An Interview with Anjum Zamarud Habib, a Writer and Political Activist from Kashmir


  • February 22, 2019
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“There is a saying, men wage war and women suffer. There cannot be any valour in violence against or rape of a woman,” said Anjum Zamarud Habib, a writer and a political activist from Kashmir. GroundXero talked to her on 16th February at the People’s Literary Festival, Kolkata. She discussed about her writings, prisoners’ rights, resistance and political uncertainty in Kashmir.

On 23rd February 1991,Indian armed forces entered the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Kupwara district of Kashmir under the guise of a cordon-and-search operation. The soldiers dragged the men out of their homes. The minor girls, teenage girls, married women or older women were raped and sexually exploited.28 years has passed since the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.


Since 2013, Support Group for Kunan Poshpora, a collective along with survivors to stage acts of resistance, remembrance, and reflection, to commemorate the mass rape and torture of the residents.Today, on Kashmiri Women’s Day of Resistance, we share this interaction with Anjum with our readers. Anjum is a writer who has come out of such systemic attacks on the bodies and voices of Kashmiri women. She was a Huriyat organiser when she was jailed, and a leader of the movement for self-determination.

 

 

Gx: Besides being an activist associated with Hurriyat and Tehreek-e-Khawateen, you are also a writer. Tell us something about your writer self.

 

Anjum: I started to write from my childhood days and also wrote in our college magazine. During those days I used to write short stories. I also penned a few shayari. Those were personal in nature. I didn’t publish them. In the initial years I did not write about Kashmir.

The first book l wrote is Prisoner No. 100, published in 2011. In the book, I have written about the women prisoners. I was in the women’s ward in the Tihar Jail for five years. I try to encourage other women prisoners, after they return from prison, to write their stories – their torture, their sorrows, their anger. So that when people outside (those prison walls) read these stories, they understand prisoners too are human beings. First they are human, then prisoners. So that they can see and understand how life is made difficult for the prisoners, how they are harassed and made to go through mental and physical torture in jail. The people in the jails should also get justice; and the rights of the prisoners should be respected and abided by. Prison is a place where you feel that this will be the last day of my life, death always haunts you.

Wherever I have traveled with my book I have received great response. You will be pleased to know that the book is receiving so much appreciation. It came out in 2011 and it is 2019 now, still people are reading it, ordering it. It is available in three languages now, Urdu, Hindi and English. My next book is Nigah-e-Anjum. It’s in the process of being translated. Inshallah that book also will be loved by the people.

 

 

Gx: Why were you arrested?

 

Anjum: I was arrested and jailed for five years. The people who resist and fight back, the state is against them. Such persons are incarcerated. Not only in Kashmir but everywhere. I too was incarcerated for being vocal against the atrocities committed on the Kashmiri people, specifically on the women, and also for being part of the Hurriyat. I am still a part of Hurriyat … still very active.

 

Gx: What has been the role of literature in the movement for self-determination?

 

Anjum: There are many young writers in Kashmir, some are writing about the resistance. However, I have not found that much literature, considering the depth and intensity of resistance that is going on in Kashmir. It’s not that nothing is being written about the resistance or resistance writing is not happening. There are day to day writings in newspapers, many books have been published. There are various other means of expressing also. Writing has been a powerful means to express our anguish against the atrocities, against state terrorism. If crime on people continues, harassment and killings go on, if people’s rights are trampled, then these writings will keep coming.

 

Gx: You have long been associated with women’s organisations. What kind of role do women play in the resistance?

 

Anjum: In every conflict area of the world women have played a very positive role to rebuild society. Our Kashmiri women are no different in this respect; they too have struggled in both informal and formal ways, as an individual or as a community. Women in Kashmir want to live … we want to exist … but unfortunately the beauties and promises of life … they are fast vanishing.

 

Gx: Could you speak a bit about the “formal and informal” part…

 

Anjum: I will give you an example. The women who are living in the remote villages may have not seen buses, trains or airplanes ever in their life but now they are travelling around to different parts of India trying to find their sons; they are searching for their ashes in different cities of India … in the jails of these different cities where their children have been incarcerated. They know why they have been jailed, under which Sections (of the CrPC), by which judge, by which court. They were not politically mature but due to this unfortunate tragedy – the political uncertainty – they are becoming politically mature. This is at the individual level.

In the community or collective level, there are different organisations like my organization, Kashmir Tehreek-e-Khawateen, where we have collectively documented, Our Widows and Forgotten Prisoners of Kashmir. Women visited different homes, visited different villages to collect data. After compiling these data we have brought it before the public.

 

Gx : When we are talking of disappearances and atrocities we mainly imagine Kashmiri men but what is the reality of women in the Indian jails?

 

Anjum : Jail is jail … be it for men or women. For the women it’s nothing different. I have been in the Tihar jail, it’s one of the most notorious jails. The inmates were hostile to me, the jail authorities were hostile to me, and even the judiciary was hostile to me. We went to jail for a reason and I dream that morning will come when we will be free.

 

Gx: Literature or journalism on Kashmir has been dominated by men like most other places. What would you say about women’s writings in Kashmir and the new writers among them?

 

Anjum: Kashmir has a long history of women’s writing. We have Lal Ded whose writings are still sung, her sayings are still quoted. Habba Khatoon was there, she was also a poet. Women’s writing continued for some time, and then there was a period where it disappeared and then again it started. Now the women writers are coming ahead, writing about the resistance and also on other issues. Nikhat Sahiba is there, and then there is Nikhat Shafaif, who is an Urdu poet. Then there are writers who have worked on documenting Kunan Poshpora.

My writings, then the documentation of Kunan Poshpora, these are our resistance. Similarly there are other writers working on prose, poetry and shayaris – these are also various modes of resistance. The political uncertainty that exists in Kashmir today is getting reflected in everyone’s writing. One cannot isolate anything today from the political uncertainty.

 

Gx: The Political uncertainty seems far from over. The Indian state does not seem willing to allow a plebiscite, or consider a Kashmiri demand for Independence, especially if we consider the aggressive stance of BJP government since it came to power, then the recent incident in Pulwama and the reactions to it. So what do you think is the way forward?

 

Anjum: The present government of India has put so much venom into the hearts of its own people. They have put so much hatred in the minds and hearts of people. Why so much of aggression, so much of hatred? What will you do with so much hatred? The politics of revenge is destroying this entire young generation. You will sit in the throne for five years then you will go, but the politics that you are doing will destroy the generations to come. It will take a long time to cleanse the heart and mind of people.

And the incident that happened recently, I am against all war, I am against all such acts of violence in which people die, I am against all killings of innocents. I think if these deaths, killings have to stop, then the government of Pakistan and India need to come forward and address the Kashmir issue in a peaceful manner. War cannot be the solution to anything. Goli, pellet and bullet can never be the solution. War will bring destruction and poverty, but not only that. If we are talking of freedom, human dignity, saving human resources – then we are currently moving in the contrary direction, and this will also destroy our natural resources. When there will be nothing left, then what is the war for? I believe there is no problem for which we cannot find a solution in a peaceful way. There have been a lot of wars in history which ultimately ended at the (negotiation) table. It’s necessary that India and Pakistan work rationally, intelligently, to address the Kashmir issue. Otherwise, not only India, Pakistan and Kashmir, the entire sub-continent will be destroyed in this politics of attacks and counter attacks.

 

Gx: There are various allegations of Indian armed forces using sexual violence as a weapon of subjugation in Kashmir. How have the women in Kashmir resisted that?

 

Anjum: Anywhere in the world where there has been a war, occupation or any kind of conflict zone, women have always faced violence. If we look back at the partition of India and Pakistan, there has been huge violence, the stories of which we still get to hear, the cries of mothers, sisters and daughters still ring in our ears. A similar thing is happening in Kashmir. It is a deeply conservative society where women would never come out in public talking of sexual violence. In such a society how will we know exactly how many women have been raped and molested by occupation forces, unknown gunmen and by other agencies … that will never come out. There is a saying, men wage war and women suffer. There cannot be any valour in violence or rape of a woman.

 

Gx: Even so many years after the Kunan Poshpora incident and several other known instances of sexual violence, none of the accused defence personnel have been convicted or penalised. What has been the role of the judiciary in this context?

 

Anjum: We have draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act, and Disturbed Area Act. Under AFSPA they barge into our house, break our doors and windows, they can drag a person, they can rape a woman, they can arrest anyone. Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world. So you can imagine a woman’s life in the most militarized zone in the world: there are bunkers everywhere, in such a small place, there are so many army men. What is the need for so many army men? They are there to instill fear, to intimidate, to harass, for psychological harassment and for physical torture. All these will end only when the political unrest is addressed in a peaceful way.

 

Gx: How was your experience in jail…

 

Anjum: The condition of Kashmir Central Jail is not good. The space where women are kept is small, they fight for food and water. But I will tell you about Tihar Jail where I spent 5 years. In Tihar’s women section there was provision for 250 prisoners but more than 500 women stayed there. People fight for food and water, food cannot be provided to everyone. Then there are a lot of women who are innocent but had to spend years in jail, a woman who should be released in 2 months remains in prison for five years. It is necessary to strengthen the legal system. Reforms are required in the jail. Most of the people in jail are innocent, still they are struck there for years. There was a Kashmiri child, Shahid Maqbool, who was arrested in his teens, at 14-15 years of age. He was finally released as none of the charges could be proven, but he was nearly 40 by then. He lost so many years. Who will compensate him? The judicial system should be made more efficient, it is almost nonfunctional. It’s necessary that there are fast track courts for women.

 

 

Feature Image: Sourab Basu

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