Role of Women in National Conflicts. The Cases of Kashmir and Mindanao

Essay, 2021

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Table of contents

1 Introduction: Why did I choose the topic?

2 Relevant aspects of colonialsm and post-colonialsm in Kashmir and Mindanao
2.1 The Hindu / Christian ‘self and the Muslim ‘other'
2.2 Forced annexation by the Indian and Philippine state
2.3 Major changes from the 2000s

3 The role of women in Kashmir and Mindanao
3.1 Demonstrations of Kashmiri women
3.2 Daughters of Faith
3.3 Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
3.4 NGO approach in Mindanao

4 Conlusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction: Why did I choose the topic?

For the essay I wanted to connect a topic of feminist identity politics and compare two regions in Asia with current nationalistic tendencies.

As a first step, I decided to narrow the topic down on the regions Kashmir in Northern India and Mindanao in the Southern Philippines. This seemed appropriate, as both regions share a range of commonalities concerning their specific (post-)colonial development. I will investigate common - but also diverging - aspects in the first half of my essay by focusing on the Hindu / Christian ‘self and the Muslim ‘other', the forced annexation by the state and the major political changes from the 2000s

As a second step, I decided to focus on the role of Muslim women in the conflict situations in Kashmir and Mindanao. While we explored female agency in religio-political movements in India during the course, I wanted to find out about its counterpart in the Philippines. In this regard, I was guided by the questions, such as: What different forms of female agency can be found in Kashmir and Mindanao? How can Muslim women articulate their activism within a male dominated society? What are the prerequisites in order to enable emancipatory female activism in a conflict area? And what influence do Modi's and Duterte's “hyper-masculine” (Franco 2017, 301) politics have on female agency? In the second part of my essay, I will approach these questions by analysing the ethnographic research conducted in Kashmir by Parashar (2010) and Zia (2019) and in Mindanao by Dwyer and Cagoco-Guiam (2010) and Hilsdon (2009).

2 Relevant aspects of colonialism and post-colonialism in Kashmir and Mindanao

I selected three historical aspects that, in my opinion, are helpful to get a better understanding of the status quo in the conflict regions Kashmir and Mindanao. These aspects include the politics of Muslim ‘othering', the forced annexation by the (post-)colonial state and the new political approaches to the conflicts since the 2000s. In the following passage, I will firstly focus on Kashmir, therefrom I will secondly highlight communalities and differences to the situation in Mindanao.

2.1 The Hindu / Christian ‘self and the Muslim ‘other’

The “self” and the “other” are not static but rather dynamic concepts, that are constantly reinterpreted. Under British rule the colonizers were considered the enemy, however after Pakistan's and India's partition in 1947, the Muslim antagonist was constructed from the perspective of the “pure” Hindu self. The Muslim “other” was considered sexually promiscuous, prone to violence and politically ambitious, which “prevented the Indian/Hindu nation from fully becoming into being.” (Julka 2019, 5) Consequently, Indian nationalists legitimized their violence towards Muslims by arguing that “only after eliminating the ‘other' an ideal state and society could be realised.” (Parashar 2010, 447)

Parallels to the political strategy of othering Muslims can be found in the Philippine history, too. While the Spanish colonial regime in the 16th century forced the indigenous peoples of the northern regions to convert to Christianity, the southern Muslim sultanates organized an effective resistance in Mindanao. However, the fact that they could preserve their cultural, religious and political distinctiveness was used to “set the stage for deep-seated mutual trust.” (Dwyer and Cagoco-Guiam 2010, 6) Like in Kashmir, politics of othering was initiated: For instance, the conquistadores referred to Mindanao's Muslims condescendingly as Moros (Moor) due to their darker skin colour. Furthermore, derogatory prescriptions of ‘ the' brutal and uncivilised Muslim were constructed opposing the ‘pure' Christian self. (cf. Nario-Galace 2014, 244)

2.2 Forced annexation by the Indian and Philippine state

Although the Muslim-majority population of Kashmir preferred to be part of Pakistan, the ruling Hindu Maharaja of the region acceded the territory to India under specific conditions. In the context of this essay, I would like to highlight two: Firstly, Kashmir was given relative autonomy and secondly, a plebiscite determining the will of the population would be held under the lead of the United Nation's Security Council (UNSC) in 1948. (cf. Kurian 2020, 251) However, the referendum was never held and as a result, the as unlawful perceived annexation paired with the lack of development, led to a series of demonstrations. While India was first pursuing a conciliatory and defensive approach to conflict management, the government gradually started to adopt more aggressive military operations in order to root out the upcoming, more militant tanzeems (organizations), that were demanding azaadi for Kashmir. (cf. Suri 2003, 3) In the beginning of the 1990s violence started to escalate: jihadi separatists where systematically attacking the government's security forces and institutions, while the Indian military is held responsible for the torturing, kidnapping and killing thousands of Kashmiri inhabitants.

A first parallel between the historic developments in Kashmir and Mindanao can be drawn regarding the forced annexation. After the American military succeeded in the Spanish- American war (1898) and the Moro Rebellion (1989-1913), the region of Mindanao got incorporated in the structures of the new American colony. (cf. Dwyer and Cagoco-Guiam 2010, 6) Unlike to the Maharaja in Kashmir, the Muslim sultans in Mindanao were not in the strategic position of negotiation and lost most of their authority to the colonizers. The colonial American government deepened the already existing animosities between Christians and Muslims by implementing a new migration policy: Muslim landowners in Mindanao were dispossessed and displaced in order to enable new settlements for Catholic farmers that got moved to the new southern territory. (cf. Colletta 2006, 22) Also the Philippines' independence in 1946 did not improve the conditions for the Muslims in Mindanao, who were continuously reduced to a minority in their Native land. Under the dictatorship of President Marcos this aggressive demographic transition as well as the region's “outright economic exploitation” (Chalk 2001, 242) even aggravated and led to a separatist Islamic insurgency in the beginning of the 1970s. Similar to Kashmir, a circle of violence between the state military forces and radicalized Muslim groups started, that kept the region's inhabitants trapped in a bloody conflict for several decades.

2.3 Major changes from the 2000s

Narendra Modi, who is member of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and served as a Chief Minister of Gujarat, openly expresses his resentment towards Muslims. For instance, during the Gujarati riots in 2002 he was severely criticized for “collud[ing] with and protect[ing] the rioting mob of Hindu fanatics who raped, killed, burned and looted Muslim women and men.” (Roy 2002) Modi designs himself as an “alpha-male [.] with an iron hand and strong willpower” (Kuldova 2015, 149) claiming that he can turn India's Hindutva fantasies into reality. As a consequence, since he got elected as India's prime minister in 2014, the country did not only take a more belligerent stance in world politics but also suggested that only a “militarised ethos of masculinity” (Parashar 2010, 436) could purify the Indian nation from the corrupting influence of its Muslim minority. Under Modi's governance, the already tensed relationship between Kashmir and the Indian state hit rock bottom with the government's unilateral decision to reverse Kashmir's status from an autonomous to a central- administered region. Although it was officially argued that this radical step was necessary in order to “[integrate] Kashmiris into Indian mainstream and to accord to them the same rights that other Indian enjoy” (Julka 2019, 4) it is expected that this decision will cause quite the opposite. Critiques assume that by minimizing Kashmir's rights on local decision-making, will not only lead to a general reinforcement of separatist movements but will also provoke more violent interventions by non-state Islamic groups.

Similar to India, the beginning of 2000 seemed to gradually crystallize a turning point in the Philippines' approach to its conflict with its Muslims. After President Estrada's ouster because of “corruption and incompetence” (Suri 2003, 23) his successor Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010) promptly reversed the aggressive ‘all out war' strategy to a participatory ‘all out peace' approach in conflict-ridden Mindanao. She encouraged an opening for non­governmental organizations (NGOs) and a dialogue with local religious authorities discussing for instance plans for the region's economic development and Mindanao's possible future status as a “semi-autonomous territory within the framework of national sovereignty.” (Hilsdon 2009, 355) The government under Aquino III (2010-2016) was able to give constructive input to the peace negotiations, which led to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014. In this regard, I would like to highlight two aspects: Firstly, with the CAB the Muslim majority-Moro areas now called Bangsamoro (Nation of the Moors) achieved its autonomous status. Secondly, in the Mindanao peace process the “women on both sides came together to ensure economic, social, and political guarantees for women entering the agreement.”1 (O’Reill, O Suilleabhâin and Pfaffenholz 2015: 23) It is worth noting that female politicians made up 50 percent of the state's negotiating team and 25 percent of the signatories while additionally women from the Muslim civil society were appointed to observer seats in the peace process.

3 The role of women in Kashmir and Mindanao

Conflicts and wars are traditionally an “arena defined and occupied almost solely by men.” (Dwyer and Cagoco-Guiam 2010, 6) Furthermore, men project themselves as legitimate actors in peace negotiations since they “wielded arms (thereby, 'sacrificed') for the cause earlier.” (Parashar 2010, 439) The exclusive, top-down approach is defended with the logic that the inclusion of the wider society is “neither practical nor plausible and [...] [is] associated with greater risks of failure.” (Alvarado Cobar et. al. 2018, 1) However, recent research criticizes the negative effects of a male-centered approach and challenges the passive and victimized role of women. In the context of the conflicts in Kashmir and Mindanao, there are two aspects, that I would like to focus on in the following text: Firstly, how can female agency get articulated in a Muslim, male-dominated society? Secondly, what role do NGOs based in Kashmir and Mindanao play for local women's activism?

3.1 Demonstrations of Kashmiri women

Women did not only support the politics by “mundane activities” (Parashar 2010, 437) such as cooking, cleaning or preaching paurush (masculinity) and matribhoomi bhakti (devotion to motherland) to their sons, they also found new ways to step out the private utilizing their role as dutiful mothers. Since the late 80s Kashmiri women could be seen in the forefront of the protests expressing their political solidarity with the movement for azaad (freedom) and shouting powerful slogans like: “Aye mard-e-mujahid jag zara, ab waqt-e-shahadat hai aaya!” (O brave warrior wake up, the time of martyrdom has come!) (Kurian 2020, 261) Although Muslim women were supposed to stay at home, their appearance in public was sanctioned by the religious leaders, as they were performing their motherly duty to morally support the jihad. Zia reports from her ethnographic fieldwork that in some regions of Kashmir, these women's actions were not only tolerated, but even explicitly recognized and supported by the religious authorities. A female informant explains that the Imam would call out via loudspeaker: “Tamaam Majjin Benin che appeal yewan karneh ki tem nyeran sadki peth dharna dineh” (We appeal to all mothers and sisters to come into the street and stage a dharna [non-violent, sit-in protest].) (Zia 2019, 96) Parashar furthermore adds, that the initial demonstrations were supposed to emotionally support their men, but “women did not pick up arms.” (Parashar 2010, 438) However, this changed over the course of the conflict, when women showcased that they could influence politics not only through mobilizing the public, but also through the use of violence. In reference to that, a journalist of the India Times pointed out:

“Until the other day, Kashmiri women were little more than a convenient set of clichés [...] cast[ed] as victims, wailing mourners [...] but now an unfamiliar new photograph of the Kashmiri woman has begun to take its place on newspaper front pages. She's dressed in ordinary salwar-kameez [...] her head is usually covered with a duppatta and she is unconcerned about being recognized. She is often middle aged, and could be even middle class. And she is carrying a stone'” (Kak 2010; italic accentuation CM)

3.2 Daughters of Faith

With their sons and husbands getting systemically arrested, tortured or murdered by the Indian military forces, Kashmiri women felt the urge to fight back. (Kurian 2020, 260) Due to the conflict situation, these women regarded violent actions as a legitimate and inevitable mean to achieve freedom and defend Islam from the oppressor. Next to individual and spontaneous activism, radical organization run by Muslim women started to form in Kashmir. In the following text, I will give insights into the complex women Muslim's agenda by analysing ethnographic material conducted by Parashar (2010). The researcher interviewed Asiya Andrabi, one of the founders of the group Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith).

The Daughters of Faith can be classified as a puritanical and fundamentalist organization that demand Nizam-e-Mustafa [the pure society that existed during Prophet Mohammed's time) and shari'a law. (cf. Parashar 2010, 445) Unlike to the more extreme Muslim Khawateen Markaz (Muslim Women's Centre), the Daughters of Faith seem not be directly involved in terrorist attacks but are rather focusing on moral policing. Under the lead of Andrabi, they for instance vandalise cinema halls, trash beauty parlours and throw paint on unveiled women. Interestingly, they also promote protection of women's legal rights, care for widows and free education, however all “under the strict Islamic religious code of conduct.” (ibid. 449) This could for example mean, that girls should be taught to read in a Muslim madrassa, though exclusively religious text enabling them to internalize the Islamic faith better.


1 A highly interesting and thorough analysis regarding the gains for specifically women in the CAB were conducted by the O'Reilly, O Suilleabhâin and Pfaffenholz (2015) and Alvarado Cobar et. al. (2018). Furthermore, I would like to shortly comment on the current President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and his relation to the CAB. Which political approach did Duterte adopt during the peace process? Did he - similar to Modi - as an authoritarian and hyper-masculinized politician damage the peace process? Or did he manage to use his experience as the former mayor of Davao City - Mindanao's biggest city - in favour for the peace agreement? Unfortunately, a precise answer cannot be given as there does not seem to be academic research targeting specifically these questions. However, at least two deductions can be drawn. Firstly, scholars were specifically critical of Duterte's volatile rhetoric concerning the conflict in Mindanao. On the on hand, he adopted a more forgiving approach by depicting Muslim separatists as “poverty-stricken individuals to criminals” (Franco 2017, 297), while on the other hand boasting and provoking them with statements, like "Go ahead. Set off bombs. Time will come when I will eat you [Abdurajik Janjalani; leader of the Islamic group called Abu Sayyaf] in front of the people. I will devour you and if I have to, erase you." (Inquirer Net 2016) Because of his conflicting communication, it was highly doubted that he would have the diplomatic skills to adequately manage the conflict in Mindanao. However - and secondly - it must be acknowledged that Duterte agreed to and signed the final version of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018. Therefore, he did make a valuable contribution to the peace process, even if critics insist that Duterte is merely following his predecessor's political strategies and usurping “the hard-won [achievements] of the Aquino administration.” (Franco 2017, 303)

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Role of Women in National Conflicts. The Cases of Kashmir and Mindanao
University of Copenhagen
South Asia: Reason and Religion
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role, women, national, conflicts, cases, kashmir, mindanao
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Anonymous, 2021, Role of Women in National Conflicts. The Cases of Kashmir and Mindanao, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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