US (Pal Telegraph)--In all conflicts around the world, where the oppressed are fighting their oppressors, women are often unsung heroes in resistance. Yet they are an integral part, playing many diverse roles. The eminent political, social, woman activist and author of Prisoner No. 100 Anjum Zamrooda Habib engaged in conversation with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander about her life, activism, women, political prisoners and present political situation in Kashmir.
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander: You have been active in Social work since the 1980s. What is your experience regarding the participation of women in social activism? Has there been an increase or decrease among women activists?
Anjum Zamrooda Habib: Activism among women has been on the decline since the inception of militancy. Militancy has dominated the hearts and minds of the society and social evils like dowry have receded into oblivion. New and more serious social problems like widowhood and orphans have emerged and nothing substantial has been undertaken to address these challenges. In the area of rehabilitation, the widows were exploited by government agencies and others, thereby reinforcing the fear and vulnerabilities of women. Moreover, women were, and still are, hard hit by the raging conflict and the repercussions of militancy. All of these factors taken together are responsible for the decline of women in social activism.
MS: So you mean to say that activism and participation among women declined with the inception and prolonging of the armed struggle?
AZH: No, only the spheres of activism and participation changed. When the armed struggle started, the whole nation was on the streets and prominent among them were the women. They stood side by side with the men protesting; some even saved men from the brutal hands of the occupational forces and police. When the State opted for an Iron fist policy to suppress the resistance, the women occupied the backseat by looking after the children and family when either their husband or any other family member was killed or placed in detention. Women, therefore, still play an active role at the grassroots level of society. Women are the ocean of sacrifice and without their participation no resistance can survive. They are still quite active within the confines of their home but, unfortunately, their sacrifices are not taken into account, which they always offer readily, continuously, without any desire for recognition.
MS: Why have you made the transition from social to political Activism?
AZH: I was one of the founding members of the Women’s Welfare Association. In this association, women from the Pandit community were members too. After their exodus and the daily killings of innocent civilians, politics came to dominate all spheres of life. I too felt compelled to do something for my nation, though I did not give up social activism. I am active on both fronts.
MS: You were also one of the founding woman members of the Hurriyat Conference. How many more were there like you?
AZH: There was one other women’s organization that was a part of this amalgam when it was formed in 1993. Although it faded away with time, my organization, the Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM), is still prominent among the Hurriyat Conference.
MS: Does the Hurriyat Conference have a certain quota of women representation in the decision-making body and as members?
AZH: No, there is nothing written in the constitution of Hurriyat Conference about a quota of women as members or in the decision making body. The condition or status of is quite abysmal and pathetic. Women’s voices are ignored and their political participation and representation in the decision making body is minimal.
MS: Is it difficult as a women’s organization (MKM) to survive in a male dominated political culture?
AZH: Yes it is, but there are always exceptions. Men do politics but women by their nature are tender and loving, who wish to end any conflict amicably and offer reconciliation wherever it is readily applicable. It is also difficult to survive as an organization. Moreover, when you are solitary your opinions are frequently sidelined as a minority, despite being vocal and progressive in outlook.
MS: Was it because of your being vocal, progressive and revolutionary that some members of the Hurriyat Conference fixed your arrest and imprisonment?
AZH: Many things have now come to the fore and everything has become clear now. Transparency must be present in the working of Hurriyat Conference. Resentment and Revolution go hand-in-hand.
MS: Does it mean that some anti-movement elements or State agencies have penetrated in the ranks of the Hurriyat Conference and are deceiving people by posing as Resistance leaders?
AZH: Since early 1990s there was an infiltration of anti-movement elements. The anti-movement elements wished to keep the pot of conflict boiling, and still there are some people who continue with that intent. Transparency must be restored and a clear picture of the credentials of the leaders needs to be submitted and made available to the people. If the leadership is disabled, the whole nation must not be. The younger generation must come forward and seek accountability and transparency from their leaders, and it is the moral responsibility of leadership to stick to these norms.
MS: Why has the Hurriyat Conference not been able to deliver since its formation?
AZH: It has delivered, but not to our expectations. India is a mighty and powerful nation; to fight against it is difficult, but the Hurriyat Conference has been undertaking just that since its formation. It remains the lone group that represents our sentiments and, as a nation, our concerns and issues. However, it must grow stronger with time.
MS: Why have the sacrifices of women been undermined and in most cases their efforts die unsung in oblivion?
AZH: When resistance is amalgamated with politics only power seems to be the concern. Moreover, in the war zone, memories are short lived. The fact that the whole world is male dominated, with many therein not wanting to acknowledge the sacrifices of the women, further confounds the problem. All these factors taken together create apathy.
MS: What steps have you taken to rectify this apathy?
AZH: Women should come forward, ignoring the vulnerabilities, fear and patriarchal norms and join hands with me. The MKM is the best platform to raise a collective voice about women issues and concerns.
MS: The resistance leaders have not formed any institutions for the victims of the conflict and many are left unaccustomed after being used as cannon fodder.
AZH: Armed insurgency was not a well-organized or disciplined endeavor. Still anarchy prevails. As a result, there came the politics and that which was conducted over the dead bodies. The collective effort of the whole nation was missing. The Hurriyat Conference broke into two and so too did other political and militant organizations. It was a fight for the supremacy, hegemony and the number game. No attention was paid to institution building, but we are now making efforts for the same. Many dedicated members became disgusted with the splits and counter-splits, and took recourse to cozy cocoons.
MS: Time and again we have witnessed a failure of the leadership to channelize and deliver when a spate of resistance gains currency, which results in failure and a return to ground zero. Why is there an impotency among the leadership?
AZH: No, we are not at ground zero. India is a big mighty State and our resistance movement is a long drawn one. In the movement, many elements are always ready to sabotage the resistance. Speaking strategically, however, our resistance is not strong. Our leadership considers itself above and not subservient to the resistance.
MS: What is needed to rectify this apathy—a change in leadership or strategy?
AZH: Both are needed.
MS: After your release from the Tihar jail, you formed the Association of Families of Kashmiri Prisoners (AFKP). Why?
AZH: In the Tihat jail, I was the only female from Kashmir. I witnessed the horrors of jail life, where you feel unwanted, forgotten and disgusted with life. The same is the case with others too. This combined with witnessing the pathetic conditions of the families of the prisoners, I decided that once freed I would certainly try to help my fellow prisoners, which became a moving spirit behind the formation of AFKP.
MS: What does AFKP do?
AZH: We provide moral support to the families of the victims, as well as document their cases and follow their trails. Society and the Indian legal system are hostile toward Kashmiri Prisoners. When being released from long detentions, they are unfit to reenter society and need counseling. The AKFP would like to do this but is unable to establish counseling due to dearth of funds. Nothing has been done for the prisoner’s rights, so we are attempting to create awareness.
MS: Finally, do you have any message for women?
AZH: Women are part and parcel of the resistance movement. The new generation of women has been individually carrying the mantle of resistance, but they should come forward and join hands with the MKM for a collective endeavor.