In a long monologue recently delivered by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in the assembly, there were a few words of significant import. Usually Mehbooba’s belaboured statements have little substance but a lot more self-serving rhetoric, self-defence inanities and perpetual references to her late father’s imagined ‘vision’. This statement, made in the context of the alleged molestation case in Handwara and the subsequent killings of five civilians by the army, hardly invited any notice though it was pretty disconcerting. “I have travelled in buses. A girl’s molestation in Handwara resulted in five killings. Thousands will die if the veil is lifted from the problems faced by women in public transport,” the CM was quoted as saying.
One, was the CM trying to justify the alleged molestation of the girl by a soldier by saying the problem of sexually-motivated misbehaviour with women in public transport by Kashmiri males is far bigger for this particular incident to merit any serious attention? More serious is the other point. The statement clearly establishes she is fully in know of the sexual harassment women face in public transport. And she also knows the scale of the problem that, “Thousands will die if the veil is lifted…” If thousands will die, obviously at the hands of state forces and it also shows how the CM values the lives of Kashmiris, then it must be a terrible, terrible problem. So what is the CM, who by her own admission is fully aware of this issue, doing to save women from sexual predators? She is the chief executive of the state and has the entire state machinery at her disposal; she is also a woman and understands the severity of this problem more than anyone else. But all the chief executive does to save women travelling in public transport from sexual harassment is run a couple of women-only buses in the city. A case that will result in ‘thousands of deaths if the veil is lifted from it’ merits a far more serious response to check it. For Mehbooba to think a better and safe strategy is to keep the veil on the issue, not tackle it head-on and let the women silently live through these sexual transgressions and the attendant trauma speaks so much about her concern for women and their safety.
There was a related issue we highlighted in our previous month’s editorial titled Our Dirty Dark Underbelly. It was about how women in Kashmir are becoming easy targets of sexual exploitation in the heavily militarised situation of Kashmir where the security-intelligence apparatus uses all tricks and traps in and out of the book to keep taps on a defiant populace. We had highlighted how young girls become soft targets for spy agencies in running their surveillance procedures. We had underlined how these liaisons do not remain limited to spying but at times lead to relations with men in uniform which clearly are unacceptable in our social setup. We had stressed how the state predates on women in occupied territories because women are easy to manipulate and even easier to shut down should they choose to talk about their exploitation. We had called upon the society and its various institutions like the family, civil society groups, religious leaders, etc., to wake up to this reality which is slowly gnawing away the society’s moral moorings. We wrote all this in good faith and stand by it.
While most of the people appreciated our effort, some felt offended. Probably we are a society that relishes being in a state of perpetual denial over critical issues. We do not want to admit unsavoury things happening in our society because that outrages us. And we do not want to be outraged and challenged out of comfort zones for that would warrant action from us. And we do not want to act because we have lapsed into passivity. Some people accused us of misogyny; some said we are degrading our women because, according to these people, our perceptions are dictated by patriarchal attitudes. The issue isn’t about misogyny. It isn’t about patriarchy. One civil liberties lawyer accused us of exonerating state personnel by portraying our women as ‘morally weak’. It isn’t about women being morally weak and hence falling into spy and sex rings. It is about how moral disintegration is engineered into a resistor society to weaken the resistance. It is about the predatory tactics of an occupying state where it finds women of the occupied easy preys for it has given itself insurmountable covert and overt authority which is impossible for ordinary folks to challenge. Such practices by the state to co-opt or coerce women into spy-sexual alliances is a trusted way of emptying out the moral grounding of a resistance movement. We help such state predation only by our silence and state of self-denial which is what those who criticised us for the editorial are unwittingly doing. Time we wake up and smell the coffee.