By Farah Bashir
Exactly a year ago; I was invited by a student of journalism in Delhi to speak on the ‘significance’ of Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day. The day was 23 February.
February 23 stands as a brutal reminder of the state violence against Kashmiri women. It has been marked since 2014 to commemorate the struggle and resistance against injustice heaped upon them for over two decades.
Twenty four years ago, on the night of 22-23 February, in 1991, Indian soldiers of the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles surrounded two villages Kunan and Poshpora, in district Kupwara, for a ‘cordon and search operation’ commonly known as ‘crackdown’. Men from the twin villages were gathered on the pretext of interrogation, and the women “were gang-raped without any consideration of their age or marital status,” according to the locals, and victims of this incident range in age from 13 to 80 years of age” according to the reports. Human Rights Watch have reported that the number of raped women could be as high as 100.
Indian soldiers shielded by ‘black’ law such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act commit human rights violations in Kashmir with impunity. The atrocities are not an aberration but a calculated and systematic strategy used by the Indian State so as to make the people of Kashmir subservient; in its counter-insurgency campaign aimed at forcing the local population to yield to the militarized notion of Kashmir being an “integral” part of India.
Rape as a form of punishment for the recalcitrant Kashmiri
As a part of the terror campaign to humiliate, subjugate and coerce Kashmiris, the state has an apparatus in place of which rape has been an essential part systematically deployed in Kashmir.
It forms a significant ‘lesson-teaching’ device under the macro strategy of counter-insurgency. Rapes and sexual assault, which are internationally recognized as war crimes have been extensively and routinely used as a weapon of war in Kashmir, and need to be looked at from the lens of an arrogant state operating within the context of an armed occupation with its so-called Subject; and meted out as a punishment for their basic demand and inalienable right to self-determination. “When Captain Ravinder Singh Tewatia of 12 Rashtriya Rifles and SPO Bharat Bhushan rape women inside their own home in Banihal or DSP Altaf Ahmad Khan rapes a schoolgirl who is the cousin of a surrendered militant inside the Zachaldara Police Post or Captain Gurtej Singh rapes a man’s wife in Qazigund they are doing their duty, they are teaching “them” a lesson, they are keeping Kashmir “integral” to India.” documents Abhijit Dutta in his empathetic tribute to the victims of sexualised violence in Kashmir pointing out it being a tactic of repression by the state.
As mentioned these instances don’t happen by chance, but are employed to instil fear amongst Kashmiris as a people.
On 18 May 1990, Mubina Gani, a young bride from Anantnag, on her way back from her wedding at night, was being escorted by her new family to their home. Beside her in the bus was her aunt, a woman who was seven months pregnant. Half a kilometer from their destination, the wedding party came upon a roadblock. As the driver pulled the bus to a halt, the paramilitary personnel at the checkpoint opened fire, killing groom’s brother. After the guests were beaten up and herded; the troopers took the ladies to a nearby field; raped the bride first and then her aunt.
Another case of such brutality and systematic strategy was carried out in May 2009, when bodies of two sisters-in-law Asiya Jan (22) and Nelofar (17) from Shopian were recovered from a stream that was barely “ankle-deep”. Both had been “gang-raped before their deaths.”
According to a report published in New York Times the gynaecologist who examined the bodies of two sisters-in-law raped and murdered had, as per the witnesses, told the crowd while weeping, “What was done to these women even animals could not have done.”
And the ordeal does not end there. The state ensures that there is doubt and ambiguity to derail the victims and their kin while shielding the perpetrators. From refusing to lodge an FIR for nearly a week to ruling out rape, before the forensics report established the same, the state tried to obfuscate the alleged rape and murder of the duo by the Indian troopers.
Their Rape Vs Our Rape
The difference between rapes that happen in India and the rapes committed by the Indian troopers in Kashmir is rather stark. On December 16, 2012- a paramedic student was brutally raped and murdered by five men in India’s capital in New Delhi. Rightfully so, it sparked an outrage from any thinking and feeling person, and eventually, a year later, the surviving accused, barring the minor rapist, were awarded capital punishment for their heinous crime.
But it’s different when the motives are calculated. Ayesha Pervez in her recent essay: Politics of Rape in Kashmir, aptly states, “The Kashmir Valley, which has recorded a high incidence of sexual violence in comparison to other conflict zones in the world, has never seen a single prosecution in reported cases that have dragged on for years between institutions of law and state.”
To discriminate one rape from another; one committed in the patriarchal context and another for political motives need to be seen for what they are: former to exert power; latter to humiliate and subjugate. The latter is best elaborated in a case study by Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth) in which he reveals the case of an Algerian man whose pregnant wife was raped by the French. The Algerian man developed a sense of disgust for his wife and daughter and considered them both “dirty and polluted…” It was only after counselling and psychiatric treatment at a rehabilitation camp could he distinguish between two kinds of rapes, which eventually led him to “accept” his wife and daughter back.
Justice substituted by Intimidation
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, a human rights organisation representing the rape victims of Kunan—Poshpora, in a press release (April, 2014) announced:
“Frustrated by the struggle of Kunan—Poshpora, army carries out explosion and fake recovery of weapons… The explosion and the threat of further searches is clearly an act of intimidation against the villagers of Kunan and Poshpora, and all those associated with the struggle against impunity of the Indian army.”
The state denies any form of assistance to rape victims, but on the contrary further tortures the victims in varied ways: by labelling some of them as militant sympathizers, deserving of such a punishment, while other accounts are dismissed as “fabrications” or “preposterous lies”.
Rapes and the Rate List
The state has also gone on to break the “rape shield law” and revealed a list of names and residential details of the rape victims as an attempt to stigmatise the victims apart from instilling fear and psychosis in them.
A few years ago, the previous state government had come out with a “compensation list” according to which rape in Jammu and Kashmir falls under three categories:
“Rape: Rs 2 lakh
Rape of minor: Rs 3 lakh
Rape in police custody: Rs 3 lakh”
Besides an acknowledgment of it being a tool of humiliation and subjugation, the state might as well have saved itself the trouble of cataloguing rapes because the military occupation that Kashmir is under, one wonders if any area falls outside the perimeter of the “custody” of Indian army.
Fear of Reprisal
A conspicuous absence of any women’s groups supporting the struggle of the rape victims explains the sense of fear which the state instils in form of threats and varied ways of intimidation. Therefore, not many amongst women in Kashmir have organised themselves for collective campaign against rape. “The other reasons for non-involvement of women in anti-rape campaign are fear of reprisals, social stigma and the belief that justice is impossible within the existing state mechanisms”, says Khurram Parvez, the coordinator of JKCCS.
A Desperate Fight
Through all these years of insurgency and counter-insurgency Kashmiri women have struggled for truth, justice, and to lead lives free of fear, threats, violence and stigma. While most Indian officials have termed these victims as “liars” and refuted the charges, the Indian army’s arrogant response to the PIL filed by the representatives of the victims of Kunan—Poshpora mass rape as an attempt to seek justice was akin to “flogging a dead horse.”
“In most of the rape cases women in Kashmir do not report the crime due to the fear of reprisals, besides having trust-deficit,” says Khurram, and further mentioned that in several cases where they were able to collect the information about the rape, they found it quite difficult to persuade the victims to file the cases as no victim showed any interest in the prevailing judiciary. “The victims asked us about any example where after filing a case, victim has succeeded in getting the guilty punished,” Khurram said.
One almost becomes hopeful as Ayesha concludes her essay that appeared in The Hindu, with optimistic undertones, “The brave and extraordinary women of Kashmir will come together to commemorate yet another year of struggle against injustice and retake a vow to challenge state-sanctioned impunity.”
But experience also leaves one wondering that in a zone where militarisation exists beyond borders and streets; enters the domestic territories of a people; their kitchens, their living rooms, their bedrooms exposing them to bone chilling tools of occupation and oppression; are we being too naive by expecting justice; retributive or restorative, from a state that perpetuates violence in the first place?
—The author, a former photojournalist with Reuters, is an independent researcher based in Delhi. Feedback:
Courtesy: Kashmir Reader