How do you say "You go, girl" in Kashmiri?

A group in Kashmir is training women to defend themselves. But it may not have women's best interests at heart.


Carol Lloyd
July 26, 2007 10:25PM (UTC)

Call me a heartless Singerian utilitarian who will happily butcher my ideals for a greater pragmatic good, but when it comes to women's safety, my principles of nonviolence go to hell.

Stylin' tasers? Bring 'em on! Lethal martial arts for rape victims? Go, girls!

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So it was with a snort of approval that I began reading about a women's group that announced it would be training women in Kashmir in martial arts and urging them to begin carrying daggers. Apparently, sexual attacks on local women from the 700,000 Indian soldiers stationed there have grown so frequent that the women's group -- Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Community) -- has suggested the military is using rape and molestation as a systematic tool against the local population. According to an AP story, at least 3,000 Kashmiri women have been sexually assaulted since 1990. According to the article, the military admitted there was a problem but denied it was part of a concerted strategy.

Actually, this isn't the first time that the women's group has tried to cut off sexual attacks at their proverbial roots. In 1993, the group made a similar announcement and passed out 5,000 daggers to women in Kashmir. Of course, this prompts the question: What happened then? Did it deter attacks? Did the women use them? Some self-defense experts suggest that knives can easily be turned against a victim and make an attack more lethal.

While you're wondering what the Kashmiri translation is for "You go, girl," know that Dukhtaran-e-Millat is an Islamist group that doesn't actually have women's interests at heart. Well, it thinks it does, but it is a limited idea of "best interests." It doesn't want to protect women's lives, autonomy, freedom and happiness but, rather, their chastity. Among the group's other community-minded activities are protests against sex education in the schools and an annual anti-Valentine's Day protest, in which it burns valentines and posters. It has also raided several hotels rumored to be frequented by prostitutes or (horror of horrors) unmarried couples.

In fact, Dukhtaran-e-Millat has been around for longer than al-Qaida or the Taliban and has been branded "soft terrorists" by the Indian government. In a fascinating interview with the Kashmir Observer in March, the founder, Asiya Andrabi, discusses how she turned away from science toward Islam and started the organization at the age of 18. Now Dukhtaran-e-Millat runs 75 all-girl madrasahs in Kashmir and Jammu, and Andrabi is a strong woman's voice for a deeply anti-female worldview. Her goals, simply stated, are to convert the whole of humanity to radical Islam and embrace a global sharia. In response to a question about chopping off thieves' hands and stoning adulterers, she told the Kashmir Observer: "Yes, of course. These are the punishments from Allah the Almighty. If you cut the hand off one thief, the whole society -- none of them would dream of the theft. How do you say that this is not justice? So when you punish a man in this way, there will be a totally pure society. One man will be killed and whole humanity would be saved."

What makes this all the more heartbreaking is imagining what having such friends means for the women in Kashmir. According to one report, women are already suffering most from the conflict between Pakistan and India; many of their husbands are dead or missing, and they have been checking into hospitals for post-traumatic stress and mental disorders at record rates. Caught between two enemies who both profess to be friends, they may wish they had a lot more than a dagger to protect them.


Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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