4 women who questioned Centre on Jammu and Kashmir after scrapping of Article 370
Soon after August 5, 2019, when the Centre scrapped Article 370 from the Constitution and bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories and put almost every prominent political leader either in detention or in jail, four women emerged as dominant voices in the Valley.
Iltija Mufti, daughter of People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti and Shehryar Khanum, daughter of former minister Naeem Akhtar mustered the courage to talk about the situation and censure the government.
Of late, Sara Abdullah Pilot, daughter of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah has approached the Supreme Court to seek justice for her brother and former chief minister Omar Abdullah.
But, the swiftest and most vocal of them all was senior journalist Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal who approached the Supreme Court against the communication blockade immediately after August 5 and on whose petition the court gave a verdict after five months. The top court directed the administration to carry out a weekly review of internet restrictions in the area.
Iltija Mufti, the 32-year-old, emerged the most vociferous critic of the government after her mother was put under detention ahead of August 5.
By mid-August, when everything was shut, communications barred and restrictions on roads, she wrote a bold letter to Home Minister Amit Shah questioning why her mother was under detention. She was allowed to move out of the Valley where she approached the Supreme Court seeking permission to meet her mother, which was ultimately granted.
Since then she has been very vocal on social media using the Twitter account of her mother to criticize the actions of the government in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the revocation of its special status.
“It is very important to talk now when Jammu and Kashmir has been hit by a massive calamity which has been deliberately inflicted upon us,” she said.
Not only on social media, she even gave interviews to many news channels and newspapers talking about the central government and the BJP. She was stopped from visiting the grave of her grandfather and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayed on his death anniversary.
But is she not afraid when most mainstream politicians have either been under detention or silent?
“My mother is my family and her incarceration is the worst thing that could happen. Life has become very gruelling. I am already in a kind of jail as there is constant surveillance. What worse can happen now,” she says.
She often switches her multiple identities to take on the central government. “They violated the consent of the people here. And they are not even talking about the façade of development now. Everything they do is isolating Muslims and subjugating them,” she says.
She graduated in political science from Delhi University and went on to do her Masters in international relations from Warwick University in the UK.
Not only the state but many Kashmiris too are not sympathetic to her. “When I talk, everybody criticizes me. I am seen as an extension of my mother and her political baggage but the truth is I am talking as a Kashmiri,” she says.
“Every section of society is suffering because of the collective assault on us and very few people are talking about it. I have an advantage that I am Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, so if I say something it will have traction. And if I don’t talk then who will,” she says.
The elder of the two sisters, Iltija, has been mostly brought up by her mother owing to the estrangement of her father, Javed Iqbal Shah, a businessman and briefly a National Conference leader.
She rubbishes rumours that she will join politics now but cautions about life’s unpredictability.
“If I had to come into politics I would have come in my grandfather’s time. I don’t think I will join politics but then looking back I think life is very unpredictable, what will happen tomorrow nobody can say. I had never imagined the things I am doing currently,” she says.
She has filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court challenging the detention of her mother Mehbooba Mufti under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) on February 5. The court has set the next date of hearing on March 18.
“The slapping of PSA on her has been done on impulse and I am waiting for the next hearing,” she says.
Shehryar Khanum, another young woman and daughter of former education minister Naeem Akhtar has been keenly keeping a track of the petitions filed before the Supreme Court by the families of two former chief ministers.
She says that she is not going to challenge the PSA slapped on her father till the outcome of PSAs on the former chief ministers.
“I don’t think it is a legal battle, I believe it is a political battle because there are no substantive allegations on my father. There is hope in the forum of the court but till now we have witnessed very ‘un-urgent’ approach from the court,” she says.
“The court has shown no urgency on Kashmir matters be it the restrictions or the detentions. We are made to feel we are second class citizens,” she says.
The 33-year-old corporate lawyer and an entrepreneur, Khanum has many times appeared on TV and talked to the media to criticize the detentions of people in Kashmir including her father post-August 5. She has been vocal against the government’s claims that things are normal in Kashmir and has castigated their approach of treating mainstream politicians “at par” with those not believing in the idea of India.
“I am talking because it is the right thing to do. I believe India is a democracy this is the only thing we can do. Though our freedom of expression has been suspended what is the alternative,” she says.
“And I don’t talk only because my father is a politician. I raise my voice as a Kashmiri and that is what a strong Muslim woman is also supposed to do,” she says.
Khanum did her LLB from the Nalser University of Law in Hyderabad and worked in a law firm in Mumbai for many years before returning to Kashmir in 2017. She started an organic farm last year in June and has also been part of an NGO working for the victims of domestic violence.
She feels Kashmiris need to be articulate to express their miseries. And has she fear of persecution. “The worst has happened, my father is in jail, what else can happen,” she says.
The family of two former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah has mostly maintained public silence since their detention on August 5 except for a protest in October along with a group of women. But, early in February Farooq’s daughter Sara Abdullah Pilot approached the apex court against slapping of PSA on Omar.
Sara moved court early this month after Omar Abdullah was booked under the stringent PSA for three months on February 5 following his preventive detention since August 5.
Sara is a social worker married to Congress politician Sachin Pilot. She made a rare public appearance on February 14 after the court issued a notice to the Jammu and Kashmir administration on her plea and decided to hear the case.
“We are here because we want all Kashmiris should have the same rights as the citizens of India and we are waiting for that day,” she told the media and did not take any further questions.
Though all these women had some political background, however, it was a woman journalist who took the lead and first raised her voice against the communication blackout and press curbs in the erstwhile state.
Executive editor of the Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal filed a petition in the top court demanding restoration of communication modes and taking of necessary steps for ensuring free and safe movement of journalists and media personnel.
“This was an abnormal and exceptional situation. Never before had we seen curbs on communication of the scale we saw from August 5. We have the job of informing people. There was absolute silence and the working of the media was put on hold. And it was in this scenario that I approached the court,” Jamwal says.
It was because of her petition that the court on January 10 directed the administration in Jammu and Kashmir to review the curbs on communication every week.
“We were talking about something fundamental – the right to be informed. And the court took five months for passing the order,” she says.
Jamwal, 52, daughter of late Ved Bhasin – a veteran journalist in Jammu and Kashmir, says that she could have chosen to stay silent but she did not want to get reduced to a government mouthpiece.
“I had two choices either to surrender and get our newspaper reduced to a pamphlet or fight whatever the circumstances. As a journalist, it was my job to inform and that is why I choose to fight back,” she says.