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"Behold I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir's Women and Children" | Inspiring stories of resilience

Kashmir, the land which was once our paradise is now being lost amidst the blazing gun shots, and the bombarding explosives. A flip of the weekly newspaper will bring to our notice at least one story of violence erupting in the valley, a tug of war of rights between the native residents and the governments on either side of the frontier. While we chronicle the stories of the precious lives lost in battle – young men surrendering to militancy, patriotic soldiers losing their sacrosanct lives – a most important section of society escapes our notice. The stories of the women and children of Kashmir seem to have been buried along with the many coffers of innocence resting in the silent corners of our lost paradise. Journalist, Freny Manecksha in her book ‘Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children’ unearths these lost stories of the seemingly voiceless who never failed to fuel the Kashmiri citizen’s movement to self ascertainment. Based on extensive fieldwork, where she spent a significant amount of time residing and engaging with the powerful Kashmiri citizens, Manecksha’s book brings in fresh perspective where she gives life to the stories of the forgotten heroes- the victims of rape, the widows, the half-widows, the women who were stripped of every right to self-dignity, and the children whose childhood was bereft of its very essence – innocence. Manecksha chronicles the stories of several women each of who resisted violence in their own way. Organised with clear sections the book provides a holistic view of the struggle of women and children in Kashmir. From leading protest marches, to mocking soldiers and chanting at the time of death- the women had a unique role to play often fleeting between spaces, never knowing which to call their own. The violence in the valley had taken away from the woman her home, her husband, her child, her family, her dignity, and her very idea of self-worth. Despite all of this the women in the valley fought back. Among many others is the story of Razia, a young woman who had spent some time behind the bars and continued to fight for the rights of the Kashmiri citizens – the rights of the women who are still in search of their ‘missing husbands.’ The stories of these women remind us that the veil is not an impediment to the woman’s fight for justice. She can come out to protect herself and her family even while adorning the seemingly regressive veil. The inspiring stories of resilience that dot the book deserve a wide readership across the country, an instrument that would inspire women to make more of their own active agency. The story of Munawara is another such tale that reflects the deep perseverance displayed by the women of the valley. For years on end she attended court hearings to avenge the unlawful killing of her innocent husband who had been picked up by the armed forces for serving drinking water to fellow Kashmiris. Despite the endless legal labyrinth Munwara continues to fight for the justice of her husband. She, echoing many others in the valley, strongly believes, “Our struggle is for the next generation… The injustices I suffered are not repeated. What I had to undergo- that should not happen to our children.” While the story of women is marked by social stigma, the story of children is marked by an uprooted innocence. In the battle between two nations, between militancy and failed governance, between hurled stones and pellet guns- the future of innocence is nipped at the bud. The violence to which the children were exposed to from a young age took tolls on their physical health. Young children developed speaking impairment, as the trauma of viewing direct violence on family members made an irrevocable impact on their cognition. Violence had become an everyday aspect of growing up for the fair-eyed, rosy-cheeked toddler of Kashmir. To grow up was interspersed with so much fear that there was an innate desire to reverse the entire process. As a young Uzma narrates her story, she says: “As a teenager I took to sitting in cupboards. Enclosed spaces actually made me feel safe- as though I was back in the womb…..” The stories of the womb and innocence fail to find coverage in our everyday news stories. Yet, without these stories the reality of the Kashmir Valley remains incomplete to common knowledge. Over 8000 men have disappeared in Kashmir since 1989. These 8000 disappearances have left back just as many half-widows- a term coined specifically for the distressed women of Kashmir who live in absolute uncertainty, never knowing whether their husbands are dead or whether their remains a ray of hope that they are still holding on to their precious breath. These 8000 disappearances have also left back twice if not more fatherless children who have grown up in fear of having to grow up- always wanting to turn the clock around. Freny Manecksha’s book is a delight for those looking to unravel the stories of the inner world of Kashmir, without the knowledge of which the valley will continue to remain as distant for curious mainland countrymen as it is today. Manecksha successfully brings to the forefront the womb, the home that is being quickly bereft of its sanctity.

Price:   195 |  20 May 2017 4:22 PM GMT  |  Radhika Dutt

Inspiring stories  of resilience

Kashmir, the land which was once our paradise is now being lost amidst the blazing gun shots, and the bombarding explosives. A flip of the weekly newspaper will bring to our notice at least one story of violence erupting in the valley, a tug of war of rights between the native residents and the governments on either side of the frontier. While we chronicle the stories of the precious lives lost in battle – young men surrendering to militancy, patriotic soldiers losing their sacrosanct lives – a most important section of society escapes our notice. The stories of the women and children of Kashmir seem to have been buried along with the many coffers of innocence resting in the silent corners of our lost paradise. 

Journalist, Freny Manecksha in her book ‘Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children’ unearths these lost stories of the seemingly voiceless who never failed to fuel the Kashmiri citizen’s movement to self ascertainment. Based on extensive fieldwork, where she spent a significant amount of time residing and engaging with the powerful Kashmiri citizens, Manecksha’s book brings in fresh perspective where she gives life to the stories of the forgotten heroes- the victims of rape, the widows, the half-widows, the women who were stripped of every right to self-dignity, and the children whose childhood was bereft of its very essence – innocence. 

Manecksha chronicles the stories of several women each of who resisted violence in their own way. Organised with clear sections the book provides a holistic view of the struggle of women and children in Kashmir.  From leading protest marches, to mocking soldiers and chanting at the time of death- the women had a unique role to play often fleeting between spaces, never knowing which to call their own. The violence in the valley had taken away from the woman her home, her husband, her child, her family, her dignity, and her very idea of self-worth. Despite all of this the women in the valley fought back. Among many others is the story of Razia, a young woman who had spent some time behind the bars and continued to fight for the rights of the Kashmiri citizens – the rights of the women who are still in search of their ‘missing husbands.’ The stories of these women remind us that the veil is not an impediment to the woman’s fight for justice. She can come out to protect herself and her family even while adorning the seemingly regressive veil. 

The inspiring stories of resilience that dot the book deserve a wide readership across the country, an instrument that would inspire women to make more of their own active agency. The story of Munawara is another such tale that reflects the deep perseverance displayed by the women of the valley. For years on end she attended court hearings to avenge the unlawful killing of her innocent husband who had been picked up by the armed forces for serving drinking water to fellow Kashmiris. Despite the endless legal labyrinth Munwara continues to fight for the justice of her husband. She, echoing many others in the valley, strongly believes, “Our struggle is for the next generation… The injustices I suffered are not repeated. What I had to undergo- that should not happen to our children.”

While the story of women is marked by social stigma, the story of children is marked by an uprooted innocence. In the battle between two nations, between militancy and failed governance, between hurled stones and pellet guns- the future of innocence is nipped at the bud. The violence to which the children were exposed to from a young age took tolls on their physical health. Young children developed speaking impairment, as the trauma of viewing direct violence on family members made an irrevocable impact on their cognition.  Violence had become an everyday aspect of growing up for the fair-eyed, rosy-cheeked toddler of Kashmir. To grow up was interspersed with so much fear that there was an innate desire to reverse the entire process. As a young Uzma narrates her story, she says: “As a teenager I took to sitting in cupboards. Enclosed spaces actually made me feel safe- as though I was back in the womb…..” 

 The stories of the womb and innocence fail to find coverage in our everyday news stories. Yet, without these stories the reality of the Kashmir Valley remains incomplete to common knowledge. Over 8000 men have disappeared in Kashmir since 1989. These 8000 disappearances have left back just as many half-widows- a term coined specifically for the distressed women of Kashmir  who live in absolute uncertainty, never knowing whether their husbands are dead or whether their remains a ray of hope that they are still holding on to their precious breath. These 8000 disappearances have also left back twice if not more fatherless children who have grown up in fear of having to grow up- always wanting to turn the clock around. 

Freny Manecksha’s book is a delight for those looking to unravel the stories of the inner world of Kashmir, without the knowledge of which the valley will continue to remain as distant for curious mainland countrymen as it is today. Manecksha successfully brings to the forefront the womb, the home that is being quickly bereft of its sanctity.

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