Conversation with Anjum Zamrooda Habib

Eminent Political and Social Activist and the author of Prisoner No. 100 Anjum Zamrooda Habib in conversation with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander about her life, activism, Kashmiri women, political prisoners and present political scenario

You have been active in Social work since 1980s. What is your experience regarding the participation of women in Social activism, has it declined or progressed further?
Women activism has been on decline since the inception of militancy, as militancy dominated the hearts and minds of the society and social evils like dowry receded into oblivion, but new more serious social problems like widowhood and orphans emerged and nothing substantial was undertaken to address these challenges. In the name of rehabilitation the widows were exploited by the government agencies and others, reinforcing the fear and vulnerabilities of women more, plus life of women are hard hit by the raging conflict and the repercussions of militancy are still felt, and these all factors coupled together are responsible for the decline of women activism.

So you mean to say that woman’s activism and participation declined with the inception and prolonging of the armed struggle?
No, only the spheres of activism and participation changed, when the armed struggle started whole nation was on streets prominent among them being women, who along with men protested and even used to save their men from the brutal hands of occupational forces and police, but when the State opted for an Iron fist policy to suppress the resistance the women occupied the backseat, by looking after their children and family if their husband or any other family member was killed or in detention. Hence women still play an active role at the grassroots level of the society. Women are still the ocean of sacrifice and without her participation no resistance can survive. They are still quite active within the confines of their home but unfortunately their sacrifices aren’t taken into account, which they always offer readily, continuously without any desire for recognition.

Why did you switch from political activism to social activism?
I was one of the founding members of Women’s Welfare Association, of which women from Pandit community were members too, but after their exodus and the daily killings of innocent civilians, the Politics came to dominate all spheres of life, I too felt compelled to do something for my nation, though I didn’t gave up social activism but yes I became active on political front too.

You were also one of the founding woman members of Hurriyat Conference. How many more were there like you?
There was one more women organization which was a part of this amalgam when it was formed in 1993, but it faded away with time, though my organization Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM) is still prominent among the Hurriyat Conference.

Does the Hurriyat Conference have a certain quota of women for taking part in decision making and as members?
No, there is nothing written about women quota as members and in decision making body in the constitution of Hurriyat Conference. The condition there is quite abysmal and pathetic, women voices are ignored and their political participation and representation in the decision making body is minimal.

Is it difficult as a women’s organization (MKM) to survive in male dominated political culture?
Yes it is, but exceptions are always there. Men do politics but women by their nature are tender and loving who wish to end any conflict amicably and offer reconciliation wherever it is applicable readily. It is also difficult to survive as an organization, and when you are solitary frequently your opinions get sidelined as a minority, despite being vocal and progressive in outlook.

Was it then because of you being vocal, progressive and revolutionary that some members of the Hurriyat Conference fixed your arrest and imprisonment?
Many things have now come to the fore and everything has become clear now. Transparency must be present in the working of Hurriyat Conference. Resentment and revolution go hand in hand.

Does it mean that some anti-movement elements or State agencies have penetrated in the ranks of Hurriyat Conference and are deceiving people by posing as resistance leaders?
Since early 1990s the infiltration of anti-movement elements was there, who wish to keep the pot of conflict boiling, and still some people are there. Transparency must be restored and there must be a clear picture before people about the credentials of their leaders. If the leadership is disabled the whole nation must not be disabled, the younger generation must come forward and seek accountability and transparency from their leaders and it is the moral responsibility of leadership to stick to these norms.

Why hasn’t the Hurriyat Conference been able to deliver on its promises?
It has delivered but not to our expectations. India is a mighty powerful nation and to fight against it is a difficult job which Hurriyat Conference has been undertaking since its formation, and it remains still the lone group which represents our sentiments and as a nation our concerns and issues, but surely it must grow more stronger with time.

Why have been the sacrifices of women been undermined and in most cases die unsung in oblivion?
When resistance is amalgamated with politics only power seems to be the concern, plus in the war zone memories are short lived, add to this the fact that the whole world is male dominated who don’t want to acknowledge the sacrifices of women and all these factors add together for this apathy.

What steps have you taken to rectify this apathy?
Women should come forward ignoring the vulnerabilities, fear and patriarchal norms and join hands with me, as MKM is the best platform to raise a collective voice about women issues and concerns.

The resistance leaders haven’t made any institutions for the victims of conflict and they are left unaccustomed after getting used as cannon fodder?
Armed insurgency wasn’t a well-organized or disciplined endeavor and still the anarchy prevails, hence with this anarchy came the politics and politics was done over the dead bodies. The collective effort of the whole nation was missing. Hurriyat Conference broke into two, so did other political and militant organizations too. It was a fight for the supremacy, hegemony and number game. No attention was paid to the institution building but now we are making efforts for the same. Also many dedicated members became disgusted with the splits and counter splits and took recourse to cozy cocoons.

We have time and again witnessed that resistance gains currency but failure of the leadership to channelize and deliver, results in failure, and we are once again at ground zero. Why this impotency of leadership?
No, we aren’t at ground zero. India is a big mighty state and our resistance movement is a long drawn one. In the movement there are many elements that are always ready to sabotage the resistance and speaking strategically our resistance isn’t strong. Our leadership considers itself above the resistance not subservient to it.

What is needed to rectify this apathy? Change of Leadership or Strategy?
Both are needed.

After your release from Tihar jail, you formed Association of Families of Kashmiri Prisoners (AFKP), why?
In Tihar jail, I was the only woman from Kashmir, and I have witnessed the horrors of jail where you feel unwanted, forgotten and disgusted with life. The same is the case with others too, and witnessing the pathetic conditions of the families of the prisoners I decided that once I would be free I would certainly try to help my fellow prisoners, which became a moving spirit behind the formation of AFKP.

What does AFKP do?
We provide moral support to the families of victims besides documenting their cases and following their trails. As society and Indian legal system is hostile towards Kashmiri Prisoners, when they get released after long detentions they are misfit in the society hence need for counseling is necessary which AKFP has in mind but couldn’t establish a counseling cell due to dearth of funds. Nothing has been done for the prisoner’s rights and we are making people aware about the same.

Do you have any message for Kashmiri women?
Women are the part and parcel of the resistance movement. The new generation of women has been individually carrying the mantle of resistance but they should come forward and join hands with MKM for a collective endeavor.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar and can be reached at [email protected]

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