Trigger warning: mentions of sexual and other forms of violence in Kashmir
The feminist movement all over the world has successfully tried to dust the rust, on the hinges of women rights. But, in India’s heavily militarised zone of Kashmir, the women have been ceased to be considered as “humans”.
The Kashmir valley, which is known for its heavenly beauty has become a ghastly fire of hell for the women of the valley. The neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan, have fought four battles over Kashmir so far.
View this post on Instagram
The issue was even raised in the United Nations (UN), with both parties claiming unilateral authority over the region, but none of the altercations has ever been about the state of women’s rights in the valley.
After the militant incursion of 1989, the valley became one of the densely militarised zones in the world. The Kashmiri women have fallen prey to this militancy. While the modern system of warfare has turned rape and sexual violence into brutal weapons, the women’s bodies in Kashmir ended up becoming a battleground.
For instance, the Indian military forces were reported to have perpetrated 882 gang rapes in the year 1992 alone. The Humanitarian Law Project and the International Educational Development have documented more than 200 cases of rape in Doda and Kashmir in January 1994.
Human rights groups have stated that more than 150 officers of the rank “major” or above, have participated in the torture and sexual violence. The so-called “cordon and search” operations, locally referred to as “crackdowns”, have become a part of people’s routine in the valley.
Moreover, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), enacted in September 1990, gave the forces the right to barge into any house at any point of time; detain them without notice.
This undercover, draconian law has taken the lives of almost 43,000 people, while many went missing after getting incarcerated, a report by Amnesty International (2015) revealed.
One of the most horrifying, gender-based, sexual violence cases was the Kunan Poshpora mass rape incident. It happened on February 23, 1991. While the 4th Rajputana Rifles’ personnel were blamed for the mass rape, the Indian Government maintained a tight-lipped silence about it.
Although it’s been 30 years since the FIR (first information report) was registered, there has been absolutely no breakthrough as far as justice is concerned. Resilience is not only for justice but for an acknowledgement on part of the Indian government so that a crime like this is never repeated.
View this post on Instagram
The weaponisation of sexual violence in a warzone is drawn from the lines of patriarchy, where gender roles are fortified and celebrated for years. Women in patriarchy are seen as second class citizens, the honour bearer of their families, who need to be protected by the patriarch or male members.
Rape acts as an infringement on women’s rights, and as a reflection on how men failed to uphold their role as a protector, thus bringing shame upon them. Women who are already vulnerable, given the warlike situation, are now shunned from their basic rights to go out, educate themselves, or take up jobs.
Moreover, the stigmatisation in society also contributes to the low number of reported rape cases in the Kashmir valley. The dehumanisation of Kashmiri women is conducted at several levels.
From curbing their right to education, given that Kashmir has a huge disparity in its literacy rate between men (68.74%) and women (58.01%).
According to the census of 2011, one out of every three women does not know how to read and write. The locals speak about the old times before militarisation when women used to enjoy greater freedom, but now curfew and subjugation has become a part of their life.
In my opinion, many parents marry off their daughters at a very young age, because of the fear of keeping their young daughters safe at home.
The government of India has a self-acclaimed rehabilitation programme for the youth of the valley. This is for youth who have gone astray, by deflecting to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Although the success of the programme is a matter of debate, the persecution of the women who came back to the valley with the men, as their wives from Pakistan, is dreadful. They don’t have any Aadhar cards, nor are they are allowed to go back to Pakistan to see their families.
Even their children face a hard time getting into school. Stateless Kashmiri women live in a state of perpetual waiting.
View this post on Instagram
The revoking of the special status of Kashmir on August 5, 2019, makes way for several protests in the valley, bouts of violence between the protesters and the Indian Forces, a continuous battle that has been fought for years.
While the men at the forefront of protests are more likely to be arrested and detained, the women have suffered silently. Think about the suffering of a mother whose 14-year-old son is detained and held in custody for days, without any notice about the grounds of the arrest; or the sister who has had to wait for months to see her brother.
Moreover, the abrogation of Article 370 has highlighted the misogyny in Indian society as the Google search indexes show. How to marry a fair, Kashmiri girl was one of the top searches in West Bengal and it shows us how the bodies of Kashmiri women are exoticised.
They are objectified and portrayed as vulnerable. A sense of fear and intimidation is inflicted upon them. While the average Indian men on the Internet spout sexist comments, public figures from political parties are not far behind.
While the overt front of the abuse is plain for everyone to see, the underbelly of the conflict goes unnoticed. Women and girls suffer from acute depression and other problems, during the curfews and other conflicts. It makes it almost impossible for them to reach a doctor when needed.
The untimely death of the family members, the violent conflicts added to their deteriorating health. The conflicts mostly result in the arrest of the men of the house, sometimes the only breadwinner in the family, leaving the women behind to fend for themselves.
One of the arguments given in favour of the abrogation of Article 370, was that it would lead to greater gender equality and emancipation of Muslim women. It sounds like rainbows and sunshine, but after almost two years, it doesn’t show up as much more than a frosty snowball.
Politics apart, the cries and hues of the women of the valley, sadly, hasn’t made their way to mainstream politics; nor has its presence or absence triggered any changes.
The negligence on the part of media, when it comes to covering the sufferings of Kashmiri women, makes them almost dead for other parts of the world.