Issues and Challenges

Kashmir: Heaven Under Siege

With Indian paramilitary troops patrolling every street, barricading roads, immobilizing public transport, shutting down communication, pressurizing people to stay indoors and cutting off medical, water and food supply, Kashmir has become a victim of Indian terror and Kashmiris are struggling to stay alive. Only those will comprehend the horrors of living in a war zone that have been subjected to it. 

In any conflict zone women and children are the first casualties of war and last to be heard. Kashmiri women are no exception; in fact, they have faced the brunt of moral decay of Indian occupying forces. Women in Kashmir have braved the storm for over seven decades and are fighting multidimensional challenges and immense hardships with courage and fortitude for over seven decades. However, now it seems that they are bound to experience a new and possibly a more horrendous phase of tribulations after the revocation of the special status of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K). 
On August 5th, the Indian government bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federally administered union territories abolishing its special status. With the scrapping of the special status, non-residents now have the rights to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir and non-Kashmiri next of kin to inherit property. Although there was no bar on marrying Kashmiri men or women when the state had the special status, the next of kin of non-Kashmiris were not legally eligible to inherit any property in Kashmir.
The special status was carved to protect the limited land of the valley that is rich in water bodies, agriculture and has its special ecology. With the repealing of the special status, the resources of the valley are at the disposal of Indian invaders. 
Under these circumstances and with the extremist mindset that the fascist government of India is promoting, Kashmiri women are in a vulnerable state, fears Mushaal Hussein Mullick wife of Kashmiri leader Mohammed Yasin Malik who is detained along with hundreds of others to suppress the local voices who reject the revocation at any cost. 
“India aims to capture the resources of the valley and women are used as a medium,” says Mushaal Mullick. Sexist remarks about Kashmiri women made by Indian politicians have surfaced the social media. The Indian government has given license to not only the troops but to every outsider to go and grab property and its misogynist members think that it includes Kashmiri women. Systematic sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence have been used as a strategic weapon against Kashmiris.  
Ms. Mullick has further added that the incidence of sexual violence is widespread and the rates of widows and half-widows are already highest in the region and now this complete lawlessness has added to the miseries of women.
During the continuing lockdown and blackout after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, there are reports of child abduction, molestation of women during raids and deaths of expecting mothers and infants who could not reach to the hospitals or provided medicines on time due to blockades.  
A group of political activists from India who visited various areas also reported that patients in general were unable to reach hospitals as the curfew was preventing people from moving. 
The group of female activists that visited different districts from August 9th to 13th, revealed that women complained about molestation during recent raids by the Indian troops in curfew. “They raid houses in the night and take away even children creating immense fear, especially among the women,” they reported. Such incidents are rarely reported by the media.  
This is in line with the conduct of Indian occupying forces in the past, for example, Kunan-Poshpora mass rape, in which around a hundred women of Kunan and Poshpora villages of Kupwara district on the night of February 23, 1991, were gang-raped by soldiers from the Indian Army. 
The women and girls, in IHK, have been a perpetual target of different forms of abuse. They are sexually assaulted, harassed, molested and raped as they are seen as a symbol of their community’s identity and honor, and considered as the soft belly of the movement of Kashmiri people for self-determination. But there is no hard data on how many women suffer from sexual violence. According to rough estimates of human rights activists, 143 cases of sexual violence by Indian security forces were documented in the past few years.
In February 2018, the Support Group for Justice for Kunan-Poshpora Survivors filed a petition before the State Human Rights Commission, urging investigations into all cases of alleged sexual assault by Indian security forces and non-state actors as well as reparations for survivors. The group provided the Commission with documentation in 143 cases of alleged sexual violence committed by the Indian forces.
But, authorities have failed or are unwilling to independently investigate and prosecute security forces personnel and there is no record of allegations of sexual violence by Indian security forces being prosecuted in any civilian court. The fact that the victims of Kunan-Poshpora mass rape case could not get justice even after 28 years, illustrates the state’s failure to investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual violence in Kashmir. 
Kashmiri women also bear the brunt when male members of the family are killed in front of their eyes. The Kashmiri women are half-widows, left grieving and forced to carry the family’s responsibility to ensure their survival. The worst thing a mother can face is the death of her children or her child left with pellet injuries losing their eyesight. But this is the life of an average Kashmiri woman. Women in the valley live in constant fear that their children or husbands, striving for their rights would never return.

During previous unrest incidents, human rights groups claimed that days-long curfews and communications blockades also had a major impact on people and their access to medical care in Kashmir. In 2016, curfews in the valley reportedly prevented medical staff from reporting to work in prominent Srinagar hospitals as they were stopped by security forces. Doctors in Srinagar had also accused the security forces of firing tear gas near hospitals and, in some cases, inside the hospitals, which affected their ability to work and further deteriorated the health care of patients.
The Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) documented several instances of doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers being obstructed and physically assaulted by Indian security forces. According to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), around 200 ambulances were damaged by the Indian security forces during the 2016 unrest.  
In the insurgency going on for the last 30 years over 100,000 people are stated to have been killed. Besides, approximately 1,253 people were blinded by metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to the end till 2018, according to the report of  Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released on July 8th this year. Some 8,000 people have disappeared since 1989, according to the claims of JKCCS and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) while the state and central governments say around 4,000 are missing, most of whom they allege crossed over to Azad Jammu & Kashmir. 
Over 2080 unmarked graves and mass graves were discovered. Another report of OHCHR of June 2018 says, “Impunity for enforced or involuntary disappearances in Kashmir continues as there has been little movement towards credibly investigating complaints, including, into alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region.” Such pervasive violence not only leads to various long-term social and psychological trauma but also make one’s life a living hell.  
However, instead of improvement in the state of affairs, the future has become even more uncertain for the Kashmiri people as there seem to be clouds of more volatility and violence lurking that are likely to bring more suffering for Kashmiris. It is high time that the atrocities in Kashmir come to a halt. The world’s conscience needs to be awakened to the plight of Kashmiri people to avoid an imminent genocide of Kashmiris. The unilateral actions of India need to be countered to ensure that the people of the region get their fundamental human right – the right to determine their fate as a nation. HH

The writer is Islamabad based journalist.
E-mail:[email protected]

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