Conservative Women Of Kashmir's Mini Afghanistan Break Taboo, Gives Vote A Chance

25 November 2014
DNA
Ishfaq-ul-Hassan

Kangan: In Kashmir's 'mini-Afghanistan', women are breaking the taboo to make their voices heard by their vote. Pushtun women, who have traditionally been reticent and prefer to move only in purdah (veil), are breaking the barriers and coming out to exercise their franchise that has all along been the domain of their male counterparts. Nearly two centuries ago, a large number of Pashtuns migrated to Kashmir and settled in half a dozen villages of Kangan constituency of Ganderbal district. Despite living alongside Kashmiris, the Pashtuns have maintained their cultural identity and that is why this area is named as Chotta (mini) Afghanistan.. Segregation of the genders is still a norm and most of the women folk observe purdah in these hamlets. Girls' education is still below the average and the working women are still elusive in this neighbourhood. Things however are changing now. A large number of women voters thronged the polling booths on Tuesday to cast their vote marking a new beginning in this culturally conservative neighbourhood. Braving the bone chilling cold, Fouzia Bano of Waylu village had reached the polling booth at Government School Gultibagh early in the morning. Bano, who like other girls dropped out after matriculation, was for the second time casting her ballot in her life. 'Last parliament elections, was the first time I had voted. This time it is my second time, that I am exercising my right to vote. Times are changing and modernity is seeping in slowly in this neighbourhood,' she told dna. In fact the enthusiasm among women voters was much more than the men. Donning colourful attires and speaking Pushto language, large queues of women were seen outside the booths to cast their ballot. In 82 Wudur (A) polling booth of the 743 voters, 106 female had cost the votes by 1 pm and many were waiting to cast their votes. In 83 Wayil Wudur (B) polling booth, of the 813 votes around 143 female had cast their ballot by afternoon. 'It is my first time that I am casting my vote. I am thrilled,' said Rubina, a women wearing veil. who never went to school. Mohammad Sharief Chesti, convenor of the All J&K Pukhtoon Forum, apex body of Pushtuns, said a realisation has dawned upon the women that vote is necessary to regain their legitimate rights. 'Earlier the women were not coming to vote. Our men have realised that we should not waste the vote of the women. Our women too want a change. They had an impression that their (women's) vote does not matter. Now they have understood that their vote is valuable and they too can change the government,' said Chesti. Pukhtoon Forum convenor noted that society too is changing and girls are now increasingly going to schools. 'Our Pukhtoon brothers have understood that education is necessary for our sisters and daughters. With knowledge they can bring change in the society,' he said