Heena Baig was not this lean and blistered when she first slept under the cracked roof of this humbled wooden house in Srinagar. As much as she remembers the fondness of flowers, butterflies and the scented winds of the valley, she could not sway her conscience away from the cold. Everything that she finds beautiful is often blanketed by the sheets of thick snow. And even when the winters have retreated, there’s not much she can do against the coldness that lies within her home.
“I think I’m used to all this”. She mutters while fetching cardamom pods for kahwa. “After all, I’m much safer here, under his watchful eyes. Life is always more essential than lifestyle. You tell me, have you ever seen corpses fighting for freedom”? She smiles on the humour that she often finds in these troubling circumstances. “Tell me Heena, don’t you feel like fighting back, or perhaps, asking him to mend his ways?” I asked. “Are you mad? Do you want me to question his masculinity? He owns this house and he owns everything that stays here. I don’t want to be sent back to my father’s. I better die from his hands with my dignity intact than bringing shame to both the families. I can anytime cry and express my grief. May Allah watch my words, but how can you expect your man to curl up in the corner and weep?”
Heena’s pact with her pain jolted my beliefs about justice. About every tangible outcome that may seem ideal or simply right. Despite the bitterness of her story, her kahwa tasted as sweet as the rivers of Himalayas. Despite the cracked up roof and pale walls, her welcoming gestures made a stranger feel like home. Despite the coldness of her vicinity, she graced me, and probably everyone she knows, with peculiar warmth of gratitude. Yes, peculiar.
After returning back to my home in Delhi, I tried to decipher the actions of Heena through the prism of human characteristics. I endeavoured to understand her actions and reactions to circumstances with a reference to the reactions that a human with ordinary prudence would have towards similar circumstances. After days of thinking and rethinking, a painful process of unlearning, I finally reached to a conclusion. Or should I say, more of a hypothesis.
Violence and power may be seen as independent concepts, but they often work hand in glove with each other. In the societies where there is a stark power difference, specifically on the basis of a social identity, power has been vividly expressed through violence. Violence that is unjust and unapologetic. Most of the times violence is countered with uprisings that are characteristic of revenge and which further swell the magnitude of violence. In this two cornered war, what emerges is the moral tussle between my violence versus your violence. There’s constant affirmations, forced realizations and mass propaganda of whose violence is justified in the given circumstances. However, what remains unchallenged is the acceptance of violence as a rightful and justified form of asserting one’s claim of righteousness.
However, where do we find women like Heena in this power struggle? If her husband is the victim of violence inflicted by the heroes of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, she, along with many other women like her, are also the victims of the violence inflicted upon them by the heroes of the valley. While her husband is responding to such violence with his share of violence that is wrapped with the principles of revenge and honour, Heena is unaware of these principles. If revenge and honour induced violence is a part and parcel of “human” characteristics, does it mean that Heena is not a human? Are women not human?
This is where patriarchy emerges on the stage. What is central to human characteristics is not the righteousness of notions such as ‘eye for an eye’ or ‘morals of revenge and honour’. It is the greater concept of preservation of humanity and values that resonate with universal good. The idea of subjugation through violence and the revenge through counter violence is nothing but the wants of those in power to manifest their masculinity, and those in subjugation, to reiterate theirs. To emerge stronger in the ongoing battles of patriarchal pride. Our understood notions of patriarchy and how the “stronger” sex tends to assert himself have evolved the idea of violent war. A war of valour. A war that knows nothing but violence and massacre.
Humans will always face challenges and problems. There will always be dissent and displeasure towards divided sections of society. However, the processes that interplay during these times are plagued by patriarchal notions of righteous virtues. The definitions that have been provided to words like “strength”, “action”, “war”, “revenge”, “punishment”, “victory”, and “loss” have one thing in common – assertion of power within a structure of power struggle. Every action of revenge calls for a war that shall inflict punishment through violence where we’ll survive for victory and shall choose to die but not lose. In this assertion of power, how often do we see women being at privileged positions? If we do, we hardly see any such assertion through violence. In an age old concept of zan and zamin (women and property), men have justified violence in order to protect these two. During manifestation of violence in wars or riots, women and property are the two things that are targeted the most. And for what? To inflict a moral humiliation and embarrassment upon the men of the other side who failed to “protect” their valuables and hence failed in their duties.
By now, it won’t be completely faulted to say that violence in power struggle is the manifestation of patriarchy and its culture. The response of the society to any crisis is an outward assertion of power and inward explanation of masculinity.
Many times in Delhi I tried to find the Kashmiri Kahwa that would be as good as the one Heena makes. However, just like finding the explanations to Heena’s outlook towards righteousness of life, I utterly failed. Many people would brand Heena’s peace with her situations and her ways of finding scent of spring amidst blanketed winters as a sign of “loss”, “submissiveness” or “weakness”. Although, such evaluations of Heena’s lifestyle would be nothing short of aspersions that reflect the control of patriarchal norms in giving definitions to words that are used to define human emotions as well as virtues that a human must possess while reacting to certain circumstances.
I wonder how different the world could have been, or at least the valley, if women like Heena could free the public conscience from the clutches of patriarchal norms. Taking cue from her words, the cause of freedom could not have led to lying down of corpses. Well, in the era where the claim for rights is a journey lined with violence and bloodshed, I wonder, while sitting on my reclining chair, how different this world would have been if, in every crisis situation, people could have a taste of Heena’s Kahwa.