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Women of Kashmir

Women empowerment in Kashmir

–          A historical perspective

Zahid G Muhammad

To talk about women’s lib and in South Asia is a fad, a fashion and a craze with many Western intellectuals. The Western scholars and writers have been looking at the status of women in the Indian Sub-Continent through coloured glasses. There is no denying that the women in some of the States in the Indian sub-continent have suffered in the past and continue to live in a state of deprivation but historically the situation in Kashmir has been different than many other states bordering it.

Many a neo-elites with out having a brace from support   in their blind aping have also started talking about the women’s lib or gender equality in Kashmir.  Many NGO’s from outsides who draw their sustenance from different sources have been writing and talking about the plight of the women in the land of Lal Ded. The valley being Muslim majority state has made those with tinted glasses believe that woman in this land could be nothing but an exploited lot.  Are the Kashmiri women fettered and chained, have they been exploited by men and have they been discriminated against after the advent of Islam are some of the fundamental questions that have been debated and discussed by many advocates of women’s lib.

From earliest times Kashmiri women ‘enjoyed remarkable freedom, wielded ample power and exercised responsibility and had an elevated status than many of their counterparts in the neighbouring states and countries. It was these historical realities that had made the first Prime Minister of Independent India Jawaharlal Nehru , “ Women in Kashmir in Kashmir have played a notable part in its history. Broadly speaking woman has greater role there than in other parts of India.”[1]  History bears testimony that the status of woman in Kashmir was much better not only in the rest of Indian sub-continent but in many other countries bordering this beautiful land. “They had emerged from the domestic into political stage, were free, owned landed and other immovable property, managed their own estates and even fought on the battle fields as commanders and at the head of troops.”[2]  The status of woman in the royal courts was no less than in King. “Usually in Kashmir as elsewhere, men ascended the throne and ruled the country, but there was a tradition as forceful as law, that at the time of coronation when the king was crowned the queen had to be present and actively participate in the ceremony. She shared the throne in the royal durbar on the auspicious occasion and was sprinkled with sacred waters in the same manner as the king was by the royal preceptor.”[3]  There can be no denying that the king was final in all matters concerning the state but queen’s consent was also of paramount importance. “In the normal times king could seldom adopt a decision on any problem without the previous consultation with and in certain cases, prior consent of his queen, he could not even make appointments’ to key positions without talking her  advice.”[4] The queens would not just advice Kings in the affairs of the State but have played manly role during the periods of crisis. Queen Didi, “remarkable woman, was wife of king kshemagupta, in whose reign she already exercised much influence on the affairs of State. After his death she ruled Kashmir as guardian of her minor son Abhmanyu –and at last assumed government in her own name in 980 A.D.”[5] “ She ruthlessly put down all rival parties executing captured rebels and exterminating their families.”[6]  With all her failing Kota Rani was woman of strong will and determination, she faced the onslaught of Zulju or Dulcha with courage and had a strong urge to reconstruct Kashmir by reviving the patriotism in her subjects. “ In consultation with Shah Mir, she made an appeal to all the officials and the people inviting them to offer a united front to the invaders and to save themselves and the country. In this appeal she recalled to their minds the deplorable conditions which prevailed in Kashmir after Dulcha’s invasion. This appeal elicited a ready response and aroused feelings of patriotism amongst the subjects who willingly offered their services for defense of motherland.”[7] The people fought back the enemy and Kota Rani won the fame as the “courageous” queen of Kashmir. It was not only a few queens who hold a distinctive place in the history of Kashmir but as very aptly said by Prem Nath Bazaz, “ At times Kashmiri women have risen to pinnacles of glory and distinguished themselves as rulers  in their own right as regents of minor princes, as powerful consorts, as diplomats, Radda Deva, Kalhankia, as commanders of armies, Silla and Chudda, as thrifty land ladies, as builders and reformers and as preceptors of the religion lore.”[8] While glorifying the role of women in Kashmir some historians with coloured glasses have asserting that they were robbed of their freedom and rights after the advent of Islam in Kashmir. To understand the phenomenon of impact of Islam in Kashmir society in general and women in particular there is need for looking at arrival of Islam in Kashmir in its authentic and proper perspective.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Kashmir society was under greater influence from the Central Asia than from other parts of India. These influences also had played a considerable role heightening the status of women in Kashmir than in other parts of India. “The kings of Kashmir for generations had  formed matrimonial alliances with the Turkish dynasty of Kabul and famous Queen Didda – the prototype of empress queen Catherine of Russia was a grand daughter of Sahi”[9] While the interaction between Kashmir had increased over a period of time, “the whole of the Central Asia had come under the sway of the Muslim armies by the end of eight century, and neighbouring territories situated close to the north and south of Kashmir too fell to Muslim rulers, in the beginning of the eleventh century.”[10]

Notwithstanding some Kashmir historians claiming about the arrival of Islam in Kashmir during the Prophet Muhammad’s life time through two emissaries arriving in the court of King Vanadutta,[11] Islam reached Kashmir in the eight century has sufficient evidence. On the strength of an Arab Chronicler Ali bin Hamid bin Abu Bakar Kufi (chach-nama) Dr. M.A. Wani asserts “That Mohammad Alafi, a fugitive Arab commander in the service of Raja Dahir (d.710) and his son Jaisiah, sought refuge in Kashmir for himself and his corp after he and his patron, Jaisiah failed to checkmate the advance of Arabs.”[12] It almost took Islam five centuries to struck its roots in Kashmir and establish itself as peoples faith.    In the words of Stein, “Islam made its way into Kashmir not by forcible conquests but by gradual conversions.”[13] Many researchers have looked people embracing Islam different from vantage points. Many times the predetermining factor has been historians’ faith. The Hindu historians have looked at the rapid spread of Islam in Kashmir to the malice of class and caste difference. Dr. M. A. Wani in his recently brought out book Islam in Kashmir (fourteenth century to sixteenth century) has tried to analyze the mass conversion of Hindus and Buddhist people from different angles. One may agree or may not agree many of the factors identified by him for mass conversion but there can be no denying that “the Society in Kashmir with which Islam came face to face was characterized by structured social relationship where the systems, ideologies did not function uniformly    for society and for all its members.”[14] The situation of Kashmir before the advent of Islam was disgusting. “ It was an account of bestiality and savagery of mean men and low born adventures with no principles to guide them.”[15] The decadence in Kashmir society which had started much earlier than the advent of Islam in Kashmir reached to its pinnacle during twelfth and thirteen centuries. There was a lot of terror. Plundering, burning, murder and fighting were the order of the idea. The entire gamut of society was caught up in the morass of material and moral corruption. It was a ‘country of drunkards and gamblers, and women were no better than they should be.”[16] History is replete with instances of exploitation of women to the hilt during the period. Islam not came with a message of brotherhood but with a stronger message of peace, tranquility and equality but with an economic programme for the uplifting of the society. The teaching of Mir Syed Hamadani who played most important role in the spread of Islam in Kashmir had a revolutionary impact on the Kashmir society. He restored the dignity of women. “ He recommended certain socio-economic rights for women. They should be treated well. He supported the interaction of women with society with the permission of the society. They have to acquire religious education. A husband has no right to humiliate his wife.”[17]  The teachings of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani changed entire social spectrum of Kashmir. Women were no more looked as objects of entertainment and pleasure but active partners in life. A whole range of woman during the Muslim period made a mark in the society these included ‘Shri Khatun, Bombara khatuan, Begum Saliha, Lachhama, Shah Bibi , Hafiza Maryam, Hafiza Khataja and so many others.” Education of women during Muslim period received an attention. “Education was widely spread amongst the well to do Muslim women, who were very cultured” writes Prof. Mohibbul Hasan, “ they opened schools, built monasteries and took an active interest in public affairs as is evident from Sura, Gul Khatuan, Hayat Khatuan and Haba Khatuan.”[18] The common women were by and large illiterate for their poverty but it would wrong to believe that Islam had imposed restrictions on the education of women from common stalk. The common women not only were respected but enjoyed all the freedom about which the West started thinking in the twentieth century. “They moved about freely without veil, doing out door work, helping their husbands in fields, in the gardens or rivers.”[19]  Education was not the privilege of elite women but women from the common stock also had access to education. “The life Haba Khatuan, the queen of Yusaf Shah shows that opportunities were not wanting even for peasant girls who were keen to acquire knowledge.”[20]  The women of Kashmir like other members of the society could not escape the wrath of the Pathan and Sikh rule and had to suffer at the hands of the ruthless from these two clans but they ventured same courage as exhibited men in raising their voice against the oppressors. Kashmir women played an important role in the Freedom Struggle or the Movement of Reassertion by Kashmiris some intellectuals prefer to call it. “For a whole decade from 1936-46 Kashmiri women took little or no part in politics but were constructively engaged in acquiring literacy and learning” Writes Bazaz it was in May 1946 during the quit Kashmir movement political minded Muslim again came to fore.”[21] True, the leading lights of the struggle were Begum Abdullah, Zaniab Begum, Miss Mehmooda Ali Shah but the most dominating rule in the struggle against the autocratic role was played by women from lower strata of the society. Some important names are Noori Gour, Fatima, Zooni Gour and Raja, these women not only exhibited great courage and dared the powers but led the struggle against the feudal rule in true revolutionary spirit.

The freedom struggle of Kashmir not withstanding aberrations of its leaders had both content and meaning. The gospel of Naya Kashmir had envisaged empowerment of women about sixty seven years.  It is this gospel that has provides a very strong edifice to the Constitution of Kashmir that guarantees rights to the women of the State.  True,  the women in the state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoy a better status than women in other parts of the country but there continues for increasing their role in bringing about socio-economic transformation this I believe could not be done by adopting reservation policies but by opening greater vistas of development for them. Reservation Policies, I believe breeds incompetence and delays the progress and development of the States.








[1] A History of Kashmir, PNK Bamazi, Metropolitan Book Company 1973 P 509

[2] Rivers of Kings , R.S. Pandit The Indian Press, Allahabad XXXIII later on reprinted by Sahitya Akademi

[3] Daughters of Vitasta by Prem Nath Bazaz Gulsan Publishers, Srinagar P 4

[4] Ibid

[5] The Valley of Kashmir, Sir Walter Lawrence Chinar Publishing House, P 188

[6] Kashir  G.M.D. Sufi Capital Publishing House P 68

[7] Ibid page 129

[8] Kashmir in Crucible, Prem Nath Bazaz Pamposh Publications, New Delhi P 12

[9] Kalhana’s  Rajatarangini, R.S.Pandit  Sahitya Akademi p xxxvi

[10] Islam In Kashmir Muhammad Ashraf Wani Oriental Publishing House Sringar 2004 P 44

[11] [11] This assertion needs to researched further as there is no evidence any of the Arab Chronicles, I have come across suggesting Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him having deputed any of his emissaries to Kashmir

[12] Islam in Kashmir Muhammad Ashraf Wani page No 45

[13] Steins introduction to his English Translation of Rajatarangini VOl page 130

[14] Islam in Kashmir by M.A. Wani P 81

[15] Kashmir in crucible page 4

[16] The Valley of Kashmir by Sir Walter Lawrence page No 189

[17] Shah –i-Hamadan Mir Syed Ali Hamadani Edited by Prof. S.M. Waseem Kanishaka Publishers Distributors P 61

[18] Kashmir Under the Sultans by MOhibbul Hassan Ali Mohamma and Sons P227

[19] Ibid

[20] ibid

[21] Daughters of Vitasta by Prem Nath Bazaz P 261

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