Through Their Eyes: Women and Human Security in Kashmir

AuthorSehar Iqbal
Published date01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Through Their Eyes:
Women and Human
Security in Kashmir
Sehar Iqbal1
‘Women’s responsibilities call upon them to function in many spheres of human
experience … (and so) their perspective on human security is comprehensive,
including factors overlooked by the state security paradigm’ (Reardon, 2010a, The
gender imperative: Human security vs state secur ity, Routledge, p. 16). Recognising
this, the following research article records threats to human security in Kashmir
as seen from the point of view of a representative cross-section of Kashmiri
women. It argues that in the context of the Kashmir valley, no discussion of
security is complete without broadening the perspective from state security
to human security. Again, no analysis of human security in Kashmir is complete
without taking into account Kashmiri women’s experience of human security
threats. The lived experiences of women in Kashmir and their perspectives should
be at the heart of any human security analysis. This article aims at recording these
threats faced by Kashmiri women in their daily lives, using a case study model. It
records the lived experiences of 20 women from different ethnicities, religions,
regions and locations within the valley. In doing so, it acknowledges not only the
constraints of the case study model but also the centrality of women’s rights
to identify and confront the threats to their conceptions and experiences of
security. It limits itself to the Kashmir valley where the worst of the violence has
occurred since 1989. Twenty women from seven districts—Srinagar, Pulwama,
Budgam, Kulgam, Anantnag, Baramulla and Kupwara—have been interviewed over
a 6-month period. In order to understand diverse conceptions and experiences
of threats to human security, care was taken to include women from diverse
ethnic and religious communities. The study covers Sikh, Sunni and Shia Muslim,
Gujjar, Pahari and Kashmiri Pandit women.
Kashmir, security, women’s agency, half-widows, sexual violence, migration
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(2) 147–173, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970211017483
The Sajid Iqbal Foundation, Srinagar, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Corresponding author:
Sehar Iqbal, The Sajid Iqbal Foundation, Second Floor, IQ Mall, Hyderpora Crossing, Srinagar, Union
Territory of Jammu and Kashmir 190014, India.
148 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 8(2)
Since the armed conflict in Kashmir started in 1989, it has claimed more than
50,000 lives (some estimates put this as high as a 100,000) and led to countless
injuries, destruction of property, migration and human distress. The erstwhile
princely state is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan. Moreover,
China, which controls the Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley, a large tract ceded
by Pakistan, claims to be a party to the dispute. The historical developments leading
to the conflict, its bilateral ramifications for India and Pakistan and the impact of
the violence on the population have been widely researched. Most studies have
focused on the competing claims and competences of state sovereignty and on the
threats to state security the enduring conflict poses.
Successive national governments in India have continued to view the dispute
through a narrow state security lens. State security rests on the premise that ‘only
with strong militaries can nations have an assurance of security’ (Reardon, 2010a).
It perceives the state under near-constant threat and advocates the strengthening
of military capability and deployment to gain an advantage over other nation
states and dissidents with the state. State security is then an inherently oppositional,
vertical conception of security that views the state as the primary subject of
security studies and policy. Militarism, the natural corollary to the state security
approach, is, thus, based on exceptionalism, that is, identifying countries
competing with your country as the ‘other’ and opposing them through oppositional
military and diplomatic action. When applied internally by countries, this
oppositional paradigm of state security can lead to othering and dehumanisation
of dissident groups and individuals associated with them (Reardon, 1985).
This approach is used by political and military actors to justify an ever-
increasing military response by the state to dissidents themselves as well as their
larger communities and networks. The same approach has been used by the Indian
government in Jammu and Kashmir since the early 1990s. As Duschinski and
Hoffman observe, India ‘has identified Kashmir as a site of emergency and
exception, justifying militarised governance in the region’ (Duschinski &
Hoffman, 2011, p. 45). What this effectively means is that Kashmir valley is one
of the most heavily militarised regions on earth—a place ‘saturated with (the
apparatus of) state security’ (Duschinski & Hoffman, 2011, p. 46). Armed patrols,
check points, cordon and search operations, indiscriminate arrests and public
intimidation are common, and the violence between armed forces and militants
spills over with chilling regularity into civilian spaces—homes and markets. This
has had a debilitating effect on human rights and, ultimately, on human security in
the region.
In recent years, India’s position has hardened further as the right-wing
Bharatiya Janata Party has come to power for its second successive term. In
August 2019, the Indian government stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of
special constitutional provisions that gave it a degree of legal autonomy, separated
the Kashmir valley and Jammu from Ladakh and brought both parts (Jammu &
Kashmir and Ladakh) under direct rule from the centre in the form of separate
Union territories. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir was fortified with

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