Societal Shame

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by Tasavur Mushtaq

Law students protesting against women. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Law students protesting for the crime against women. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

With protesters clashing with police and paramilitary forces at several places, Kashmir came to a halt on May 13. The crisis was brewing for many days after reports of alleged rape of a minor came from Sumbal. Appallingly, the victim is a three-year-old girl, and the accused a local, neighbour, and known to the ‘victim’. The tragedy unfolded in Ramzan, the month of fasting and forgiveness.

On May 8, evening, the ‘victim’s family alleged when the faithful were rushing to offer Magrib prayers after breaking their fast, the accused, a mechanic, lured the child with chewing gums into a washroom of a nearby school and raped her. He revealed gruesome details.

Father of the accused came up with a different story, talking it to the level of property and personal enmity. Though the little girl, already in shock, is recovering in the hospital, the accused is behind the bars. Police says they are investigating the case though they have taken a long time to offer the basic details of the tragedy.

Days after this incident which evoked shock and outrage, another minor’s rape came to light in Ganderbal. In this case again, the accused is said to be a known neighbour. The police have arrested the accused and set up a special investigation team (SIT) for a speedy probe.

So we had two “rape” cases within a week. Both have two facets and police will have to tell the real stories behind these tragedies.

The Sumbal fallout was visible on streets Monday. An emerging law and order situation with a tint of sectarian clashes, the administration did everything possible to douse the flames. Apart from ordering the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to complete its inquiry on a priority, Governor Sat Pal Malik directed the Kashmir Commissioner and Police Chief to personally monitor the investigation. Politicians across the board condemned the incident, demanded stern action and appealed to maintain calm. Taking it further their way, separatists called for a day-long shutdown.

However, anger continues to seethe. Students turn it more violent by engaging cops. The administration closed down the educational institutions, a new norm in Kashmir to let street anger die.

Even though politicians suggested the police not to be harsh, still Arshad Hussain Dar from Chenabal Pattan lost the battle to his injuries at SKIMS. In fact, the police’s inordinate delay in making public the medical opinion has encouraged disruptions in parts of Baramulla and Srinagar.

As a society, Sumbal incident has shaken up the conscience and hurt people across the ideological divide. But this is neither the first one nor would be the last. In the recent past, we had an instance in Kashmir where a daughter accuses the father of raping her for years together.

Latest official figures reveal that 21 cases of rape against minors were registered in the state in 2016 alone, including two rape cases involving girls under the age of six. It is a revealing comment on our society and institutions. The growing concern is to know why the number of rapes has risen sharply in recent years.

Living in a patriarchal setup, with gendered laws where ideologies privilege one over the other gender, is an agony for the women. The victims of sexual violence are treated as untouchables, which is disapproval of a society that shames the survivors and victims of rape and molestation.

Kashmir’s worst nightmare comes from Kunan where in the dead of a night almost every woman irrespective of age was gang raped. The perpetrators of this brutality were outsiders, but the legacy of hurt was continued by our own. We have crippling cases in the area where the children are abused by other localities. The daughters don’t get good matches. The painful memories of that night continue to haunt the residents. We remember the victims of the Kunan violence, but never thought to help them as societal security.

The anger on the streets does not last longer; the transition in societal set up may have its impact. It is for us to understand that wounded women need proper succour and not shame. Rape is not a crime of women.

Registering protest is a normal way to express outrage, but asking uncomfortable and soul-stirring questions to ourselves may help us to evade further crisis. The social fabric and values in the past have taught us to live morally upright and ethically correct lives. Now the same which used to keep us safe begins to perpetuate violence. It seems society is going through some sort of transition. It is time to introspect, act and re-evaluate the basics. The Masjid pulpits should leave the routine condemnation of such incidents and take it as a mission to heal the hurt. We have knowledge gates everywhere, but there is a need to actually help to imbibe those values and teachings to the masses.

This is not something a state can deal with. The solution lies with society. To handle the crisis, we need parenting rather than policing. Importantly our leadership has to take the role of eldership, as well.

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