By Nyla Ali Khan
The euphoria and anticipation that are palpable in the air today remind me of the very first election campaign that I participated in, which was with my maternal grandmother in South Kashmir, Damhal Hanji Pora, in 1984 (Photo Credit: A well-wisher from Pulwama).
The US Presidential Election of 2016 is a historic one for those people who have or are getting ready to elect their first woman president. Those of us from the developing world who have had women heads of governments/ parliamentarians/ members of legislative assemblies and legislative councils learned the worth of gender equity and women’s participation in politics a long time ago but somewhere along the way, we lost the plot. Today, in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir and other South Asian states, women constitute a minority, increasing the pressures of high visibility, unease, stereotyping, inability to make substantial change, over-accommodation to the dominant male culture in order to avoid condemnation as “overly soft,” inability to foster progressive policies.
There was a time when women in my homeland, Kashmir, were gaining new rights and increasingly asserting themselves in politics – and this momentous shift in traditional gender relationships opens up new possibilities for the pursuit of democracy and regional peace. Women in civic associations were learning to lead the way toward a peaceful pluralistic democracy.
Historical foundations for pluralist democracy in Jammu and Kashmir were established by revolutionary actions during the 1950s. Land was taken from exploitative landlords without compensation and distributed to formerly indentured tillers of the land. This metamorphosis of the agrarian economy had groundbreaking political consequences in a previously feudal economy. With landlord rule abolished and land distributed to peasants who formed cooperative guilds, the economy started working better for all those who cultivated the land and made livings from the forests, orchards, and fish-filled waters. Mineral wealth was reserved for the betterment of the entire populace, while tillers were assured of the right to work on the land without incurring the wrath of creditors and were newly guaranteed rights to basic social and health benefits. These measures signaled the end of the chapter of peasant exploitation and subservience and opened a new chapter of peasant emancipation.
• Women citizens were accorded, a least, in theory, equal rights with men in all fields of national life – economic, cultural, political, and in government services. Women were given the right to work in every line of employment for terms and wages equal to those for men. Women were assured of equality with men in education, social insurance, and job conditions, though the law should also give special protections to mothers and children.
• Government scholarships for those in need were designed to ensure full access to education, with instruction available in regional languages as well as English.
• The state worked to regulate the economic activity to ensure a fair distribution of goods, power, and services.
Nyla Ali Khan is an academic and an author. she is a native of Kashmir and a native speaker of the Kashmir language. She is the author of two critically acclaimed books : The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, in which she critiques the nostalgic support of subversive elements by the affluent diaspora from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In her second book, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan, she examines the seminal spiritual and political role of women in Kashmir, while also highlighting the plight of Kashmir generally as a gnarled bone of contention between India and Pakistan. This monograph is now used as a teaching text in several universities because of the growing interest in Kashmir. Most recently Nyla has edited a major anthology, The Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity, which develops an unparalleled understanding of the region’s culture, resilience and fate as a political pawn. Several reviews of the anthology have appeared in academic journals. Her fourth book, which is a hybrid form of academic memoir and biography, on her maternal grandmother, Begum Akbar Jehan Abdullah, was released in June 2014 and is critically acclaimed as well. Nyla was recently made a member of the Advisory Council of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, member of the Oklahoma Academy, and is on the Local Oklahoma Board of Generation Citizen.