Kashmiri women: weapon of war
By Abdul Latif Bhat
Despite the ice slowly melting in the relations between India and Pakistan and indications of change in the Indian thinking to deal with the disputed Kashmir issue, the suffering of women folk in the region continues. The promises of peace, so-called reduction of troops in
Kashmir, exchange of journalists and citizens between the parts of Kashmir and the tremendous amount of hope it has generated for the embattled people is very much welcome and needed. However, the suffering of women has continued unabated. As the hopes of new solutions and reduction of troops and tension gained ground, the Indian army and paramilitaries’ action against defenceless Kashmiri women showed an unprecedented increase.
There were scores of incidents of rape, molestation and torture. In fact, the last quarter of the year 2004 showed such an alarming increase – both in numbers and the methods of execution that analysts started to question the very actions of the Indian establishment to suggest that there is any change in Indian stance vis-à-vis
issue. Some Kashmir watchers agree that rape is being deliberately employed by the Indian armed forces not only to break the Kashmiri’s resistance but also to add fuel to the atmosphere of hatred and anger where no hope for any peaceful resolution could be cultivated, both at public and political level as the milieu around is poisoned.
While common Kashmiris have shown yet again their anger at these incidents by massive and simultaneous demonstrations, sit-ins etc., the political groups like All Party
Hurriyat Conference and others have failed to come up with any reasonable political reaction or offer of any credible programme to channalize popular anger. Although pro-India National Conference joined forces with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq led Hurriyat Conference to pitch in at a symbolic hunger strike, it has met contempt from the Kashmiri people, as National Conference government earlier did not do anything to stop rapes, killings or torture. But this did add an interesting dimension to the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Following are some of the rape incidents that took place in Kashmir in later quarter of the year 2004:
A Kashmiri girl Fahmeeda from Nowpora, Sopore in district Baramulla reached late from Jammu on 28th of October 2004. At the Tourist Reception Centre of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department in Srinagar, the girl asked for any hotels in the area and was directed to Guest House Sahara in Rajbagh Srinagar where she was raped by five persons which later turned out to be CRPF men. The local police arrested them as the doctors confirmed the examination report that the lady was raped.
According to the local media reports a woman was gang raped by Indian army’s Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in Sonabara, Mattan in Anantnag district. The Indian army rejected the allegations accusing the family of the victim for providing shelter to militants. But the locals rejected that view and took to streets demonstrating against the army’s local unit against the gang rape of a local woman. The protestors also accused the army of threatening and harassing the victim and her family to retract her statements. The local government and civil authorities confirmed unofficially that the crime has been committed by the army and have ordered a probe into the incident.
An Indian army major from Rashtriya Rifles (RR) raped mother-daughter duo in Badar-I-Payeen (Langate) Handwara triggering massive public protests converging the public and media attention to the growing criminalisation of Indian army in the region. On 7th November, 2004 twenty nine-year old mother of six, Aisha and wife of Abdul Rashid Dar and her daughter Shabnum 11 were raped by an Army Major in Saturday night. Family members said that a Major of 30 RR along with his men forced his entry into the house of one Abdul Rashid Dar, a Tonga (horse-cart) driver for ‘search operation’ and forcibly took her wife Aisha into a separate room where they raped her. Later, the army tore the clothes of Aisha’s 11-year-old daughter and raped her too.
While a group of the army was raping the women, another was torturing the male family members in another room including ten-year-old Altaf, a 5th class student.
The army and the local government tried to play down the incident as usual, but the massive public protests all across the
Jammu and Kashmir region forced them to order a probe and assure the public for investigations, a tactic army and civil authorities use to calm the public in such situations.
Local media reported that the Indian army raped and murdered a woman in Bhalesa village of Doda. Quoting Malik Noor Mohammad Fayaz, Hurriyat leader and personal secretary of chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, said four soldiers of 26 RR raped and subsequently killed Sara Begum wife of Mohammad Din on December 14. The alleged victim was a resident of Tanta, Bhalesa in Doda and troops allegedly fired upon her after committing rape in the adjoining forest area. The Hurriyat condemned the incident and termed it as the worst example of "state terrorism".
Indian army stationed at Sallar, Pahalgam in Anantnag near hometown of Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed raped a 60-year old woman. According to the local residents the troops of 3 Rashtriya Rifles forced their entry into the house of Syed Aalam of Sallar, Sheikhpora Pahalgam and herded the entire family in a room. The troops then dragged Hakim Jan 60, wife of Syed Aalam, a mother of four children, into another room and allegedly raped her. The cries of the other family members were suppressed by the threats and beating of the troops. The Indian army once again denied any wrong doing and said that no rape had taken place quoting medical examination of the victim. However, as the public pressure grew, the chief minister Mufti Sayeed’s position grew precarious in his own home turf. Later, the investigations conducted both by the police and the army found two people guilty and they were fired from their jobs. However, the army stopped short of admitting that its members committed the crime.
These heinous attacks on Kashmiri women show that Indian security forces have not changed their attitudes towards the local civil population since the mass uprising started in early 1990. These incidents are as significant as the mass rapes of Konanposhpura, Kupwara in early 1990. Much before the army or the civil authorities announced a probe, the government was already busy in defending the security forces.
While the army indulged in double speak of taking action against the accused found guilty, at the same time on the old misplaced plea of not letting such accusations demoralise the forces, defence handouts and planted information from defence sources were doing their business of building up a propaganda in media. This was done in two major ways. Firstly by seeking to justify the acts of security forces by magnifying similar acts committed by militants on innocents. Secondly, there was also a direct bid to salvage the pride of the army with statements and planted stories in media about the medical examination of the rape victims establishing that in Badar-I-Payeen incident, the woman had been raped but her ten year old daughter was only stripped naked and molested. Why was such information leaked out if the army and government promised a fair probe?
All this has not only added to the wounds of the victims but has also made them captives of a life long stigma which is propelled by giving the accused a clean chit or underplaying such a heinous crime.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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