By Maya Palit
Behold, I Shine is a new book by the independent journalist Freny Manecksha which documents the stories of women in Kashmir, covering various aspects of their lives in the midst of a brutal occupation. These include recording women’s experiences with sexual violence at the hands of armed forces, and the rigidity that curfew gives their lives, to the women protesting the Handwara incident and those carving out a space for dissent that is vastly opposed to nationalist feminism. Some of these issues are easier to explore than others, but Manecksha does manage to interview without being intrusive and gives the reader the tools to read between the lines where the information is scarce.
Manecksha interviews the activist and author Essar Batool about her decision to back a public interest litigation seeking justice for the victims of the notorious Kunan Poshpora rapes. She talks to young social workers and video journalists like Sajjad Rassool and Nadiyah Shafi who conduct gender sensitivity classes where they hold dialogues about sexuality and the third gender. She also discusses at length the difficulty of reporting rape and assault when the perpetrators are security forces, and provides case studies of several women who chose not to follow through with complaints because they are worried about the violent repercussions. There are those who did complain and were either labelled antinational, subject to more violence, or shut up with compensation offered to their families.
At one point in the book, Manecksha speaks to human rights activist Khurram Parvez about this conundrum, where often the fight for justice for sexual violence can look quite futile. This is the reply she gets:
“Has a single person from security forces been sentenced? Has justice ever been delivered in this state when the crime has been perpetrated by military personnel? The answer, sadly, is “no”. Not a single man from the security forces over the last twenty years or more has been sentenced in Kashmir.’ (An Indian Army court did find six of its personnel guilty for the Machil killings on 6 September 2015 and sentenced them to life but the accused were not tried in a civil court.)