Behold, I Shine| Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children.

Behold, I Shine | Narratives of Kashmir's Women and Children by Freny Manecksha
Behold, I Shine | Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha

I must confess that when I think about conflicts around the world, I don’t automatically think about the effects on the most vulnerable, or every day lived experience of those caught in the crossfire. I had, until reading this book, considered all those affected as one homogeneous group: victims with no power or autonomy. And although these elements exist, they don’t make the whole story. Its an injustice in itself to deny people their voices and their story and that is why I’m incredibly grateful for this inspiring collection giving a voice to the women and children caught in the battle of independence, yet continue to shine in the warmth of their traditions and in spite of their struggles.

Behold, I shine by Freny Manecksha begins with a brief introduction to the history of Kashmir, which was very insightful. It then moves quickly into the stories of the women themselves. The nature of living under the constant gaze of (male) soldiers, trying to ascertain the whereabouts of missing husbands and sons while navigating a hostile home environment, living in traditional, cultural environments that demand certain behaviours and overlook abuse or worse, blame the victim. There are horrific stories of ‘half widows’ seeking justice, of rape being used as a weapon of war and of murder and mutilation, but even amongst all this horror there is hope. The voices of women who refuse to give up their struggle for truth and justice. Women who rally together and support each other in their plights and women who organise and mobilise to hold power to account.

The book asks some really important questions, for example, when men return home from an army prison, mutilated and abused they are received as heroes and martyrs yet when women are attacked and raped by the same solders they are then also shunned by their community. Much of what happens to the land is also a metaphor for what happens to its women, the occupation of their bodies and their struggle for freedom. The women of Kashmir have learnt to use whatever means are available to them, even their grief ‘mourning {focuses} on giving birth to a memory’ becomes a deeply political event. They have learnt to use their conventional identity (as women) in creative ways to become activists.

The collection ends with a powerful chapter ‘I Can Save Myself’ which looks at the role of feminism, patriarchy, and religion. It shines a light on a new generation of women in Kashmir seeking an education and using every means available to highlight the oppression, not just of the occupation but also the emancipation for women and how true freedom will involve both.

This is an excellent collection and deeply insightful into the lives of the women of Kashmir. These accounts amplify voices that have long been neglected and highlight the struggle and strength of generations of women. Their stories are empowering and bring to focus their resilience and spirit as women who have had to endure occupation of not only their lands but also their bodies, and yet they continue to shine.

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