Kashmiri women bear some of the heaviest loads after India's lockdown.
Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir – Everyone was home, but afraid. The police were hunting for protesters in the neighbourhood. Mushtaq Ahmad's 13-year-old son, a resident of Noorbagh in Srinagar, could be arrested, so his sister caught hold of him to hide him, trembling, as she saw police barge into her home.
Ahmad, a class 7 student, was equally afraid. The police first dragged his sister by the hair, and then thrashed her in front of Ahmad. His cousin's sister, Soliha Jan, couldn’t bear the scene and tried to intervene. The police didn’t budge and turned towards Soliha and beat her up as well. They kicked her in the stomach and also hit her back, they say as her family recalls the horrifying day in August.
“Soliha vomited blood through her mouth and then fainted,” her mother said. She then took her to a city hospital where she underwent an X-ray. After a few more tests, the doctors advised that she be admitted to the emergency ward.
More than two weeks had passed since the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and downsized the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir into to union territories earlier on August 5. The article gave Kashmir a degree of autonomy within the Indian state, but now it will be under the direct rule of the central government with a nominal state legislature.
As the government unilaterally revoked the special status, a severe clampdown was imposed in the region with hundreds of people including politicians, lawyers and businessmen arrested and a communication blackout imposed.
While most of the detainees ahead of the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy were men, the valley’s womenfolk also bore the brunt of state violence in multiple ways.
For Soliha and her family, that day was the worst amidst the enforced clampdown, “I thought my daughter died when I saw her lying on the road,” her mother said.
It took two weeks for her to recover. The 16-year-old girl hadn’t expected such harassment from the local police, “they don’t differentiate, didn’t even realise that I was a girl,” she said.
For the last three months, Soliha has been suffering from nightmares of that incident and is finding it hard to focus, “my exams are coming, and I haven’t been able to study.”
Since the incident took place, the family is afraid to talk to media.
“We fear that they will intimidate us if we will speak about it.”
Such was the fear that during their conversations with TRT World, the brother of the victim stood guard outside his home, fearing that police might catch on and they'd be harassed.
But it wasn’t torture alone. Kashmiri women also have to face the burden of navigating India’s tiring legal system to seek the release of their sons. When the Indian government clamped down on communication in Kashmir, families, and mothers of detainees had to visit several jails to find where their sons had been put up.
A group of activists from India - including a social activist, Kavita Krishnan, travelled to Kashmir in August, after the abrogation of Article 370, and spoke to Indian media saying, “there was feeling a sense of betrayal, and people were angry at being denied the special status. The misery of residents was further aggravated as there was no communication, and the people were made to live like in an open jail, the activists claimed.”
After Shakeela Bano’s son Shahid*, a 16-year-old from Srigufwara Anantnag, was detained by police in Anantnag and shifted him outside of Kashmir, she lost all hope that her son would be released anytime soon.
“My son is a kid, how can any justice system in the universe put a minor under the Public Safety Act?” she asked.
On August 4, Shahid was picked up by police who assured the family that he will be released the next morning. When the family went to the police station the next day, the same day Kashmir's autonomous status was revoked, police told them that they had shifted Shahid to Central jail Srinagar, 80kms from their place.
After four days, he was shifted outside Srinagar into India proper, without informing the family.
Shahid's PSA dossier shows that he was detained on charges of being affiliated with Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist organisation, after he completed his 12th class examination. But the irony in his case was that he hadn’t even attended his 12th class board examination yet.
“When I came to know that our son was shifted outside Kashmir, darkness fell before my eyes. Everything seemed blurred,” said Bano.
Shahid's family had to file habeas corpus in the high court, and on September 20, the Supreme Court of India directed the Juvenile Justice Committee of Jammu and Kashmir High Court to examine allegations that children have illegally been detained.
On October 1, the PSA of Shahid was revoked, and he was released on 29th September, two months after his initial detention.
Bano, sitting next to her son, stares at him helplessly. She fears that her son will not be able to live the life he could before.
Shahid, who is attending his 12th class board exams, now sits in his room but doesn’t study, “I don’t feel like studying now, I don’t want to remain confined in my room. I cannot believe that I am finally free,” he said.
The plight of pregnant women
The restrictions imposed by the Indian government have taken a heavy toll on access to healthcare and prevented many from reaching hospitals for urgent care.
Dr Omar Salim, a doctor from Kashmir, protested in August outside a government hospital in Srinagar against the restriction on phones and internet in Jammu and Kashmir. He felt the blackout was preventing patients from receiving government health benefits.
Ameena Jan, a 30-year-old from the summer capital of Kashmir recently had to walk 10 kilometres to reach a hospital for a checkup. Jan who is eight months pregnant couldn’t take her husband along instead her mother had to walk with her amid teargas shelling which was going in her area at that time, “it is impossible for men to leave this place and go somewhere, when police see that they are from Soura, they arrest them.”
Anchar, part of the larger Soura area in Srinagar, has been a hub for protests since August.
Doctors have told Jan that she is anaemic and has to take proper care of her health, otherwise, it could lead problems for her baby, “but since the situation had turned bad in Kashmir, I had no other way but to skip going to the hospital.”
For Jan, also having a proper diet in these conditions when her husband is not able to earn anything is impossible. A few weeks before when Jan had a checkup at the hospital, the tests revealed that the umbilical cord had got stuck around the fetus’ neck.
Jan is apprehensive that the condition she faced was because of her situation.
“My heartbeat would increase every time clashes would occur.”
She also harboured fears that the army and police might barge into her home and take her husband when any clashes occur in the area.
She is now terrified about the prospect of going into labour.
“I feel like we won’t be allowed to reach the hospital on time,” she said.
She is, of course, not the only pregnant woman in her area suffering from this fear.
Rehana Sheikh, a 26-year-old from Anantnag said that when she would visit the hospital, it is her mother who accompanies her, “We used to show the OPD ticket and then police and army would let us go.”
When there would be clashes outside, she would faint in her room, “There were times when my mother thought I might die,” she said.
For all her life, Kulsum Jan has been planning for her wedding.
Kulsum's wedding date happened to be just three days after the Indian government's moves to annex Kashmir.
“It was not possible to cancel the event on the last moment,” Kulsum says.
She of course had no idea that situation would become so unmanageable, Kulsum had to borrow a dress from her cousin for her special day, “my cousin got married three days before the article was scrapped, I had no other way but to wear her dress on my marriage,” she said.
Earlier when she sent her cousin to get a dress (lehanga) from somewhere, he got stuck between police and stone-pelters and Kulsum then had to skip out on the idea of getting a new dress.
The 23-year-old couldn’t even invite her cousins from other districts.
“Because of the communication blackout, it was impossible to call them or even go to their place.”
Women in Soura say that the males were not able to travel anywhere because of the fear of police and army.
“Any male who held an identity card of Anchaar area was either arrested or assaulted,” says Kulsum. Her groom had to ask permission from authorities to visit Anchaar to receive his bride.
Humaira, another bride faced a similar situation saying she had no idea when her bridegroom might arrive.
“I wasn’t prepared when he arrived. I wasn’t happy at all. I was more concerned about his safety than about our wedding,” she said.
*Shahid is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the minor.