NORMAN — The partially autonomous northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is a beautiful part of the world but is marred by a long history of violent political and ethic struggles.
On Sept. 25, at least nine people were killed when militants attacked a police station and an army camp. The area is my homeland, and my family has been part of its history. I love it greatly. I would like to see the fighting end, and it could if there were more leaders like my grandmother.
Jammu and Kashmir is part of the larger Kashmir region that is divided into areas of control by India, Pakistan, and China.
Women in Jammu and Kashmir have had a hard lot, even those who have been visible in the public arena. Researching my own family’s story, I have found that women are conditioned to wipe away their footprints and end up leaving very few traces of the kind.
Still, Akbar Jehan Abdullah, my maternal grandmother, was so intricately tied with the political trajectory of Jammu and Kashmir that investigating her story has afforded me a glimpse of the momentous changes in regional politics that unfolded from the 1950s to the 1980s and gives me hope for the future of the region if women like her are allowed to thrive.
My grandmother was conventional, religious and progressive. Her work was a powerful assertion of her convictions. She was the first president of the Jammu and Kashmir Red Cross Society from 1947 to 1951 and went on to represent constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Parliament in 1977 to 1979 and 1984 to 1989.
My grandmother, unfortunately, was the exception; far too few women were able to serve in powerful roles back then, and even today, the numbers are dismal, but change is coming.
Imagine the possibility of different destinies for women in the region if their aspirations and wishes mattered.