A Kashmiri Woman’s Lifetime Struggle for Azadi

Conversation with Anjum Zamarud Habib

 Faizaan Bhat

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Anjum Zamarud Habib [Photo from Facebook]

Anjum Zamarud Habib is a social and political activist, senior executive member of Hurriyat [Geelani] and author of two books, including Nigha-E-Anjum, her autobiography, published by Kitaab Mehal and Qaidi number 100 published by Pharos Books, which is a journal of her days in prison. It was translated into English by Sahba Hussain under the title Prisoner Number 100 and it has been published by Zubaan Books.

How do you see Kashmiri women playing a role in conflicts?

When we see conflict throughout the world; we see resistance and political movements change political systems throughout the world. Women have always played a positive and constructive role at the grassroots level in these movements and even have lead in some. In Kashmir, women participated in movements for attaining political rights, and social rights. Since Kashmir’s first modern political revolution 1931 to date this is what we have seen. Even when illiterate women fought against tyranny and participated in revolutions. Kashmiri women today are active protestors and make their voices heard but they need to take bigger roles in Tehreek (movement)

You are one of the senior resistance leaders. Can you tell us, how you started your activism?

I started my activism during my university days in 1983. We fought against the injustice done against students by university authorities. Once when we protested against bad food in hostels, I was offered jeep by Registrar of Kashmir University Siddiqui sahib to solve the matter. It was there I coined the first slogan of my life “ Nahi Chalegi Jalzayi, Proctor Banagii Miss Qazi, Denge Jaan Ki Baazi, Proctor Baneygi Miss Qazi.” We supported Miss Qazi whom we used to call Naz didi who was doing a Ph.D. in Zoology. It was in my heart since a younger age to do something for women and their empowerment. The first lessons of women’s empowerment I got from my parents who taught me to fight against tyranny, and injustice against anyone done anywhere in the world. In my family, mother was a decision-maker and patriarchy was not as hostile as is stereotypical. But when I stepped out as a political and social activist I was badly encountered by patriarchy prevalent in the society. My family had political affiliations. My aunt, father’s sister, Zooneh Ded was a renowned woman, a political activist of the 1963 holy relic movement. Her brother was an activist in the Al Fateh movement which had an influence on my life. This is how I started.

What did you do after you finished your studies?

After university, I joined Islamia Hanfia college as a senior secondary teacher. In the year 1986, a dowry death took place in Islamabad. I took an initiative on this and formed an anti-dowry movement. I started a women’s empowerment organization by the name of Women’s Welfare Association which fought against social evils prevailing against women in society. It was the first organization after 1947 in which both Pandits and Muslims were members.  Syed Zuhara ji who is a retired Chief Education Officer now was the first president and I was the first general secretary. The general secretary had to perform most of the functions. The organization dealt with the upliftment of women. We fought for the abolition of dowry, other social evils, sought jobs for the poor educated unemployed women and arrange weddings of poor girls, arrange for education opportunities, and other such things. It was an apolitical organization. In the first week only we had 200 members.

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Anjum Zamarud Habib holding a protest [Photo from Facebook]

How did you join the resistance movement and become a part of Hurriyat?

After the year only we had political rebellion against India in Kashmir. My family had personal relations with leading political activists of Kashmir, especially Late Manzoor Ul Islam. He used to come to our house, which served as a refuge and hideout for him. I remember one instance distinctly. Manzoor’s brother Vicky who was later burned, and became a martyr. He wanted to train women as militants but it could not come to fore. On the advice Of Islamic Students League President Shakeel Bakshi and Manzoor Ul Islam, we formed Muslim Khwateen Markaz Bakhtawar Behenji who is the sister of Parveena Ahangar, chairperson Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) as president. Nancy Rwanda and I became the General Secretary; other founding members included Rutba Shaheen and Mahjabeen Akhtar who were sisters of Shakeel Bakshi. We also had most members of Dukhtarani Kashmir which I started at the inception of Kashmir insurgency for. I was not aware that an organization by this name already existed. We later dissolved Dukhtarani Kashmir and almost every member joined MKM. MKM was an executive member of the Islamic Students League and only women’s wing in All Parties Hurriyet Conference. We used to aid and support militants morally.

One famous instance was when our MKM activist saved top Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militant Sheikh Hameed who was badly injured. It became a legend. We had trained our members as first aid. I was arrested in March 1990 by the army in the biggest crackdown in the history of Islamabad for helping and assisting militant commander Manzoor Ul Islam. The army asked me to help them which I totally strictly declined and this also made them ruthless towards me. In the year 1992, there was a rift between Bakhtawar Behenji and Mehmooda Baji which resulted in the formation of a separate Khawateen-i-Kashmir by Mehmooda Baji.

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Anjum Zamarud Habib with resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani fondly called “Babb” (Father) by Kashmiris

When All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was formed in the year 1993 MKM was the only women organization in APHC. I joined to raise women’s voices on the platform which was totally missing and unfortunately until today we do not have many women at the forefront. We did not get the political space that we deserve. We stood for tripartite peace dialogue between India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. I was arrested in 2003 in Dehli where I went for a visa to travel to the Bangkok conference. I was jailed on fake charges. I was imprisoned for five years.  While in jail, I went on a hunger strike against the killing of Zohra of Afghanistan. She was only in her 20s and arrested on the charges of drug trafficking. She was killed by the kick of one policewoman Sunita Metron who was later arrested and lodged near my cell. Sunita also died after she was not giving proper medication. I was charged for leading protests in jail and the case is still pending. During my jail term, there was Jail Bharo Andolan in India by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu right-wing party, they were protesting the demolitions in Dehli. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj also volunteered to be in jail. It was here I was offered to join BJP. They offered me many avenues; even said they will resolve Kashmir issue but I totally rejected their offers. During the date in Patiala house court, I met Engineer Farooq Khan who was also under arrest. He said to me that no one looks after the political prisoners of Kashmir or cares about their rights or strategizes their release. He made me promise that the person who will be released first will at least raise for Kashmiri prisoners and which will fight for prisoner justice. I was released first and after my release, I formed the Association Of families Kashmiri Prisoners. Unfortunately, hardly any released prisoners who had faced brutal jails joined, not even Farooq Khan. In the year 2013, we changed the name of the party from Muslim Khwateen Markaz to Tehreeki Khwateen Kashmir. We changed the name because a split occurred in our party, specifically the split in APHC created split in our parties also. It was just a number game. Old MKM was totally different from the new MKM.

Since you have been close to early militants, how did you see militancy at that time?

I have discussed it in detail in my autobiography “Nigha-E-Anjum”. The armed movement was not properly planned, strategized or well organized. India wanted the militants to fight among themselves, break them and convert them into miscreants rather than freedom fighters. The infighting in those years made us lose more than 300 militants.

India has annulled Article 370; what are your thoughts on this?

India wants to follow the Israeli model in Kashmir now. They broke the status quo and waged war against Kashmiris. They want to change the demography and exploit our resources as they do. See the condition and mental health of our people in Kashmir post article 370 abrogation; it speaks volumes.

Any message to Kashmiri women?

Beauty is related to women and she can make this world a beautiful place to live within her womanhood. I take inspiration from Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him, Hazrat Siddiq Hazrat Ayesha, and Omar Mukhtar in my life and carry the mission forward. Kashmiri women have always fought side by side their men, and I want them to be stronger as ever and dream to lead.

Faizaan Bhat is an engineer and a writer based in Kashmir.

Read a previous interview with Anjum Zamarud Habib about her book here

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