Kashmiri women

Ateeqa Bano: an unsung hero of Kashmir

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Ateeqa Bano, January 2015

Situated in the heart of the pristine Sopore town and away from the clamor of the city life is an incredible treasure trove called Meeras Mahal. An extremely modest building, Meeras Mahal is an abode of numerous artifacts of historical and cultural importance that are yet to be disseminated to the outside world. The materials collected over more than three decades of relentless efforts by a legend, an unsung hero of the time — Ateeqa Bano. Born in 1940 in the same town, Ateeqa Ji spent most of her adult life serving as an educator and collecting and curating cultural artifacts of a myriad kind. Before her retirement from government service, she served as the Director of Libraries and Joint-Director Education (Jammu & Kashmir). 

It was a pleasant morning in January 2015 when I set out for the historic town of Sopore during a ten-day trip to Kashmir to discuss the plans for a proposal to digitize the manuscript collection at Meeras Mehal. The meeting and the transportation was arranged by personnel at INTACH Kashmir, my collaborators on the proposed project. DSC03917Ateeqa Ji’s eyes glimmered with joy when we arrived. I had explained the purpose of my visit earlier on telephone; she was expecting me. She greeted us with great fervor and high expectations. Wearing her usual “burqa coat” over a green pheran while a light cotton dupatta lay loose over her head, it seemed she were all set for the meeting. We started our 3-hour long journey in her little compound around midday — a small office space with very modest furnishing, no heating and no curtains in the room in the cold season. As Ateeqa Ji gave an introduction of the museum over a glass bowl filled with dried fruits —  almond, cashew nuts, pistachio and dates, a little girl with a scarf woven round her head kept sneaking in and looking at us from out the window. The window opened into the walkway leading to a series of similar-sized rooms in a row. An associate pulled a table from one corner and set it beside another one of slightly different dimensions in front of us. Ateeqa Ji opened a roll of plastic sheet with golden patterns and spread it over the tables for tea and more snacks. Thereafter, she took us for a tour of the museum, from one room to the other, walking us through history and revealing to us an enormous treasure of several generations.

DSC03941Ateeqa Bano’s Meeras Mahal is a repository of items illustrating Kashmir’s ongoing cultural history in a visual format – rare manuscripts, ornaments, pottery and terracotta utensils, metal works, wood works, stone crafts, traditional dresses and jewelry, a coin collection, some calligraphic works, and different kinds of tools. Each item in the repository has a name, a story, and Ateeqa Ji knew it all. Words that have fallen out of use in the language, items no longer seen in the Kashmiri households, are some of the various attractions I was impressed with during my few hours of experience at Meeras Mahal.  DSC03964Picking up an item in her hands and demonstrating its importance in an exuberant manner, telling its story to the audiences – Ateeqa Ji had it all, the incredible motivation to explore and the passion to preserve Kashmir’s remarkable past, its rich cultural history. Our next stop was the manuscript collection — my primary interest in the museum. Ateeqa Ji handed me a copy of the inventory and we went through the list — item by item. Manuscripts were maintained in a pretty good condition given the limited resources she had had at her disposal.

As we sat down for a second course of tea and snacks towards the end of the meeting, Ateeqa Ji produced a document, a proposal for the creation of an institution of enormous potential. DSC03927She showed me the map of a proposed little township with many aspects including a proposed site for an “artists in residence” program she wished to set up as part of her efforts. It was a spectacular idea and I was fascinated, but it needed resources which had been consistently denied. Over the many years of her work on collecting and curating the artifacts, Ateeqa Ji had been desperately seeking financial support from the government and other sources for the maintenance and upkeep of the museum, for hiring trained staff, for infrastructure to preserve the artifacts, and for the upgrading of the building structure.

DSC03945“If this kind of work was done by a man, he would be supported and recognized. Our society does not recognize women’s contributions, she said to me in a humble tone as her associates moved their heads in silent admission. I knew she was right. I had nothing to offer before I left except for a promise to be fulfilled.  

Ateeqa Bano was a woman of incredible motivation, an inspiration, an institution of her own. I could not help but fall in love with this woman of enormous potential and zeal.

 

© Sadaf Munshi, October 6, 2017.

Revisiting the PR Bill: Why only Women?

We will not settle for anything less than EQUAL status at par with men.

Yes, it is the 21st century world where women are being considered, not as goods and commodities which could be bought and sold, but as real human-beings entitled to what we call “fundamental rights”, just like those of men. It is a time when globalization is leading the women of today into new roles around the world establishing greater equality to men, where the social role for women is changing from that of the traditional “mother” to that of the “provider” (in addition to being a mother). Unfortunately, we are still living in a society which is yet to comprehend, let alone acknowledge this changing reality. It is still a society where men tend to make decisions for women, despite the fact that social roles have considerably changed. It is a society where it is taken for granted that a woman, after marriage, will and must leave her home and hearth to settle in with her husband, and that she will belong to his family. An opposite scene where a man would join his wife is no less than a blasphemy and a matter of great humiliation; and the possibility for a woman to choose to live on her own is even out of question. In such a scenario, it is unthinkable and even unimaginable for us to admit that our woman is not only quite capable of, but, in fact, is entitled to the right to make decisions on her behalf.

In the year 2004, during the first week of March, a stream of extreme rage and dissatisfaction had passed all up my nerves so that I had to suspend all my day’s work after I read through the headlines of the various local dailies of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This was about the passage of the J&K Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 (“PR Bill”) which deprives the women of the state from maintaining Resident status and from the right to own property should they marry a “non-state subject”. Same law, however, would not apply to men in a similar situation. Irrespective of the fact that the Bill was fundamentally flawed and absolutely unjust and discriminating towards one-half of the population of the state, it was unanimously passed. The then National Conference President, Omar Abdullah, himself born of and married to a non-native, had even taken a very strong stance by issuing a whip for ensuring a “smooth passage of the PR Bill 2004” warning that any violation would entail action in terms of Anti Defection Law against its Legislative Council members should they oppose the Bill. Shortly afterwards, however, the passage of the Bill had caused a great upheaval in and outside the state in various circles, and it had, at least temporarily, been shelved aside.

After six years, the Bill has resurfaced from the debris to haunt us a second time — this time ironically on the International Women’s day, around exactly the same time of the year (moved by the PDP legistator Murtaza Ahmad Khan on March 8, 2010). Interestingly this time too, the Bill was allowed “unopposed”. What is even more interesting to note is that during the same session, the Minister for Social Welfare, Ms. Sakina Itto has proposed a Bill on Domestic Violence for “empowering women”. Was that a bad joke?

The PDP’s stance may be a bait for the separatist mindset aimed to “safeguard Article 370” (or “special status” of the J & K), or a part of some new political gimmick to regain its lost face, but one must concede that such politicians can no longer make a fool of the womenfolk who are more informed, more confident, and more determined to fight for their rights. There is no rationale whatsoever behind the argument that women’s marrying non-state subjects causes an “imbalance in the state demographics” while the same action by men, committed on a much larger scale than women, does not. It does not take a genius to realize that the Bill is absolutely blind to our women’s basic and fundamental rights.

While many political parties supporting the Bill certainly have their motives, the important question that must be addressed by everyone today, irrespective of our political orientations or ideologies, is: Do the women of the state of Jammu & Kashmir deserve equal treatment as that of men? On the one hand is the question of their basic human and fundamental rights, their right to live with dignity and equal status as that of men in a country which boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, and on the other, is the issue of safeguarding article 370 of the “privileged” state. The answer is more than clear: If such a Bill must pass at any point, it must apply to everyone irrespective of their gender; under these circumstances, the first person to be disqualified from the Resident status must be our honorable Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, followed by everybody with similar qualifications. If that is not likely to happen any time, the Bill must be buried for good.

© Sadaf Munshi, March 11, 2010.
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(This article was published in the March 17, 2010 issue of the daily Rising Kashmir available at URL: http://www.risingkashmir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21676&Itemid=53)