Violence against women as war weapon

Asiya and Neelofar.

Shopian, a district in south Kashmir, is popularly known for its apples, however since 2009 it has become known for the infamous dark night of May 29th, when two young women, Asiya and Neelofar, disappeared on their way back from an apple orchard in Bongam. Owing to the Indian rhetoric, what these orchards had witnessed 9 years ago, in a small village, today, India and the rest of the world choose to ignore.

Neelofar Jan (22), was the wife of Shakeel Ahmed Ahanger and mother of Suzain who was then two years old. Asiya Jan (17), was the sister of Shakeel. Asiya was a pre-medical student of New Greenland Higher Senior Secondary School in Alialpora, Shopian; she had secured distinction in her matriculation exams in 2008. Neelofar and Aasiya were sisters-in-law and both were residents of Bongam in Shopian.

On the morning of 30th May, 2009 the dead bodies of the two women were found in the Rambiara Nalla. The bodies were deeply wounded, and their clothes were in tatters. The locals began to allege that the two had been raped and murdered by the Indian forces present in the area.

Both the bodies were taken to the local hospital for an autopsy. As public pressure continued to mount, on the orders of the district magistrate, a three-member team of doctors was called in from the nearby Pulwama district to conduct another autopsy. The team confirmed that both the victims had been raped. A report issued by the Forensic Science Lab Srinagar on June 6, 2009 also confirmed the rape and murder.

The State administration and Police, however, continued to reject these findings and maintained drowning as the cause of death. Consequently, the enraged people of Shopian took to the streets to protest and vehemently demanded justice. The outrage compelled the then government, headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, to appoint a one-man enquiry commission constituting retired Justice Muzaffar Jan to probe the case further. The Commission report on 9th July, 2009 recommended administrative action against some police officials for mishandling the case. Finally, four months on, on September 9, 2009, the state government handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). As part of their investigations, the agency exhumed the bodies and took samples for another forensic examination. Eventually, the CBI, too, concluded that the women had died from drowning and denied the allegation of rape.

Nine years have gone by and justice is yet to be delivered in the case of Asiya and Neelofar. It goes without saying that ‘Justice’ itself is a myth in Kashmir. There has been an utmost impunity to government forces throughout the valley. It is not only the victims of Shopian rape and murder case that evaded justice in this manner, but also hundreds of women who have been sexually assaulted and molested by Indian Forces throughout Kashmir. Each time the case has been hushed up by some or the other Indian investigation agencies. These cases will forever remain a dark blot on the face of democratic India

Ever since January 1990, the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the site of a brutal conflict between Indian security forces and armed rebels demanding independence or accession to Pakistan. In its efforts to crush the militant movement, India’s central government has pursued a policy of repression in Kashmir which has resulted in massive human rights violations by Indian army and paramilitary forces. Throughout the conflict, the security forces have deliberately targeted civilians, the majority of whom were assumed by the forces to have sympathized with the militants. Indian security forces, which include the army and two paramilitary forces, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) have assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and executed detainees in custody, and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks.

During the operations against armed rebels, multiple cases of sexual assault against women have been reported since 1990, rapes by indian forces became a frequent occurrence. The perpetration of rape and molestation have been reported during incidents of crackdowns, and cordon-and-search operations, during which men are held in parks or schoolyards for identification, while Indian forces raid their homes. In these situations, the security forces frequently engage in collective punishment against the civilian population, often physically assaulting the residents, and even burning their homes. Rape has been used as a means of targeting women, whom the Indian forces accuse of being militant sympathizers; by raping women, the Indian forces attempt to punish and humiliate the entire community.

Rape has also been frequently perpetrated during reprisal attacks on civilians following militant ambushes. During such attacks, civilians who reside in the area become a vulnerable target of retaliation. Any person within range may be shot, homes and other property burned, and women raped. In some cases, women who have been raped have been accused of providing food or shelter to militants, or have been ordered to identify their male relatives as militants. In other cases, the motive for such sexual violence is not explicit. In most attacks, the targeting of victims is seemingly arbitrary. The women, like other civilians assaulted or killed, are targeted simply because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Since most cases of rape take place during cordon-and-search operations, just living in a certain area can put women at risk of rape.

Rape by Indian forces is a common occurrence in the north-eastern states of India as well as Naxalite areas. The victims of such violence are generally poor women, more often from vulnerable, low-caste and tribal minority groups. In some cases, women are taken into custody as suspects in petty crime or on more serious charges, in others, women are detained as hostages for relatives wanted in criminal or political cases, in still others, women are detained simply so that the police can extort a bribe to secure their release. In all of these cases, women in the custody of security forces are necessarily at the risk of rape.

Indian authorities have rarely investigated the charges of rape by Indian forces in Kashmir and other conflict zones in India.

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