in Kashmiri Language

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Kashmiri language is filled with everyday words and phrases which demean and objectify women and it is time we purge our language from the plague of misogyny

Ahymon Ayoub

ABC of commonly used phrases about women in Kashmir:

Veariv gai qabar, tset aasi ya zeeth, yi cha bardaash Karin – In-laws’ home is a grave, uncomfortable or comfortable — bear with it

shoob – Grace, a Son

koor cha luk hund maal –  Daughters are others’ assets/property

Khodah soozyinas rut Khareedaar – May she get a nice customer as her husband

kouri mohnyui –  A gendered handicap

Khodah pholneavnai dyekas te potras – May your fate — your husband and your son flourish

In Kashmir, the debate over language usually circumambulates the concerns of social heritage and the need to preserve it. Largely seen as a mode of transmission of values, culture and collective history; language is hardly scanned for its power of creating our world-views, organising our social lives and shaping our sense of wrong and right. Consequently, we become the peddlers of prejudicial and exclusionary behaviours, almost as a part of our genetic and social duty.

Being a part of a society, one tends to internalise and exhibit normalised yet abnormal proclivities. Consequently, we busy ourselves with internalising every piece of learning that falls on our ears from diverse media and are content with modelling ourselves on the template that social mechanisms turn all of us into.

However, women hardly have the privilege of remaining oblivious to the struggles they face. Each attitude that oppresses women finds itself translated into a verbal-bias harboured against them. The pervasiveness of these sexist attitudes in our colloquial conversations only goes onto show that subordination or exclusion of women isn’t some violent spectacle that erupts on some unfortunate Sunday. It is a normalised attitude which is deeply enmeshed in our everyday routines, off-the-cuff conversations, stereotyped images and the social expectations directed at women.

Every time a boy’s birth in the neighbourhood is exalted to shoob, one can’t help but mourn the existential rejection women are subjected to in Kashmir. From extreme marginalisation of bint-e-Hawwa in the briefest pleasantries like, Khodah pholneavnai dyekas te potras, to objectifying statements like Khodah soozyinas rut Khareedaar and koor cha luk hund maal; devaluation of women seems like an invasive yet unchallenged norm.

These samples of conventional wisdom imagine her as some tradable and perishable commodity to be sold off, lest it diminishes in value. Such idiomatic expressions put a women’s existence subservient to that of a man. Her worth and value is considered contingent upon the health of relations she shares with men as a daughter, mother or a wife — not as an individual.

The normalisation of such discriminatory language is so internalised that women participate and in some cases encourage such views. In fact, even with the awareness of these misgivings in our language, expressions like kouri mohnyui seem harmless in the face of the monstrous and fulminating phrases like, Veariv gai qabar, tset aasi ya zeeth, yi cha bardaash Karin.

Very often, these leitmotifs of subjugation use the garb of religion and morality to bludgeon women into submissiveness. They champion misogyny in the name of religion and turn the word of God to the task of Satan. Ironically, the ideals of docile and submissive women glorified in public discourses clash with the strong and principled figures of Islamic history who fought for Haq/Rights. The values of fierceness and bravery of Prophet’s (peace be upon him) female companions like Hz Nusaiba binti Kaab (r.a), the political merit exhibited by the likes of Queen of Sheeba and countless other figures have rarely ever shaped the ideals upheld and celebrated in our society.

Reading carefully into the workings of language, the fault of sexism is hardly a fault of Kashmiri language per se. Misogyny is itself a language with a deep-seated, multi-pronged attitude that manifests itself in a myriad of ways; language only betokening one of them.

Awareness and sensitisation on the issue, although gradual are contributing toward the much-needed erasure of devaluing language. We as a society are required to revisit how language continues to be used as a tool of inhibition rather than liberation. Preserving our heritage doesn’t merely entail wholesale and lazy emulation of symbols of the past. It must involve screening them to criticism before handing them down to progeny.

Rhetorically the significance of language in imagining our worlds couldn’t be put more eloquently than Hafez in this verse:

The words we speak become the house we live in

  • Ahymon Ayoub has completed her Masters in Sociology from Kashmir University and is a freelance researcher interested in topics related to Islam and Women

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