For The Indian State, Rape Is A Weapon Of War In Kashmir

Ever since the beginning of the conflict, Kashmir has witnessed a remarkably high incidence of violence in general and the rape of Kashmiri women by security forces in particular. Rape is used as a means of targeting women whom the security forces accuse of being militant sympathisers; in raping them, the security forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community.

Rape in Kashmir is not the result of a few indisciplined soldiers, but rather an active strategy of Indian forces to humiliate, intimidate and demoralise the Kashmiri people. This is evidenced by the fact that a number of the raped women had been raped in front of their own families, their own husbands, and their own children.

The southern district of Kashmir – Shopian – popularly known as apple town – know best what happened on the dark night of May 29, 2009, when two young women went to their apple orchard at Bongam, deep in the Kashmir valley. What these orchards had seen occurred nine years ago in a village. In their reaction, India and the rest of the world chose ignorance and indifference.

Neelofar Jan, was the 22-year-old wife of Shakeel Ahmed Ahangar and the mother of a son named Suzzane. Aasiya Jan was the 17-year-old daughter of Abdul Gani Ahangar. She had secured distinction in her matriculation exams in 2008 and was a pre-medical student of New Greenland Higher Senior Secondary School in Alialpora, Shopian. Neelofar was Aasiya’s sister-in-law and both were residents of Bongam.

On May 29, 2009, when the two young women went to their apple orchard, they didn’t come back to home. Next morning, the dead bodies were found at a place called Rambiaara. They were deeply wounded, their clothes were in tatters. The locals alleged that they had been raped and murdered by the Indian forces present in the area.

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

The State administration and Police, however, continued to out-rightly reject these findings and maintained drowning as the cause of death. Consequently, the enraged people of Shopian took to the streets to protest and demand justice, compelling the then-government, headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, to appoint a one-man enquiry commission of retired Justice Muzaffar Jan to further probe the case. The Commission 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. Eventually, the CBI, too, concluded that the women had died from drowning and denied the possibility of rape.

Nine years have gone and justice is yet to be delivered in the case of Asiya and Neelofar. It goes without saying that the ‘justice’ is a myth in Kashmir because of the impunity enjoyed by government forces. It is not only this one particular case – hundreds of women have allegedly been sexually assaulted by the Indian forces and every time, the case was hushed up by one or the other Indian investigation agencies. These cases will always remain a dark blot on the face of democratic India.

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 the Indian army and paramilitary forces. Throughout the conflict, the security forces have deliberately targeted civilians, the majority of whom are widely believed to sympathise 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 summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks.

During the operations against armed rebels, different cases of sexual assault against women have been reported since 1990. The incidents of rape and molestation occurred during the crackdowns, cordon-and-search operations during which men are held for identification in parks or schoolyards while Indian forces search their homes. In these situations, the security forces frequently engage in collective punishment against the civilian population, most frequently by beating or otherwise assaulting residents, and burning their homes.

Rape is used as a means of targeting women whom the Indian forces accuse of being militant sympathisers; in raping them, the Indian forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community. Rape has also occurred frequently during reprisal attacks on civilians following militant ambushes. In these cases, any civilians who reside in the area become the target of retaliation. Anyone 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 motivation for the abuse is not explicit. In many attacks, the selection of victims is seemingly arbitrary and 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.

Rapes by Indian forces are common in the north-east states of India and Naxalite-dominated areas, where the victims are generally poor women and those from vulnerable lower-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 at the risk of rape.

Indian government authorities have rarely investigated charges of rape by Indian forces in Kashmir or in other parts of India.

The author can be reached at: rayeesrasool@outlook.com

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