How women’s roles are changing in Kashmir’s conflict

‘Innocent women are getting maimed and killed. But the struggles we fight at other fronts are unheard.’

For women in heavily militarised Kashmir, the battleground is both on the streets and at home.

Photojournalist Masrat Zahra has documented women’s shifting roles amid the conflict in her homeland. Her photos, shown below, capture the drastic impacts of violence on women’s lives, and the hidden pressures they face in a patriarchal society. 

Civilians in Indian-administered Kashmir have lived through decades of violence. An insurgency pushing against Indian rule, and years of military clampdowns and rights abuses, have killed some 40,000 people. The population has spent much of the last year on lockdown, starting months before COVID-19. India stripped the former Jammu and Kashmir state of its semi-autonomous status last August, and the coronaviruspandemic has now extended clampdown conditions.

The women in Zahra’s photos are both victims and survivors. They are widows who have lost husbands and sons, or pregnant women unable to reach crucial health services during lockdowns. 

But they’re also women who are increasingly vocal about their rights and ambitions, reflected in the growing number of women and girls who take part in street protests despite pressures to fill traditional gender roles at home.

Huriyah, a 22-year-old graffiti artist from Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city, embodies this ongoing change. She paints stencil graffiti protesting Indian rule on the streets of her city – initially against the wishes of her family.

“Nowadays, you see innocent women are getting maimed and killed by the hands of [security] forces. People know it,” she said. “But the struggles we fight at other fronts are unheard.”

‘I had to speak up’


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