Just like you, my name is also Mehbooba. Just like you, I am also a daughter of Jammu & Kashmir living in the incomparable city of Srinagar. And just like you, I have also spent my life living in the shadow of men in this manly world of men.
To the naked eye, those are the similarities we both share.
Unlike you, I am a commoner. Someone, who has accepted to bow to practicalities and realities, which - unfortunately for you and me - have become too common.
Unlike you, I am an average middle-class woman. A woman with utmost personal, at times selfish, wishes and dreams for others around her. Small wishes and dreams, which demand the largest and most unselfish sacrifices from inside of me.
You - in all probability - will be Mehbooba, the Hon’ble Chief Minister in a couple of days, while I will remain just Mehbooba all the days of my life.
We both are so different in so many ways, yet so alike. Perhaps because of the fact that I am your namesake or perhaps because we both are women, I see myself in you and see you in me, while hoping that you see me in you and yourself in me.
Much has changed in Kashmir in just a few decades. There was a time when it was natural for you and me to administer the affairs of the household as well as the country. A time, when flower-festivals were celebrated in Kashmir and we were offered garlands for our commitment and dedication to society. Apparently, the gun has killed much more than mere bodies.
Today, the need has risen to establish a separate police-station for us manned by only women as otherwise our safety cannot be guaranteed. Today, a 14-year old brainwashed kid born from your and my womb, who still needs us to dress himself up, steps into the house and teaches us about honour and respect when he orders us to veil ourselves.
It reminded me of the days when you and I tasted acid and welcomed bullets in our legs when we dared to defy similar diktats concerning our attire. It made me wonder whether these new-age defenders of religion and sanctity will confine themselves to just lecturing? To me, it seems that their ‘belief’ for some reason, is much stronger than their predecessors.
Today, you and I have to witness our daughters, Noma Nazir Bhat, Farah Deeba and Aneeqa Khalid abandon their dreams because the Grand Mufti thinks that religion, society and culture will be endangered if three young girls will sing and make music.
I do not remember you and me endangering society and our cultural values when we used to sing, dance and uphold the ‘roff’ while welcoming Eid. We both may recall that the women before us, used to dance and sing when they would accompany the men to the fields for the ceremonial ploughing and sowing of seeds when opening the fields of nature. They used to dance and sing during full moon in the winter months of January and sometimes February and along with their best friends receive new clothes as gifts and tokens of appreciation.
Lately, our modesty has to embark upon a painful road of daily endurance when we board one of the many overcrowded buses in Srinagar. You and I have both, instinctively made it a habit to use prefixes like brother and uncle for anyone who might even remotely resemble a man, just in order to attain a certain intangible sense of security.
Participating in an educational tour has transformed the names of your and my daughters into ‘The Sadbhavana girls’. They have been classified as un-Islamic and shameless while you and I, as their parents have received the epithets of immoral and corrupt. Abuses hurled at them and us, compel me to ask myself whether Kashmir is still inhabited by Kashmiris or not? The educational tour of 30 boys a while earlier, did unsurprisingly go totally unnoticed without having any effects on their or their parent’s esteem.
When we were young, we never heard anything about women being set ablaze or reaching the hospital with broken bones and a disfigured face. I am sure that just like me, you must have noticed thousands of such cases during the past year. The fact that many of the perpetrators derive their justifications from their selfish and incorrect interpretations of religion, should worry you and me the most.
Amidst pro-freedom slogans, some have acquired the freedom to assault and grope your and my daughters during the first international marathon in Kashmir.
Instead of gaining reverence for their hard-work and independence, our daughters seemingly lose respect in society when they are employed in the private sector.
There are still many places where we have to walk miles to fetch a litre of water. Our men shamelessly keep walking besides us, while we carry kilos of grass on our heads for our cattle.
You know as no one else, that we both have been the actual martyrs in this war-torn paradise. When it suited them, you and I were strangulated. And when it suited them, we had to forget all diktats, teachings and so-called cultural and social values and were forced to courier arms and ammunition. It was you who had to provide shelter and food to those who entered your home at gun-point while it was me who became an informer for one of them in order to feed my orphaned children. Their father, killed by either of the two men fighting.
We received the cognomens of widow, half-widow and infertile. We were abandoned. Injustice mounted upon us provided stock to the merchants of lies and dreams, which kept their shops open. Our sufferings were valued, re-branded and sold over and over again.
Had it not been for you and me, whom would they have asked justice for? Whom would they have ruled over? Whom would they have kidnapped? Whom would they have raped? Had we not existed, what would have proven their masculinity? Had it not been us, who would have rendered the ‘supreme sacrifices’? What exactly would have made them ‘Men’ if we women would not have been?
I still see you and me in the eyes of the walking corpses of Kunan-Pushpora. I hear our names in the deafening cries of Bimla and her daughter Archana, whenever I pass by Nai-Sadak. I see my and your limbs in the mutilated body of Girija. I smell us in the torn, stenchy clothes of Neelofar, Aasiya and Sarla. I see you and me appear and re-appear in the lingering sighs of the mothers, sisters and wives waiting for their disappeared ones. I feel my and your pain growing while I look at the orphaned daughter of the police-man who died during duty.
I pray to God that you see yourself in them as well and see them in you too.
It is not so much about delivering justice or punishing the culprit. It is not about compensations or packages. It is not even about introspection and reconciliation.
It is about the mindset. It is about the thinking. The justifications of that thinking. The erosion of our culture. The corruption of our values. The disintegration of our society and the slow-poisoning of the minds and hearts of our future generation. It is about you and me and the future of the likes of you and me.
Justice, women-empowerment and educational schemes alone will not do. Your reign, must instil fear in the hearts of those who have feared your and my liberation. Your reign must set the record straight that it is not men who are above us, but it is us who rule over them. It is not they from whom we are born, but it is them who come from us. It is not they who will dictate us, but it is we who dictate. Because we create.
Kota Rani, the last female ruler before you, was known for her bravery and intellect. A woman, whose patience endured the harshest betrayals of destiny.
A woman, who defeated the mighty Mongols led by Achala when her husband fled like a coward at the very sight of the enemy, leaving her and his country behind.
I feel fortunate that I am just Mehbooba and not the Hon’ble Chief Minister Mehbooba. I do not possess your strength and courage.
But, I do believe that only a woman can defy the invading Achala’s of today, who unlike the Mongol is not physical.
Only a woman can re-create what has been destroyed by cowards. And if it has to be a woman, who else except my namesake?
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org