Kashmir’s women have been the “worst victims” of the decades-long conflict in the Valley, many of whom, in the absence of any knowledge of their husbands’ whereabouts, have come to be known as ‘half-widows’, award winning Kashmiri poet Naseem Shafaie has said.
Shafaie, the first Kashmiri woman to win the Sahitya Akademi award, said the youth of the Valley can only provide a solution to what has so far been a “wayward and directionless” movement on a “very complex problem”.
She said many stakeholders and important people in the corridors of power had used the conflict to draw mileage out of it.
“Women of the Valley have been the worst victims of the turmoil. They have been subjugated for years and are yet to break free from the shackles to find their own voice. They suffered when insurgency was at its pinnacle and they suffer when it has ebbed,” Shafaie told PTI at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival.
Dubbed as a ‘feminist crusader’, Shafaie has penned two poetry books – ‘Derche Machrith’ (Open Windows) and ‘Na Thsay Na Aks’ (Neither Shadow Nor Reflection). The latter, a collection of 44 poems and 36 Ghazals, won her the 2011 Sahitya Akademi Award for Kashmiri.
Shafaie’s poetry has been translated into English, Urdu, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu.
Her poetry is replete with feminist and universal themes and she writes on a wide range of topics, including the turmoil in Kashmir from a woman’s perspective. “I am an abiding optimist. We have lost a great deal, yet all is not lost. Just a small initiative is needed to get us back to where we were… Our people were peace lovers, our dreams and fears were innocent,” she said. Lamenting the loss of old pluralistic and syncretic culture of Kashmir, Shafaie said, “Something has to be done to make the Valley green again.” She urged people to prefer reading literature over history, saying the latter has multiple versions and “distorts” as well as “misleads” on occasions.
Commenting on whether conflicting historical narratives about the state and its history have resulted in the differences in opinion among the people, Shafaie said, “Literature enlightens where history misleads. It can be a source of hope in the times of despair.”
Credited for lending a new diction to feminist Kashmiri poetry, Shafaie’s work is an expression of a woman’s longing for equality, dignity and self esteem.
The writer, who was also in conversation with her teacher Neerja Mattoo, a Kashmiri Pandit who was a professor at the Government College for Women in Srinagar, during the festival, expressed her concern over the decline of Kashmiri language as a preferred mode of communication.
The session titled, “How Green Was My valley?” saw Mattoo talking about narratives that are hardly spoken of.
“Tribal Invasion of 1947 is one narrative which is suppressed while talking about Kashmir. During the raid equal number of Muslims and Pandits who rose to defend their homeland died. It is sad that not many people talk about this,” Mattoo said.
“This business of separate identities was thrust on us in 1989-90,” she said.
“Kashmiri Pandits were great Persian scholars. They didn’t see it as a language of the other,” said the author of the short story collection ‘The Stranger Beside Me’.
“Don’t be misled by social media, two persons sitting here are not speaking a language too different from each other,” she asserted.
Terming famous Kashmiri poet Aga Shahid Ali as the “voice of Kashmir”, Mattoo said he was the most “articulate person to paint the pain of Kashmiris”.