The date, the deed

A UN Official’s remark that they have not received any “proper reports” of sexual abuse in Kashmir has shaken the collective memory and reopened a painful chapter that many thought was forgotten. Aliya Bashir reports.

A United Nations official on sexual violence in conflict zones remarked that so far they have not received any proper reports on such cases by troopers or the paramilitaries in Kashmir. However, hundreds of women have been raped allegedly by troopers since the inception of armed militancy in the state in 1990.

Separatist leaders have accused troopers of using rape as a war weapon, while putting down the popular insurgency in the state, mostly in Kashmir region.

A Kashmir-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) says that more than one thousand women have been raped, molested or abused during the last 20 years.

However, international agencies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International put the figure of such victims at around 900.

“Last year in March our department released the data about such cases and accusations to the media, in which said that 63 women have been raped by security forces in Kashmir from October 1996 to January 5, 2009. From November 2002 to October 2005, 38 cases of rape were reported and from November 2005 to July 10, 2008, 13 rape cases by soldiers were reported,” a police officer not authorised to talk to media said.

Quoting the statement he further said that from July 11, 2008 to January 4, 2009, “only” one rape case by security men was reported and from January 5, 2009 to February 23, 2010 no rape case by soldiers was reported.

Chief Minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, had recently informed the state legislative assembly in Jammu that 11 cases of rape by soldiers were reported in Kashmir from October 1996 to October 2002.

On April 6, Margot Wallstrom, (SRSG) special representative UN secretary general on sexual violence in conflict had told reporters, “So far, we do not have proper reports about this….so far, we have not received any proper reporting on such cases….I can’t say that there was anything in particular (about Kashmir)”.

The SRSG has been tasked by the UN Security Council to take steps to prevent sexual violence against women in conflict zones across the globe and to take series of initiatives to ensure safety of fair sex in the troubled areas.

UN is not in the process of setting up such a mechanism to monitor incidents of sexual violence in various African countries and in Columbia and Bosnia. However there are no proposals to set up any mechanism to monitor incidents of sexual abuse in Jammu and Kashmir.

The statement was flayed by most of the people, political leaders and Kashmir watchers who attributed the findings to a “lack of knowledge about the gross human rights violation in Kashmir” while some terming the report, which gave security forces a clean chit in sexual abuse cases, a “hoax”.

“How can UN ignore the tragic incidents like Kunan-Poshpora mass rape and most recent the Shopian double rape and murder case in which victims are yet to get justice,” said Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani.

“Such reports provide political cover and support to the government which has kept us under the barrel of gun from last 20 years.” Many human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) have termed the use of rape and sexual violence against the women in Kashmir by security forces as a deliberate strategy in counterinsurgency since 1989.

The Asia Watch group and Physicians for Human Rights in their book “Rape in Kashmir” which was released on May 9, 1993 had mentioned that there are no reliable statistics on the number of rapes committed by the security forces in Kashmir as many of them occurred in remote villages. “There can be no doubt that the use of rape is common and routinely goes unpunished,” it said. In 1994, UN had come up with a publication which said that 882 women had been reportedly gang-raped by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir from 1990 to 1996.

Kashmir has one of the lowest numbers of reported rape and harassment cases due to the social stigma attached with the rape and fear of retribution by the state which had made women in Kashmir reluctant to come forward. The complete documentation of such cases, social workers say, never took place which has worsened the situation.

“Women in Kashmir do not report rape for three reasons. Firstly because of the fear of reprisals, then because of the lack of faith in the existing institutions of justice and lastly because of the social stigma,” says Khurram Pervez, Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Services, an independent rights group operating in the state.

A UK-based media portal which tracks reported cases of rape and molestation says  that nearly 500 women were raped in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir by security

According to World Health Organisation’s broader definition, “Sexual violence includes, at least, rape/attempted rape, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Sexual violence is “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic a person’s sexuality, using coercion, threats of harm or physical force, by any person regardless of relationship to the victim, in any setting, including, but not limited to home or work.”

In a survey conducted by MSF in 2006, on “Kashmir: Violence and Health”, 11.6 per cent of interviewees said they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989. Almost two-thirds of the people interviewed (63.9 per cent) by MSF had heard about cases of rape during the same period. The study revealed that Kashmiri women were among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. The figure is much higher than that of Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Impunity
The various human rights groups working in Kashmir say that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1990 is one of the major reasons of rampant abuse by security forces. The law allows the men in uniform to search any premises without warrant, use force against any suspect, arrest anyone or shoot on mere suspicion.

In the case of a young bride, Mubina Gani, who was raped by paramilitary Border security Force BSF personnel in May 1990 on her wedding day while the bridal party was going to the groom’s home. Mubina and her bridesmaid  were taken off from the bus on the Islamabad-Kokernag road. Both were raped.

The security forces had also opened ?re on the party, killing one man and wounding several others. After the incident, the government claimed that the marriage party had been caught in “cross-?re.” However, when local and international press reported the incident, authorities ordered a police inquiry, which concluded that the women had been raped. The case created a furore and the BSF’s attempts to hush it up failed. The culprits were never presented before a court of law.

A court martial sentenced two constables to five years imprisonment and dismissal from service, while two head constables punished with forfeiture of seniority and reduction in rank, BSF claimed.

The Act gives the power to fire upon, even if it results in death, against an individual acting contrary to the law. It doesn’t conform to any known standard of proportional retaliation.

So, the Act plainly violates international conventions that India is party to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before law.

Plight of Rape Victims
The plight of victims of sexual violence is worsened by the stigma attached to it. Even in some cases their families had withdrawn their support from them.

Saira Bano, a resident of Bijbehara, was gang-raped six days after her marriage by a group of soldiers in her village. After the incident, her husband refused to accept her until sympathetic militants forced her husband to accept her. But, a year later, she claimed to being treated poorly and beaten often. 

The marriage of raped women is non-existent in Kashmir; once they have been raped there life is ruined besides facing taunts and loss of respect. Not only the life of a raped woman is affected, but the attached stigma casts a shadow on their sisters and daughter, as men shy away from marrying even the victim’s siblings.  

A study carried out by Women’s Initiative in 1994 after the incident of Kunan Poshpora mass rape, found that victim’s families did not show much empathy towards them and exhibited resentment to their suffering.  The report carried the testimonies of raped women which are like, “I had begged before my husband to forgive me for the sin that I never committed. But, he refused to accept me saying that I was unclean, whether by choice or by imposition,” the report quoted a rape victim of Kunan-poshpora, as saying.

Another victim of the same incident, a mother of six children, committed suicide. Even a woman of 80 years was not spared as her son kicked her out of the home.  

Besides, the suffering of women who are raped, the burden of raising children without male or financial support, has driven women to suicide. The Women’s initiative had reported that for three years after the incident, not a single marriage proposal had been received for any woman, raped or not, in the village.

The violence against women has led to other social complications.  Like, the children of raped women too had suffered because they were raised by a single parent. They had lived with the suffering and stigma of having a raped mother. Many girls from the village reportedly dropped out of the education system due to the needs to attend to the family and due to repeated harassment by security forces while going to school.

Legal Justice
The judiciary and legal system too had failed to give justice to the women victims in Kashmir. Even after the sexual abuse, when a victim registers her complaint to fight the legal battle, the system had failed to launch any initiative, pushing them more towards the alienation.

“In majority of the cases, the victims were not given justice. This negative impact had demoralized the victim and they want things settled in a less complicated way,” says Abdul Rashid Hanjura, a social activist.

In some of the most public and infamous report cases –Kunan Poshpora, Shopian twin rape and murder case,Wavoosa, judiciary had taken no action to punish the culprits.  

There are also instances where police stations have been reluctant to register FIR’s against the security forces.

In the winter of 2000, Army Captain Ravinder Singh Tewatia, commandant of 12 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) was found guilty in a general court martial of raping two women – a mother and her daughter in Nowgam area of Banihal.

Although, he was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment and relieved from service but in an unprecedented move the Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed the proceedings of the court martial. The state government through ministry of law promised to file an appeal against the judgement but no appeal was filed. In many cases police had refused to file an FIR because they did not want to be an “annoyance to the army” despite detailed affidavits clearly indicting security forces on the charges of rape.

In the wee hours on December 19, 2004, two persons of 3 RR stormed the house of Muhammad Sadiq Shah in Sheikhpora, Sallar area of Islamabad district and allegedly raped his sixty-year-old wife.

However, Police and Army authorities gave guarded statements regarding the incident. Police though negated the act of rape, have registered an FIR 116/2004 on the receipt of complaint and started investigations but nothing has happened yet.

Such callous approach by the authorities had eroded the people’s faith in the system and to a large extent in the judiciary.

“In several cases where we get the information about the rape, we find it difficult to persuade the victims to file the case. They ask us about any example where after filing a case, victim has succeeded in getting the guilty punished,” says Khurram.

Government Claims
Interestingly, the government department has no specific data regarding the number of rapes and molestation cases that took place in the state during the last two decades of turmoil. The officials in the department maintain that the media reports regarding the number of rape and molestation cases cannot predict the actual picture.  

“On mere media reports, a rape case cannot be reported. It needs an FIR to be registered and then only an inquiry could be conducted. But, a victim hardly would take cudgels to register an FIR against the accused. This way they deliberately prevent the convict from punishment,” said a senior officer on the condition of anonymity.

Ministry of Defence acknowledged that it had it filed 17 rape cases against army personnel whereas media reported 20 cases of rape.

As per the report of  “The Times of India’ on October 3, 2005 , War-room leaks, liquor scams and fake kills to garner gallantry medals and even rapes, murders has forced the authorities to stage 6,000 courts martial just since 2005. It further stressed that latest statistics show the, Army alone court-martialled 1215 soldiers in 2000; 1034 in 2001; 1031 in 2002; 945 in 2003; and 872 in 2004. In just the last two years, over 20 rape and 10 murder charges have been levelled against soldiers.

Cases
There are very few cases of sexual violence reported in Kashmir, yet one cannot ignore the magnitude of the unreported cases.

On January 5, 1991, security forces raped an old woman who was mentally ill in a house at Barbar Shah in Srinagar. The locals lodged an FIR with concerned police station. Medical reports confirmed that she had been raped. But, the legal proceedings were going on snail’s pace and the victim died in 1998 and with her death the whole incident was buried.

In a similar incident some women were collecting fire wood in a nearby forest of Wanagam Kokernag in Islamabad and they were molested by the security forces during crackdown on May 9, 1994. In another case, three women were raped in Manigah in Kupwara district during crackdown in a house on May 14 in the same year. In all these incidents FIR was lodged but to little avail.

In the most infamous rape case of Kunan-Poshpora in Kupwara district on February 23, 1991, around 10 to 15 soldiers of 5 Rajputana rifles laid siege to the village on the pretext of a search operation around 11 pm and ordered the men to assemble in a nearby bus stand. Men were kept in cold for whole night where as women were confined to their homes and then raped.

The women were systematically assaulted and gang-raped, regardless of age, physical disability, pregnancy, or marital status .Even an old lady of 80 years was not spared by the unit. One of the victims who was nine months pregnant during the incident delivered a baby with a fractured left arm.
 
At that time, a team led by retired Chief Justice Mufti Farooqi calculated the official number of gang-raped women to be 53.

However, in its 1992 report on international human rights, the United States Department of State rejected the Indian government’s conclusion, saying there was “credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass-rape in Kunan-Poshpora.”  Recent incident of violence against women – double rape and murder at South Kashmir’s Shopian district where Nilofar, 22, and her sister-in-law Asiya, 17, were allegedly raped and then murdered on May 29 triggered massive public outcry. Above all, the Shopian incident left a “deadly impact” on the “psyche” of women in Kashmir.

In October 1992, the case of gang-rape of nine women at Shopian was thrown out after being investigated “by army and police, the very units charged with the crime, despite solid medical evidence to the contrary; no independent investigation by an impartial agency was carried out.

In November 1997, some BSF personals at 2’0 clock in the night  entered  the house of Habibullah, a resident of Narbal Pingalgom in Pulwama and ordered him along with his family to move out of their house. But, his daughter Dilshada was held back and rest of the family was taken to the nearby field and kept there for about three hours. The BSF personnel raped Dilshada. The BSF personals were identified as the guards of a congress leader Ahmed khan who were later set free.   

In the same year another case in the village of Wavoosa was reported where seven women were raped during a routine cordon and search operation.
On October 28, 2004, a 21-year-old girl was allegedly raped by four force personnel in connivance with two persons at a guest house at Zero Bridge – Rajbagh. Six persons including two army men and two cops were arrested. The victim was removed to Lulla Ded hospital for medical examination, where doctors confirmed that the girl was gang raped.

On June 9, 2003, reports of molestation of college going girls by the troops at Choudharygund camp, triggered massive protest demonstration in Shopian area of south Kashmir. Police opened fire allegedly without any provocation, which left fourteen civilians including four students injured.

On July 6, 2007, Ranjit Singh of 24 Rashtriya Rifles was caught molesting a girl in Kangan.  In panic panicking, he opened indiscriminate fire on protestors killing a civilian, injuring others and later shot himself.

The incident came as an embarrassment for the Army close on the heels of an earlier incident on June 23 in the same year, when a trooper of 158 CRPF tried to molest a dumb girl, sparking massive protests in Kangan. Police later arrested the accused trooper. Following the incidents, on June 25, residents of Kunan village in Bandipora paraded two soldiers of 57 Rashtriya Rifles smeared in black and paraded naked after they attempted to rape a 17 year old.

 Like Kunan-Poshpora and Shopian cases, hundreds of other cases some reported and unreported have been buried with the time.

Psychological Impact
Leading psychologists in Kashmir are of the opinion that horrendous incidents like Shopian crime are a “brutal assault on fragile psyche of Kashmiri people.”  “The situation is worse for rape victims. Such cases largely go unreported because of the social stigma, and of reprisal by official agencies,” they feel.
 
With the family of Shopian victims still waiting for the justice, the incident has reminded Kashmiri women of high profile cases – like Kunan-Poshpora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.  A prominent sociologist, Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla attributed the fear that has gripped the younger generation of Kashmir to the heavy presence of military in the region. “A sudden look at a trooper gives a shock to a woman. It is here where a woman who is already caught in the domestic violence, a grave problem, becomes a patient,” Dabla says.

Chipping in, Dr. Sadakat Rehman , Assisatnt Professor, Government Psychiatric Hospital, said though Kashmir has witnessed many rapes and molestation cases but due to the massive public resentment and the mysterious nature of the Shopian case, it has spilled over in many ways on teenage girls.
 
“A 15-year-old girl from Pulwama district of south Kashmir has developed fear psychosis due to the Shopian tragedy. She is the first case of its kind who came to us for treatment. We gave her counselling and started her treatment,” Sadakat says. There are dozens of cases like her who crave for treatment and counselling across the valley, said the doctor.

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