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Kashmir’s Exiled Bhattyein

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Kashmiri Pandit women are commonly known as ‘Bhattyein’. The word is a distortion of Sanskrit word “Bhattini” which means lady belonging to a noble family.

The over two-decade old Kashmir conflict has adversely affected the people of valley; be it men, women or children. Kashmiri women have faced the brunt of conflict since the beginning.

Bhattyein (Photo Courtesy - Vijay Koul)Photo Courtesy: Vijay Koul

While the Kashmiri women living in the valley are considered a part of debate/discussions regarding the impact of Kashmir conflict, there are women living on the other side of the tunnel who are ignored. Having witnessed the killing of their community members and then subjected to forced displacement from the Kashmir valley, the psyche of exiled ‘Bhattyein’ have got affected. Such a generation of women have seen the turmoil/insurgency in the valley and have been at the receiving end of terrorism.

During the rise of insurgency in Kashmir valley, the Pandit women were raped, brutalized and killed. In 1990, a nurse named Sarla Bhat, resident of Anantnag, working in Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (Soura) was gang-raped and then murdered by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militants. In the same year, a woman named Girja Tickoo, resident of Bandipora, was gang-raped and then chopped into pieces on mechanical saw by the terrorists. Many such acts of savagery were committed by the terrorists in 1990s against Kashmiri Pandits including ‘Bhattyein’. Moreover, there was an infamous slogan in Kashmir chanted by many during the peak of insurgency which revealed their intention – “Asi Gachchi Pakistan, Bhattav Roas Te Bhattyenav Saan” (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men).

After the displacement of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, the Pandit women have suffered from several health diseases like diabetes, thyroid gland malfunctioning etc. which were unheard of when they used to live in the valley. There is rise in stress-related disorders like depression, hypertension etc. among the Pandit women. Dr. KL Chowdhury, renowned Kashmiri physician, did a survey on the exiled Pandit women in the past and found that there was drop in population of Kashmiri Pandits. “Many Pandit women developed premature menopause even at the age of 35 years which reduced the ability to conceive at an early stage of life. Living in inhumane refugee camps after the displacement, the sexual desire itself diminished as three generations of a family lived in a single make-shift tent. This caused a decline in birth rate which resulted in fall in population of the Pandits.”

The “Bhattyein” have encountered hardships on a day-to-day basis. They lost their lifestyle and environment while living in exile. The very idea of a woman’s dignity was hurt. Rahul Bagati was a young boy when he had to leave his native place Kupwara due to turmoil. He remembers the difficult days in exile. “When our family was forced to migrate to Jammu, we started staying at a rented place. During this time, my younger sister was born. However, we developed some serious differences with the landlord due to his conduct and decided to move to our under-construction house which did not have any flooring. As funds were scarce, a make-shift bed made of bricks meant for construction and wood for doors was created for my mother. For rest of us, one of the two sarees my grandmother had brought with her was used as flooring to sleep.”

In exile, Kashmiri Pandit refugees have died due to change in environmental conditions. They were forced to live in hostile conditions in make-shift camps. Think of the “Bhattyein”, especially the older ones who had to live in 45°C in Jammu, who don’t know what a scorching summer is like (as average temperature of Kashmir in summer is around 30°C). The habitat change resulted in heat-strokes, anaemia, malaria etc. which caused many deaths.

Pandit women (Photo Courtesy - Aditya Raj Kaul)Photo Courtesy: Aditya Raj Kaul

“My maternal grandmother was like a mother to all in the village Irkumoo (which is in Kokernag area of Anantnag district) irrespective of them being Hindus or Muslims. However, as soon as Islamic fanaticism rose in valley in 1990, the Muslim neighbours who were like her children drove her out of Kashmir. The mother in her could not bear the pain of her children and grand-children living in refugee camps in Jammu. She could not bear the heat of the summer in Jammu and passed away. We called it heat-stroke. But it wasn’t only heat that killed her; it was the death of a mother who was driven away from her own home by people (Muslim neighbours) whom she treated and nurtured like her own children all her life,” says Deepak Kaul who lost his maternal grandmother in exile.

The media as well as human rights organizations have time and again highlighted the plight of Kashmiri women living in the valley, in particular half-widows (women who don’t know whether they are married or widows). But they have forgotten those exiled “Bhattyein” who have also suffered the loss of home and homeland due to the conflict. One can hardly find a report, editorial, story etc. dedicated to them. No women’s organizations have given a thought to such women.

On 19th January, 2013, these “Bhattyein” will enter their 24th year of exile.

(Originally published in Newslaundry and The Jammu Height ― April Issue, Page 30)

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Written by Varad Sharma

January 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm