Lockdown Rapes

Eighty incidents of sexual assault were reported from across Jammu and Kashmir in the first two months of Covid-19 lockdown reports Samreena Nazir

Kulgam rape victims school bag and books. KL Image

On the afternoon of October 31, Shabir Ahmad Bhat was travelling on his bike to Qazigund for some work. Halfway through his travel, Bhat got a call from one of his cricket associate friends telling him that they found his sister Sobia (name changed) in an orchard. Next thing, Shabir could think of was to turn back and call his elder cousin brother Gowhar Ahmad Bhat asking him to rush to the spot. Gowhar reached the spot in village Ashmuji and instead of taking unconscious Sobia to the hospital, he took her to Devsar police station to report the happening.

As per reports, two youth from Ashmuji had kidnapped Sobia and then raped her in the orchard. “It was a deserted area with a gorge nearby, far from the locality. Initially, a Gujjar labourer who was digging for stones in that area had found Sobia covered with blood and lying unconscious on the ground. He informed some local boys who were playing cricket in the nearby ground,” Gowhar said.

“Seeing her condition and the situation, it was obvious that it was not the road accident but a heinous act.” Gowhar showed photographs recorded in his phone, which show Sobia lying lifeless at the spot when he reached there.

Bhat said he refused to recognize his sister when he saw her. “The marks of strangulation were evident around on her neck, her eyes and ears were bleeding. There was swelling all around, she was drenched in blood, the only thing visible on her face was the nose,” Bhat said.

From police station, they took Sobia to Anantnag district hospital where she was referred to SKIMS, Srinagar. Weeks later she succumbed to her injuries.

Three days prior to the incident, Bhat had dropped Sobia to their relative’s house at Akhal village, to attend the marriage of her maternal cousin’s daughter. It was mehndiraat and Sobia had gone to Kulgam market to get the lehanga (a bridal dress) on rent. Since everyone at the house was busy with the wedding preparations, it hardly crossed anyone’s mind why it took her so long to return.

Sobia was abducted and raped by the duo on her way to Kulgam.

“Some people said she was dragged from the public cab (Sumo), some say they had snatched her golden earrings and chain which made her follow them towards the orchards. Since she herself didn’t survive to tell the truth, some people even said the rapists were known to my daughter. I don’t know who these people are? Whether my daughter really knew them or not? But what they did to my daughter is inhumane and unjustifiable which no one deserves,” her mother said, slapping her forehead.

“In the past few years I lost three of my siblings, and now I have lost the daughter who was my backbone. I had not seen her for a month.”

The news about Sobia’s death sparked massive protests in the area. People demanded the death penalty for the duo.

Jazib Mohammad, the Station Officer of the police station Devsar, where the case was first reported, said: “We have arrested two boys Adil Dar and Wasim Dar, who later confessed to the crime. Earlier, the case was an attempt to murder under section 307 of IPC and attempt to rape. But now since the victim has expired; the case has been registered under 302 IPC”.

The family is inconsolable. Sobia’s elder sister sitting next to her mother is not able to talk. Days of crying had caused a lump in her throat.

Sobia’s rape and murder has impacted the lives of other girls of the family too. In the adjacent room, Sobia’s cousin Ifra Jan is sorting her books and uniform to hide them from the deceased’s mother. It has been a month since Ifra, a sixth-semester student enrolled in Kulgam college was forced by the family to quit studies and restrict herself to her home.

“The day my cousin sister was raped, my brother told me to end my studies. Being in the same class and of the same age, Sobia and me were more of friends than cousins. We together were preparing for our end semester exams which are going to be held in the coming month. But now, my family won’t allow me to move out of my house,” she said while smoothly touching the texture of Sobia’s printed notes with both her hands.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a spike in rape cases. According to a report in the first 60 days of lockdown, 16 rapes and 64 incidents of molestation were reported from Jammu and Kashmir. 

“The rape incidents in Kashmir are not rare but the people usually don’t prefer to report. I have seen cases where the victim makes allegations against her father, brother or sometimes close acquaintances. With every coming day, it is getting worst and more shocking. Sometimes the family of the victim takes back the complaint because they think it will have an impact on their honour but indirectly they are encouraging the crime,” the Station House Officer Women’s Police Station said.

According to the data from Sadder Police Station Anantnag, four rapes and 12 molestation cases were reported from the jurisdiction of this police station in 2020.

Just after five days of Sobia’s death, Kulgam district witnessed another rape incident, this time of a minor girl. According to reports, the minor girl was raped, videographed and later the video was uploaded on social media. The incident came to light after the minor’s brother filed a complaint in the police station Devsar. 

Another rape victim Gousia (name changed) whose case is registered at women police station Anantnag feels difficulty in recounting the traumatic memory of the incident. In August 2019, Gousia was raped by an acquaintance. She has not moved out of her house after that. Although the family has been very supportive she has developed trust issues.

“I don’t want to discuss that anymore with anyone because it sends me into the trauma again. I have suffered a lot, what worst can happen to a girl than this? It has changed my life completely. I have accepted the fact that the society will never accept me,” Gousia said.

 According to a police officer who wished to be anonymous, the accused in the Gousia’s case was her fiancé who was set free on bail after a few months of imprisonment. Gousia’s father while trying to console daughter said that sometimes the victim’s family feels reluctant to report only because the criminals are then set free and it is the victim who has to live with the stigma throughout life.

“The incident has destroyed the life of my daughter. I am an ailing person. I can’t be with her forever. The incident has snatched her smile and filled her with bitterness. The thought, that who will take care of her after me often crushes me inside. I am really worried for her as she will never be able to trust any male in her life,” father said.

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