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How Decades Of Militarisation Has Perpetuated Violence Against Women In Kashmir

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The plight of the women in the picturesque valley of Kashmir is often ignored and I would like to speak up on their behalf.

A few months ago, the news of a toddler getting raped jolted us. Protests were heard from all over the world. The hashtag #JusticeForAimanZehra went viral on all the social media networks, with people demonstrating extreme abhorrence and trepidation, leading to a cry for justice for the toddler. Violent protests erupted when the accused Tahir Ashraf Mir produced a fake age certificate, claiming to be a minor. In India, an underage criminal can get away with lenient sentences. Perhaps, the accused thought of the same, but fortunately, didn’t succeed.

In another shocking incident, a teenager committed suicide in the Valley’s Bandipora district. She had been a victim of rape by her father; she had endured this horror for three years. The father also tried to rape his younger daughter, who took the help of local residents and police. The most disturbing fact is that the rapist is a former BSF soldier.

A similar crime was reported last year, regarding a little girl of eight, in the Kathua district. And the nightmare of Kunan Poshpora has been permanently etched in our minds.

When we type “Rape cases in Kashmir” on Google, we are welcomed by a barrage of more than thirty such gruesome results, within a span of one year. And the most startling factor is that many of these rapes have been executed by the Indian security forces.

I am a forty-year-old single mother to an eleven-year-old girl child. I reside in Mumbai. And I claim I am safe. Is it so? Then why does my father prevent me from staying out late at night?  Why am I extra careful when my daughter plays with her male classmates? In spite of being repeatedly careful, I have still been molested several times in the local trains, markets, movie theatres, and common public gatherings. Staying in a cosmopolitan city is of no value; we have perpetrators everywhere. Then how can we assure the women of Kashmir a secured and peaceful life, when we wake up to stories of a blood bath almost every day from the valley? The fact is that there has been a reported upsurge in violence/rape/crime against women in Kashmir and it cannot be denied.

Considering our patriarchal society, with a parochial mentality, Kashmir is one of the best examples of how incidents can go unrecorded. Though these occurrences have brought criticism and indignation from people, the fact remains that the society has miserably failed the women in Kashmir. Such awful acts should not only be castigated in the strongest terms, but the criminals should be brought to justice. The law and order in Kashmir are in total jeopardy, and it gives criminals the chance to go Scot-free.

Women are seen as vulnerable, and easy prey, whereas our government and political rulers, (yes, looking at the current political scenario, I use the term ruler instead of party), can be seen catering to cover the misdeeds of the ministers, and government mandarins, involved in spine-chilling crimes like molestation, rapes and sex rackets.

Conflict Has Led To More Violence Against Women

Mere protests, vilification, or even severe punishment will not end these acts. The real problem lies in our quiescent, misogynistic patriarchal, standpoint that provokes such ghastly acts on women.

There is a severely rooted malaise in our society, that often undermines such cruel acts against women. As per our retrogressive traditions, a woman should carry the burden of modesty and morality of our societies, while the men can always enjoy total freedom. Very often, we refrain from naming and shaming the culprit in public. Sometimes, it is our honour that makes us hold our tongues. When the #MeToo movement exposed such predators in Kashmir, our educated class, comprising of both men and women, came to defend the offenders. Such atavistic thinking questions our sensitivity.

As a result, very often, a Kashmiri woman falls victim to rape by her own father, brother, the Indian security forces, which comprise the Indian Army, Central reserve police force (CRPF) and Border security personnel.  The cries of the women being raped by the Indian state force are generally ignored.  In the words of scholar Seema Kazi, women have been subjected to rape even by the militants to a certain extent, although the measurable parameter is less, in comparison to the Indian state forces.

As history reveals, such prolonged violence in the valley has resulted in women becoming soft targets. I believe the effect of the conflict has been more on Kashmiri women, than their men-folk. Kashmiri women have undergone enough torments and a difficult existence under military abuse; a fact the world likes to ignore. The intellectuals assert that a long period of militarisation has led to an increase in violence against women. The apathetic stance against women has exacerbated an atmosphere of lax accountability for the culprits. The attitude of perpetrators appears to endorse such violent acts against women in both, private and public spheres.

In Mumbai, I cannot get away from incidents of grabbing and physical touches; which we call molestations. I shudder to imagine the plight of Kashmiri women, who face double the oppression in the form of patriarchy, and militarisation. Though we argue that women in our society have broken stereotypes, and have forged ahead in long strides, one cannot deny the fact that the basic attitude towards women remains unchanged. It’s time we change our retrogressive and blinkered attitude towards women and Kashmiri women in particular. Once we do that, we can always challenge the government mandarins for the failure of law and order. I can celebrate my independence the day these rapes and atrocities on women cease in Kashmir.

Note: This post was first featured with Cafe Dissensus and can be read here.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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