By Saima Bhat
Indian-held-Kashmir is a highly militarized zone where for every citizen- the armed forces are in ratio of 1:20, the highest soldier-to-civilian ratio in the world. Women are generally targeted, they are overpowered by the perpetrators in every society and same is the case here where women have been targeted socially, mentally as well as physically.
Indian forces are believed to be hyper masculine who just know how to abuse. They have always tried to attack psyche of the Kashmiri people and with the result they used Rape as a weapon of war to give a signal that ‘you can’t even protect your women and you are seeking Aazadi’! These things usually demoralize and incite a society in unnatural way. If society reacts, army further legitimizes the violence on people and same happened when ever Kashmiris came out on streets like in various rape and molestation cases- Kunan Poshpora mass rape, Bandipora, Wawoosa, Saidapora, Tangmarg, Badrapai, Banihal, Kulgam and the infamous Shopian case.
Women have been the worst victims of any conflict. In a study conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), “Kashmir: Violence and Health”, the findings were, “11.6 percent of interviewees said they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989”. The study revealed that Kashmiri women were among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. The figure is much higher than that of Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Most of the rape cases go unreported in the Valley. “Only 2-3 percent rape victims like to share their plight, otherwise many compromise with the situation and due to social stigma do not come forward,” says a human rights defender. But another study of an international NGO and local Human rights group revealed there are more than 7,000 cases of rapes and molestation cases in the valley among which only 300 have been reported so far.
Initially the reported rape victims were further victimized by threatening and by targeting their families to withdraw cases besides facing the social stigma. Khurram Parvez, Human Rights Activist and Programme coordinator Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) says that no women had dared to report it in the local Police Stations which had proved to be ‘hostile’ places. In those days police used to say they ‘can’t report against army’ and it has been like an unannounced order of not reporting against army. So in early 90’s there would have been rarely an FIR logged against rape. All these things ultimately contributed in not reporting the rape cases as they along with their families did not want to suffer further.
In the Kulgam area of Islamabad district, victim Ruqaiya reported rape by two army men on 21 July 2011. As the news came out the situation was tense for the family. Their house was under police custody; around 40 cops were on duty to make sure nobody could enter the house of the victim. Earlier Ruqaiya had filed a first investigation report with the concerned police station, which was put online on YouTube also. And she had stated the same to the politicians visiting her house but what happened after that nobody knows. Later police came with the statement that Ruqaiya is ‘mentally unfit’ and the case got buried.
“It was to demonize women and women themselves were also reluctant to report due to fear, social stigma as their photographs were published along with their names and overall reporting did not reveal any justice,” says Khurram. He also adds that primary reason behind not reporting rape cases was fear and secondary has been social stigma.
Rape cases can be found from every corner of the Valley but the victims do not share their information saying “we know we can’t get justice. Has Kunan poshpora women got any justice then how can we expect we will be given justice” shares a rape victim. Women have been raped in the age group of 60 and as small as 10-year-girl has also not been spared. Some among them are alive and some are dead but over all almost every rape allegation has met the same fate, justice delayed as well as denied also.
According to a report of Police, “Troops raped 51 women in last 6 years”, published in Rising Kashmir (April, 2, 2010). The report says, “A police statement said 38 rape cases allegedly by troops were reported from November 2002 to October 2005. From November 2005 to July 2008, 13 rape cases allegedly by troops were reported”.
The rural woman has been the worst sufferer. In the era of 90’s the rate of female dropouts in rural schools was higher as the schools had been at distance for which the girls had to pass through woods and in those isolated places they could have been targeted. Experts believe there were many cases when girls had faced eve teasing in front of their parents that was same in rural as well as in urban areas. In a similar case which happened in Qazigund where a girl of class 12 was regularly harassed verbally by the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) men. One day she had took her brother along to her school where on way she was molested by the CRPF in front of her brother who was beaten to death by them. Later due to the intervention of locals those siblings were saved from the clenches of those uniformed law breakers.
Such attempts have not been done on road sides only but some women were even raped in front of their family members. In one unreported case, a woman was raped in local police station in front of her husband but the woman was second wife of her husband who then tried to dug up the issue due to other family problems but in the whole run a woman is the sufferer. Syed Adfar Shah, a sociology scholar in Jamia University says, “Militia has its frustrations while being far from home so their wrath falls on the target society”.
On the other hand when such incidents of rape and molestation cases come up, a woman is again targeted by raising fingers on her character. There have been a number of times when armed forces had blamed that ‘women themselves come in the camps’ but to this Khurram says, “Armed forces create such conditions like they arrest a male member of a family and then tell his mother or wife or sister to come in the camp where she is forced to do what ever they want and in return they release that male”. He also says that this is rape by all classification; they have been exploited because of vulnerability that their family member has been arrested or threatened. “Whenever Indian government wants to attack they do it by character assassination.”
Syed Adfar shares that rapes and murders of Women under mysterious circumstances reveal state government’s inability to protect the women folk. “State should take stringent measures to check armed forces from any such aberrations and army top brass must have known their areas of operation well; see people not as subjects but as citizens of a democratic system”.
Khurram adds, “Rape, exploitation and such cases where woman has been forcibly pressurized to do what ‘they’ (armed forces) want to do with them happen in power, when they keep and treat us like slaves”.
Other human rights activists say that Army is defeating their own discipline and credibility by saying women come to camps but “why don’t they say why they allow them to enter into their camps?” In Kunan Poshpora case, The Press Council of India, which was investigating the case said in its report the rape victims were lying and there have been no rapes. The women are doing so for money and to malign army. But then the same case was handled by the then Divisional Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah who reported there have been gang rapes but till now no justice had been done with those at least 23 victims.
Till now if government of India has asked for conducting any sort of probe in rape cases by paramilitary forces they have just done it to bail out their men. In most of the rape allegations in Indian-held-Kashmir where Indian troops are allegedly involved none except one of the accused has been convicted so far. The civil society and legal experts in Indian-held-Kashmir call this lone conviction, “a shady trail”.
“There was no transparency in the case, we are not sure has it really happened or not, as the Court martial trials are not made public,” says Parvez Imroz, a human rights lawyer and a civil rights activist. “Still if we trust it has happened, the punishment was disproportionate to his crime. Dismissal from service is too little for raping a woman.”