Violence against women has been an intractable weapon of mass terrorization deployed at conflict zones all over the world. Indian administered Kashmir where the security personnel to civilian ratio stands at 70:1000 is in no way an exception.
According to an estimate by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) based in Srinagar, there have been about 7,000 cases of gendered and sexual violence since 1990. The actual number might be much higher as most victims are unwilling to come forward with their complaints due to a number of reasons. Primarily, the draconian Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (JKAFSPA, 1990) ensures that the armed forces enjoy absolute impunity despite committing gender-based and sexual violence in Kashmir besides other forms of torture. So far there have been very few investigations and not a single conviction. The JKAFSPA even makes the filing of complaints a difficult process that cannot be carried out without prior sanction of the union government. Fear of future repercussions from the armed forces makes it even harder for victims to come forward with their plight. Besides, Kashmiri community, like most of the south Asian communities, remains deeply feudal and patriarchal where social stigma associated with sexual violence compels the victim to remain silent.
Often enough even if the victim manages to survive through the state-induced brutality, lifelong physical and psychological disorders continue to haunt them. The number of half-widows i.e. women who have suffered forced disappearances of their husbands, is well over a thousand and a half as per a very conservative estimate by APDP. In many cases families abandon the victims who are left to fend for themselves. They are frequently socially ostracised after being detained or tortured by the armed forces. In most cases women are accused of protecting or sympathising with the militants by the security forces or the Ikhwanis (members of state backed militia). The state forces have at their command the very best of technology required to intercept and gain information regarding the whereabouts of the militants whereas the official statements always speak of local informers. This makes the civilians particularly the womenfolk vulnerable to local suspicion .
The first ever report on the institutionalized use of torture as a weapon of repression by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir was published jointly by JKCCS and APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) this year. This report documents 432 torture cases of which 24 have been women. One such case narrates the plight of a civilian from Doda whose house was raided by about 16 army men belonging to the 26Rashtriya Rifles on April 10, 2000. Her husband was arrested and taken to the nearby army camp. At 11pm on 11th April, about a dozen uniformed men barged into the house where the victim and her family members including her two kids were sleeping. The whereabouts of her husband were demanded from them despite he having been taken away to the army camp the previous day. The men further accused the family of providing food and shelter to the militants and dragged the victim outside. The victim was taken to an open field, gagged, and forcibly made to lie down. She was gang-raped amid her screams. After being raped by five men she fell unconscious. Upon regaining consciousness she found herself on a hospital bed in Doda. She could not recollect what happened in between. Another case narrates the ordeal of a 13-year old girl named Rehana Banoo- a civilian from Doda. On the evening of 3rd March, 2001, 15 to 20 personnel belonging to the Special Operations Group (SOG) barged into the home of the victim and started hurling verbal and physical abuses at her father Mohammad Ali Butt. As Rehana tried to save her father, she was beaten up mercilessly and her clothes were torn apart rendering her naked. The unit of the SOG, which raided their house and committed these atrocities, was commanded by I/C Azad Hussain Khanday alias Abdullah. Mohammad Ali Butt had approached the then Home Minister of Jammu and Kashmir for help to no avail.
Women of the valley have also been subjected to mass rapes by the armed forces in the name of CASO’s (Cordon And Search Operations). CASO’s allow indiscriminate use of force meant to instill fear among a collective irrespective of their individual involvement in any act that might be deemed as punishable in the eyes of the state. One particularly gruesome incident of mass-rape took place in the twin villages of Kunan-Poshpora on the intervening night of February 23-24, 1991 during a CASO. Both the villages were cordoned off by armed troopers from 4 Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade camped at Trehgam around 11:30pm. The men were dragged out of their homes and tortured in a makeshift barn using electrocution and water-boarding. Around 35 women, irrespective of their health conditions were brutally gang-raped by the army men till 9am the following day. The victims ranged in age from 13-80 years. 28 years on, not a single conviction has taken place. Despite there being constant pressure to close the case, the victims are still fighting an unequal battle for justice. In one of the reports of Human Rights Watch (HRW), it was observed, “Rape is used as a means of targeting women whom the security forces accuse of being militant sympathizers; in raping them, the security forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community.”.
Political unrest and military occupation of the valley has turned heaven on earth into a living hell for the women of Kashmir. The fear of being raped or tortured at gunpoint by the armed forces is part of their everyday lives. Many women have lost their father, husband, brother, or son in the turmoil and have lived on with the scars, with or without the hope of ever finding justice. All these collectively reaffirm and expose the true fascist and patriarchal nature of the Indian state.