Kashmir is a region of great conflict. As Indian Hindus, and Pakistani Muslims, battle over the region of Kashmir, women and children are caught in the conflict of this brutal war. Occurrences of rape, mental and physically abuse, torture, and kidnappings are not uncommon in this area and we are seeing that despite increased exposure in media sources, the human rights violations are not coming to an end anytime soon. For the past 20 years, the fighting in Kashmir has cost the lives of over 47,000 people, not including the abuse that women and children face on a daily basis. As women are caught in the brutal middle position of this conflict, they have been shown little mercy from authorities and political figures. Even those who try and stand up for their cause and bring change to human rights issues in Kashmir are not accepted. In 2004, Aasia Jeelani, Kashmir’s first woman human rights activist, gave her life for her cause. A taxi, carrying her and her colleagues, exploded after driving over a land mine in northern Kupwara. Asia was fighting for the right to a voice. She had developed the first woman’s peace group in Kashmir and was brining to light the number of violent attacks against women.
Like Aasia’s death, there have been a countless number of other deaths covered up by officials. For example, in 2009 an article came out in the New York Times about a mother and sister who’s dead bodies were found lying in a shallow stream in between a high security zone located between army and state police camps. The bodies were reported to have been raped and murdered, but officials enforced a new autopsy report which came out saying that the women had died from drowning. In an uproar of anger, protestors shut the city down for days as they blamed the government for managing to belittle the crisis. This anger over these killings shows that many local citizen of Kashmir acknowledge the issues and struggles at hand and are crying out for help. But where will this help come from? It is apparent that many local governments bypass the necessity for an increase on legislation for human rights issues, but we are also seeing that there has been a lack of pressure from the United States government under the Obama administration.
Local news organizations have recently been outlining the weak approach that Obama has reached out to the Indian and Pakistan governments with. An article in Time criticizes Obama for not following through with his initial spoken intensions. During his campaign, Obama “repeatedly said that ending Indo-Pakistani differences over Kashmir was one of the keys to calming tensions in south Asia and winning the war on terror,” but where is this pressure now? During Obama’s most recent visit to India in late 2010, he made a dramatic diplomatic gesture in backing India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, but refused to intervene directly with the tensions in Kashmir. Offering to help, but not actually doing anything explicitly shows how Obama’s original promised goals have changed. Wanting to keep diplomatic relations stable, Obama is staying on the safe side of the fence and avoiding any direct help that could potentially bring these people, especially women, out of violence and oppression. Similarly an article in The Guardian exposed Obama’s over simplified view as an incidental part of the problem in Kashmir. Obama’s naïve offer to simply help mediate the problem if asked, is only adding to the terror occurring in Kashmir. Another accusation of the Guardian article focuses on the fact that Obama is continuing to support Pakistan’s military with economic aid and that “unless Washington and New Delhi show themselves capable, as the world's two largest democracies, of acknowledging their respective failures in achieving their strategic interests in Pakistan, then they are each in the situation of enabling the other's delusion.”
I agree with these news articles and believe that the government’s mistakes can not be overlooked. The most direct way to increase support and see changes is to get government policies on board with important issues. Through NGO’s and women’s support groups in Kashmir, the fight for equality is attempting to break the surface, but without strong support from democratic governments, the pressure for change will never come.
In the picture below, we see a sea of masked women standing up for their beliefs and rights. “Murder of women, murder of humanity” as said in the center woman’s poster is the overlying principle that these women are fighting for. Women in Kashmir are seeking basic human rights, ones that call for basic humanity from their husbands, peers, and government. By bringing the issue of killing women to a crime against humanity, these women are making a strong statement to their government and the world, forcing their cause to be recognized. The more these women stand up for themselves, and break the silence between the human rights violations and the government, I believe we will begin to see change.