In 'Naya Jammu and Kashmir' women have become equal stakeholders in every field. They are no longer considered second fiddles or less than men in any way. After August 5, 2019, when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J-K's so-called special status and bifurcate it into two Union Territories, the women have been provided with a plethora of opportunities to prove their mettle.
During the past two and a half years women have emerged as successful administrators, police officers, entrepreneurs and sports stars. There has been no looking back.
The women have been posted to key positions in administration, police and corporations. J-K's transition into a Union Territory has proven to be a blessing for the women. The women emerging as stars have brought to the fore the importance of their role in developing a healthy society.
It's not all about men. Despite the J-K women's police wing being established in 1965, there were not many women police stations in J-K till August 5, 2019. After J-K was reorganized, separate women police stations were set up in Udhampur, Rajouri, Kathua Doda, Anantnag, Baramulla, Pulwama and Kupwara districts.
Prior to this, there were only two women police stations in J-K one in Srinagar and another in Jammu.
In January this year, J-K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha announced 15 per cent reservation for women in the non-gazetted posts in the J-K Police.
The decision drove home a point that the government is committed to empowering women in every sphere of life, addressing the social and economic and long-standing inequalities to build a more just and resilient society. The decision was aimed at giving due representation to women in the police force and ensuring the availability of sufficient women personnel to engage exclusively in the matter of gender-based crimes.
Women officers also hold key positions. Women IPS police officers, including Sheema Nabi Qasba, Sargun Shukla, Lakshya Sharma, Mohita Sharma and many others are holding key positions in J-K Police. IAS officers Avny Lavasa, Syed Sehrish Asgar and Kritika Jyotsna have been posted as Deputy Commissioners of Jammu, Baramulla and Udhampur. Administration and Police in J-K are no longer all about men. Women are holding important positions and are sharing equal responsibilities. For the first time in the history of J-K a woman, Professor Nilofer Khan, was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, the highest seat of learning in the Valley.
When Mehbooba Mufti took over as the Chief Minister of the erstwhile J-K State in 2016 she promised the women that they would no more be ignored and would get their due share. However, as the first woman Chief Minister of J-K she couldn't do much for her counterparts due to the constraints that were known to her only.
During her tenure, not many women did get the key positions either in the administration or in the police. She made a few announcements like waiving of the registration fee if the property is purchased in the name of a woman and starting a ladies' bus service in Jammu and Srinagar cities, but these measures just proved to be cosmetic exercises.
J-K women had a lot of expectations from Mehbooba but she couldn't live upto their expectations. During her stint from 2016 to 2018 the Centre provided all the possible assistance to the government led by her. Many women-oriented centrally sponsored schemes were forwarded to J&K but these couldn't be implemented due to the lack of political will.
The recent changes helped 4.5 lakh women. After the change in J-K's status quo as many as 4.5 lakh women have become financially independent through the Self Help Groups initiative.
To enhance the entrepreneurial skills of women, training and financial assistance is being provided to them through schemes like Hausla, Umeed, Saath, Digipay Sakhi, Krishi and Sakhi.
Women empowerment in J&K does not exist in papers only. It has crossed that threshold. The erstwhile political regimes made tall claims about women being the priority but their assertions didn't go beyond lip service. The schemes that were designed to help women gathered dust in the official files.
In a nutshell, women empowerment didn't figure in the list of priorities of the former rulers. Since 1947 inequality between women and men was widely apparent in Jammu and Kashmir. However, after August 5, 2019, the lives of women improved in many respects. In J-K more girls have started going to school, getting better jobs, and acquiring legal rights and protections. The politicians who ruled J&K never concentrated on closing the gender gaps by devising firm policies. It seems they were unaware of the fact that greater gender inequality affects the entire generation.
Moreover, gender discrimination did not deter women. Despite facing gender discrimination for the seventy years women in J-K were second in the country in performing quite satisfactorily in any of the areas of activities right from managing households to teaching and learning to practice medicine, law and other technical and non-technical professions, police, army, aviation, civil services and the like.
Before J-K was reorganized the Centre had done its homework well. The surveys that were carried out prior to merging J-K completely into the Union of India clearly depicted that the potential of women was not explored by any of the dispensations in the Himalayan region.
But now, the scenario has changed. The government has fixed a target of at least ensuring 33 per cent representation of women in every field with the ultimate aim of achieving the 50-50 ratio between men and women. The focus is on providing gender-sensitive work infrastructure and better housing and medical facilities to women in all the departments where they are working.
The women in J-K are being encouraged to take part in recruitment drives of the security forces as well as the competitive exams for gazetted and non-gazetted posts.
Women also shun social taboos. The women in 'Naya J-K' are shunning social taboos to don the police uniform and combat dresses, they are competing to take up a frontal role in every field. Today women in J-K are district police chiefs, deputy commissioners and one of them is also heading the highest seat of learning in the Valley i.e. University of Kashmir.
Naya Jammu and Kashmir' has become an entirely different place and is striving for gender equality, abrogation of Article 370--a temporary provision in the Constitution of India--has opened up a new world for the J-K women. The sky seems to be the limit for them.