Politician Mehbooba Mufti juggles many identities. She is the daughter of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the probable next chief minister of the state (which would make her J&K’s first woman chief minister), the president of the Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party and a member of Parliament from Kashmir’s Anantnag constituency.
Underneath all that, what remains constant is her identity as one of Jammu and Kashmir’s most recognised and most successful women politicians. Although the BJP-PDP tie-up, Section 370, India-Pak relations and the rise of ISIS remained at the forefront of her discussion at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, held in New Delhi on December 4 and 5, she took time out to discuss her plans for the women of the state she represents.
Excerpts from the interview…
If you succeed your father, you will be the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. As probable CM and a Member of Parliament (MP) from J&K, what are your plans for the uplift of women in the state?
We are very committed to the cause of women’s development in the state. Thirty-three per cent reservation for women was implemented in the last panchayat election, but in general panchayat as an institution women were not given any powers. So we will be giving them enough powers to work effectively at the grass root. Only when we have women in governance will we be able to construct a system to help them. Then there are other schemes that we have introduced for women… the Ladli Beti financial scheme to save the girl child as like in other parts of the country the female-to-male ratio was showing an alarming downward trend.
We also plan to provide better education facilities free of cost or with minimal charges once the girls born under the scheme are ready to join school. We are focused on providing various skills to females to make them employable and self-supporting. We also have a scheme to provide financial help to girls from very poor families to meet the expenses of marriage. We are also concentrating on skills development… Kashmir is known for its handicrafts and we want women to use their skills in handicrafts, but would also like to train them and provide the opportunity to work in IT, call centres etc.
You mentioned during the discussion that India needs to help youngsters from Kashmir integrate with the rest of the country, that there is a lot of fear in their minds when they travel outside Kashmir about how they will be perceived by others. Is this more true of the women, and if it is, what are you doing to bolster their confidence?
As I said, we are trying to work on skills development… We are trying to improve the level of education among women. We would like to include more women in governance. There have been cases of domestic violence. We need more women in the police force so that victims feel comfortable approaching the police for help.
But are economic and political reforms enough to give women confidence? Much has been said about the withdrawal of AFSPA [the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act] in Kashmir. Over the past 25 years of AFSPA in the state, there have been many allegations of sexual violence against women perpetrated by members of the armed forces...
In any conflict situation women are the first and the worst victims of rights violations and atrocities are committed on them from both sides. There is a village in Kashmir that is commonly associated with sexual assault...
Watch: Mehbooba Mufti in conversation with Hindustan Times
(Nods and continues) I have been there many times and have promised those women that we will try to do everything to help them to lead a dignified life. It is a cause very close to my heart. I want people to think of something other than rape when they think about that village. I want the women there to work on their skills; I want that village to start farming high-density apples or be known for its handicrafts. We need to change the image of that village from victimhood, which they have gone through, to a model village, model in infrastructure, schools, health and above all a self-sustaining one, especially for the women folk. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for them to get over that pain and move on.
But what about justice? Don’t you want to get the alleged perpetrators punished?
The cases are already in court. As a state it wouldn’t be correct for us to intrude in the legal system. And we don’t want to do it either. The Army gave such a good decision in the Machil fake encounter case. [Six army men, including two officers, were recently sentenced to life in prison in the 2010 fake encounter case in Kashmir]. We want the system to do justice without pressure from us to do so.
What about the men who have disappeared and the half-widows of Kashmir (women whose husbands have disappeared but have not been declared dead)?
This too is a huge issue. Most of them are becoming more and more difficult to trace. Many believe they may have been killed one way or the other, there are reports that some of them may have crossed over to the other side, but nothing can be said for sure. It is a tragedy for these women, who are stuck in their past and can’t move in any direction. Do we have the courage to face that data? Not just that. There are so many militants who have returned to Kashmir along with their wives and children under the “coming back home” policy . There is the question of their wives who are from the other Kashmir or Pakistan. Once they reach Kashmir they don’t have the permission to visit their families ever, on any occasion, whether there is tragedy like death or celebration like marriage back home. I met a woman recently whose brother and father had both died in an accident in Pakistan, but she could not go there even to attend the funeral. There are so many issues. We are only starting to look at them.