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• Read World Pulse founder Jensine Larsen's thoughts on Fatima's story.

• Learn more about the complicated history of India and Pakistan's war over Kashmir, and the effects on her people, in this photo-rich presentation.

• Watch clips from Women Between the Frontlines, a documentary detailing the many women fighting for peace in Kashmir.

• Find out how women in the conflict zone engage in politics in IMOW's "A Collage of Her Severally Inspected Parts."

• Listen to Arundhati Roy's recent call to action.

• Read more voices from the conflict at Kashmir Lit.

World Pulse recommends The Tiger Ladies: A Memoir of Kashmir, the first-ever memoir written by a Kashmiri woman.

PulseWire Show Your Support: Join the PulseWire group, Hope in Kashmir: Sharing Our Stories, to learn from Kashmiri, Pakistani, and Indian women and men as they dialogue for peace.

My Life, My Kashmir

“Over night, my reality became rooted in the turbulence and uncertainty of Kashmir’s history.”

Fatima Sultan Syed pierces the shroud obscuring one of the world’s most enduring conflicts—a brutal 60-year dispute between India and Pakistan over her homeland of Kashmir. Some, including US President Obama, say that resolving this conflict may be the key to peace for a region plagued by violence.

"Soldiers huddled in bunkers that were pushed shoulder-to-shoulder against unlucky houses at the end of the lanes. This was not a hidden conflict anymore; it was a battle fought in the streets."

College girls protest for Kashmir's freedom (Yawar Nazir; IMOW)

"Kashmiris believe in peace...Ours is a struggle for independence, not a struggle over warring beliefs."

I grew up in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, in a small town adjacent to Dal Lake. If mythology were to be my source, I would tell you that life itself emanated from this lake and that monsters and demons hid deep in its waters. But that is a story for another time. Mine is a story of the vengeful spirits still haunting Kashmir today. In this era, they come in the form of competing nations fighting for control of the valley.

My own childhood in the Indian-administered Kashmir could be called idyllic. I attended a prestigious school in a town frequented by foreigners (even George Harrison of the Beatles spent time living in the famous houseboats along the water), and there was a quiet urbanity about my early life. My family took long strolls along the scenic boulevards; we ate ice cream cones (nicknamed ‘softies’) in the evenings. In the enchantment of growing up, I was unaware of the political realities of my homeland.

But in the confines of closed social gatherings there were banging fists, frowned brows, pursed lips, and sharp inhalations punctuated by jargon I could not understand. I heard terms like azaadi (Independence) and haq-e-khudiradiyat (self-determination) whispered in the barbershop, in the baker’s and the doctor’s waiting rooms, in the market. These strange words intrigued me; they hung in the air like big question marks, mysterious and unexplained for years, since my parents and other adults determined I was too young to understand them.

And then, one day in 1989, they were spared the burden of explaining them to me in words. The repressed political importance of each term became clear as a bloody battle erupted in every town square and in every pocket of the valley. Alleyways were filled with young boys wielding guns, and the Indian army was ready for combat. Soldiers huddled in bunkers that were pushed shoulder-to-shoulder against unlucky houses at the end of the lanes. This was not a hidden conflict anymore; it was a battle fought in the streets. Over night, my reality became one rooted in the turbulence and uncertainty of Kashmir’s history.

My homeland—what had once been the independent state of Kashmir (although under a princely rule)—was torn asunder when it was divided into two regions in 1947, following the end of British colonial rule. Kashmir became two regions, one administered by Pakistan and the other by India. This bifurcation was supposedly a temporary measure until Kashmir’s people could determine their own future in a UN-backed plebiscite (a referendum allowing my people to determine their own fate). More than 60 years later, both India and Pakistan have failed to adhere to this call, as India vies for control of the region, and Pakistan, suspected of backing terrorist militants in the region, hangs on tightly to the territory under its control. Kashmir remains a disputed territory, caught in between competing nations who use Kashmir as a rallying cry to sustain nationalism in their citizens.

Today, Kashmir is one of the most highly militarized regions in the world with upward of half-a-million Indian security forces occupying a region of only 10-million. India has declared Kashmir a “disturbed area,” implementing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other similar acts, which allow the Indian military to take full control of the region and act on any suspicion. The act has given Indian officials the unsanctioned right to commit fundamental human rights abuses in the name of counter insurgency.

Just as any other Kashmiri I have seen incessant suffering and desperation born of the tempest between Kashmiri will and Indian domination. I remember walking to my tutor’s house in 1992. There was only a hair’s breadth between my friend and me when we were caught in crossfire between the Indian army and militant fighters. My friend received a bullet and died on the spot. This is not the only incident that I have in my memory; there are many more, but they are too painful, and the only little I can add here are impressions of splatters of blood; smoke from the gunfire; bomb and grenade blasts; shutters of shops clanging closed; cries for help; the dank and dark of some basement where we took refuge.

Throughout Kashmir women have been disproportionately affected by this violence. Many have become the sole breadwinners since so many men have been killed or have simply disappeared. A large number of women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which experts attribute to the increase in sexual violence, along with the sudden assumption of male responsibilities. A 2005 Doctors Without Borders report noted that Kashmir has some of the highest rates of sexual violence in any conflict region. Sexual violence and rape at the hands of the Indian army has largely lacked public discussion or legal deliverance, as the perpetrators enjoy immunity.

In recent years, there have been small signs of lessening violence by militant groups. Active combat has declined in the cities, although it remains an insistent reality in villages and along remote borders. While India’s government speaks of this as successful containment of militancy, . . .


efe's picture

the fight for independence

While reading Fatima's account, in My Life, MY Kashmir, it made me realize how people can take what they have for granted or even abuse it. Fatima and other people of that region are experiencing psychological and physical turmoil for wanting to be independent. Nigeria has been an independent territory since 1960. but the majority of people have chosen to ignore the ideals of people who fought for our independence at a less cost than Kasmir, i might add. Fatima, i admire you for your inner strength after all you have gone through. May you continue to be strengthened and may you continue to tell your story.

Tatiana de Araujo Barbosa's picture

Dear Fatima, my name is

Dear Fatima,

my name is Tatiana, I'm from Brazil and work as a television journalist - independent productions.
In 2006, I had the opportunity to spend 20 days in Kashmir. When I read your article, I could remember again the smell of lotus flowers in the lakes, I could feel the sensation of be walking through the markets and the old center...and to get deeply emotional with the beauty of women in their colorful scarfs, and veils. I will never forget your country and the special and important experience it was for me, a latin woman, to observe particular angles of Srinagar and to talk to people trying to capture a little about their spirits. Something that will remain in my soul forever! Thanks for your words, and for helping me to remember.
Best Regards

Victoria Vorosciuc's picture

May our good wishes

reach the beings that live there and MAY PEACE COME BACK TO THIS part of the world!

Victoria Vorosciuc
Project Coordinator
"Empowering women to participate
in community life"
WorldPulse Media Corresspondent

Fatima Sultan Syed's picture


Thanks so much for your concern and kind wishes. I hope peace returns with due reverence to the ones whose lives have been lost so far and those who continue to get mauled every day.

jasir's picture


All we Kashmiris have is memory, even after so many years of conflict . World needs to know the stories of torture and sorrow that kashmiris have faced with resilience...

Cathy-Sue's picture

Kashmir Unveiled

Dear Fatima,
After reading your article I realized how little I actually knew about the Kashmiri struggle other than what the world media has seen fit to serve me. For one I was completely unaware of the high rates of sexual violence towards women. I will be bringing some attention onto Kashmir in our small local charity to see how we can get involved.

Cathy Sue, Chief Editor @
Single Parent Center

sahar's picture

Dear Fatima Independence can

Dear Fatima

Independence can not be gained unless long struggle takes place , as the old saying " no pain , no gain." However , I am impressed with the the determination of Kashmiri people and your lay out of your struggle.

I wish you all the best sister !


Sahar Nuraddin

follow me @snuraddin
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
- Helen Keller

Maura Conlon's picture

Thank you for this moving

Thank you for this moving account of your country -- the shift in mood, from that peace you remember as a child to the uprising conflict -- is so palpable. I hope that seeds of hope are planted in the new generation and that the older generations can hold onto their memories of peace and tell their stories to keep the beacon bright. I hope you will keep us updated on new developments.
Warm best,

Maura Conlon-McIvor, Ph.D
author, founder and social change psychologist
celebrate life/tell your story/live your heart's legacy

Dear Fatima

Ur words touched me deeply and i could relate with everything mentioned as the situation is the same for the Nagas in India, who fell into the colonial hands of British, and left without solutions between India and Burma.

Thank you for sharing this note!!


piu2011's picture


If feel this then do not use rights given for Indian citizens.

they really need to think about the other people

piu2011's picture

Thats a double standard post

I can say only one thing if Kashmiris want separation from India then should not use Indian passport if they feel that Indians peruse military rule in Kashmir.They should stop asking for reservations in government jobs and institutions. Thirdly they should confine themselves to Kashmir.

Well the true story is that the kashmiris want only orthodox Islamic rule. They have already kicked out the Kashmiri pundits and Sikhs out of the state due to terror attacks against them. This lady should explain this in next post. Large number of men from armed forces have been killed due to Kashmir. What about them.

If you feel that Indian government is doing dictatorship in Kashmir. Please go and live in any Islamic country where women cannot go out without wearing a veil and a male escort.

Dear Hindu Nationalist

You don't need to send me message on the inbox, we can discuss it publicly and you knew that you are not confident of what you write, is that the reason, why you don't show your identity? Come out like me or Fatima and we can discuss issues in a better way. Actually, it's not even worth commenting on your post, but i decided to do so.. If you come publicly, we can discuss in more humane way.

First of all, i feel so sorry to know that you are just attacking people without actually understanding anything what's going on. We don't deny the fact that Hindu Pandits or Sikhs have been affected too in J & K. You can write about their problems too in more humane way, but not, attacking others like Hindutva or Hindu fundamentalist. You need to respect voice of dissent and digest issues and problems that confronts the country today. We don't need to fight or target each other all the more. We need steps to address those issues and start finding ways on how to make things work. If India holds view like you do, then everybody except Hindu will be able to survive and live. But, I am glad they are good enough to understand and accept the failures too and making amends. That's the reason, they give passport to all citizens of India, not only Hindus or Sikhs. TC

I want to say one thing that most of the Indians outside Kashmir want to know that you do not want people from other region to live and own property in Kashmir. Why so?

You feel we will snatch everything from you. A normal Kashmiri does wants people as tourist but not as residents why?

If I speak the truth then it hurts right. Can you explain me why you people want special status that residents of other do not like? If you feel that Indian government does injustice to your people then answer me how many wars have taken place due to Kashmir and how many soldeirs have died to protect the state.

If all normal kashmiris feel what you think the best solution would be to withdraw all protection, security and special status given to Kashmir and leave the state in mercy of fundamentalist like Gilani. This will save the manpower of the armed forces as well as money of Indian government.

Kashmir has been always been trouble for most of the Indians but still we take of it. Kashmir and its people are the integral part of India and will always remain so inspite of whatever people like you think. India's financial power has more say in international arena than the separatist.

As far of being Hindu is concerned I am an human first, then an Indian and finally an Hindu for which I am quite proud of . Anyway who are forgetting that majority of people in India are Hindus are equally fed up of terror attacks and saddened by the death of army personnel and common man. We do worry how the heaven on earth has became the hell for people of India.

Please try to think what other citizens perceive about Kashmir and please come out of the mentality that Kashmiris are only sufferers. Please wake up and remember the truth about a situation changes according to perception.

piu2011's picture

Open up your eyes

I don't have confidence then I would not be writing here. And please take your head out of Kashmir . India has 27 other states and 7 union territories where other people live and can speak against your opinion.

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