After two rapes and bride’s murder, calls for accountability in Kashmir

“Imagine there is no shelter home designated by the government for women who are homeless. Women police stations are still I believe in single digits. Social construct still largely puts the onus of safety of women on women themselves, which shouldn’t be the case.”

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On 11 December, many in Kashmir were shocked when it turned out that a bride who had died in early November, had in fact been killed by her family members and not due to heart attack as was told by her relatives but was murdered by her step brother, nephew and niece.

Giving details of the gruesome murder, the police in a statement said that “the familly hatched a conspiracy to eliminate her. As the victim used to wake up for prayers very early in the morning, in the wee hours of 4 November…[the relatives] entered the room and attacked the victim from behind and smothered her till death. Then they flattened and strangled her with a golden coloured piece of cloth in order to ensure her death. Later on, they tied the cloth with a fan and tied the dead body with it for deriving an assumption that she has hanged herself to death.”

The police further said that she was killed by the trio as they had an eye on her property and belongings. Crimes like these are unheard in Kashmir where killings and violence due to the conflict are a routine. Jammu and Kashmir boasts of being a region with low crime rate in the country.

As per the data furnished by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for the year 2016-2018, J-K was among the states with lowest number of crime cases registered under Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as Special and Local Laws (SLL). The crime rate per lakh population in J-K accounted for only 180.4. The national average crime rate per lakh population has been recorded as 236.7 and J&K falls far below the average.

Also in case of IPC and SLL crime cases, the crime rate per lakh population in Jammu and Kashmir has been recorded as 203.1, while the national average crime rate has been recorded as 383.5. So when events like the killing of the bride are reported, it brings a sense of shock among the populace. The overall picture is grim when it comes to crimes against women, believes Shehryar Khanum, one of the cofounders of Mehram, a Srinagar based non-profit working for women.

According to Khanum, crimes against women have always been prevalent in society. “We just haven’t seen enough discourse around this,” she said. “Additionally, the pandemic has generally resulted in a surge in domestic violence globally. Men have lost jobs, confined within homes, closer proximity to their partners, which has added to the whole violence scenario.”

Kashmir is, said Khanum, as safe as any other place for women. “Issues around safety and security of women are not a priority even now,” she said. “Imagine there is no shelter home designated by the government for women who are homeless. Women police stations are still I believe in single digits. Social construct still largely puts the onus of safety of women on women themselves, which shouldn’t be the case.”

In May, last year a three-year-old girl was raped by her neighbour, the rape lead to protests across the Valley. This October, a man raped a woman at a wedding function in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. 

Details of the injuries inflicted on her have shaken the village and those who have come to know what had happened to her. The 21-year-old succumbed to her injuries in November at a Srinagar hospital, prompting angry demands for the hanging of the perpetrators, who are currently in police custody.

Violence against women has seen a sharp rise and yet it continues to remain a tabooo subject. A female student at Srinagar’s Women’s college had this to say: “People usually say that Kashmir is much safer as compared to other states but I really believe that it is as unsafe as any other place.”

Khair-un-Nisa, 23, a manager at a restaurant said that it wasn’t easy for women to openly talk about crimes against them. “Being a woman I have been facing this whenever I am out of my comfort zone. Now generalizing this part, and keeping my view on the past incidents, then everyone of us would feel threatened and unsafe, that’s quite obvious. For me actually, rape, physical abuse, sexual frustration has to do a lot with person’s conscience.”

Although the low crime rate — which is, in fact, merely low reporting of crimes — one can’t deny anecdotal evidence for the spike in crimes against women, a topic considered a non-issue by most activist groups in Kashmir. 

According to Khanum of Mehram, the solution lies in accepting that crimes happen everywhere and so do in Kashmir. “The moment we accept that, means we are ready to work on a solution,” she said. “We need to stop saying this doesn’t happen in Kashmir. Then comes a solution – we have to raise awareness, teach our boys better, create support systems for women, create accountability, eliminate social stigma and strengthen our society.”

In the absence of the Kashmiri civil society taking up the issues of violence against women, the role of religious clerics is important — and their silence, utterly disappointing. While Islam talks of modesty for both genders, our clerics have trained their guns only on one gender: women.

“Unfortunately we use religion to our convenience,” rued Khanum. “While laying down the do’s and don’ts for women, we use religion as a benchmark but while reprimanding men and the system we forget everything that religion says. It’s more like a tool of convenience.” 

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