The author of ‘Lost in Terror’ (Penguin, 2016), Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor has been a journalist and producer with BBC’s Urdu Service in London. Both as a journalist and writer (her book Deshatzadi was published in 2012), she has explored the plight of women in conflict zones. As the chairperson of the State Commission for Women in Jammu & Kashmir, she was in a unique position to study the plight of women. In an exclusive interview, she spoke to Ujjawal Krishnam.
What prompted you to explore the plight of women in Kashmir?
Women bear the brunt of violence and lose not just the safety and security they deserve but also their dignity. In fact the plight of the women today in Kashmir is worse than women in the last century. She suffers at every turn and both mentally and physically, women are worse off today.
Is it the same in both urban areas and the countryside? Are women in rural areas harassed more?
That is because the rural areas are controlled even more strictly by security personnel and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives them a certain immunity. Everything is seen through the prism of national security, or as ‘law and order’. The women’s commission is defunct because the Government doesn’t really care about the plight of women. Or else, victims of Kunan Poshpora or Shopian outrages would not have had to wait for justice.
“I favour the death penalty because rapes destroy lives as well as homes & families”
What’s your reaction to the #Metoo movement in India?
I think this has been a welcome development and has come as a relief to women who have been silently bearing this trauma.
Do you blame religious injunctions, Brahminical patriarchy or…
Religion has nothing to do with it. Islam gives women property, inheritance and marriage rights but the male dominated society favours men. Everybody knows that sexual harassment takes place in almost every office. But we remain in denial. Politicians, bureaucrats, police and business, or employers, are all complicit. There is certainly a need to inquire and take the lid off the scandal.
You had supported death penalty for rapists but…
I supported the chairperson of Delhi Commission for Women when she raised this demand. I favour the death penalty because rapes destroy lives as well as homes, families and hurts the society.
What has been your experience as chairperson of the women’s commission in your state ?
In J&K, women are reluctant to report cases of sexual harassment. Still, we received 100 cases in two years or so. But securing justice for them was a herculean task. It took a long time, partly because such issues are not taken seriously by the administration and society. It was a struggle and often yielded no result whatsoever
The BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ on the Nirbhaya case and a Reuters report held India as a dangerous country for women…
Women will continue to suffer indignities and worse, till their honour gets linked to crime. It is certainly a dangerous place for women but not many are concerned. Everything, from virginity tests, child marriages, female genital mutilations, forced abortions and disallowing menstruating women from entering temples are all accepted by society. Nobody bats an eyelid. In the new India, we are cultivating a mob mentality and policing by the mob and it has backing from politicians. Women will have to wait for men to learn respecting women and treating them as equals.
How will gender equality be achieved in truest form?
We see gender equality on paper. It has never been a serious subject for any government. I think women crusaders have to come forward and demand more pivotal roles in decision and policy making. We need to fight for 50% representation in legislative bodies and in economic institutions.
This article first appeared in the National Herald on Sunday