Issues and Challenges

Kashmiri Women: Target of India’s Dirty War

War crimes are not limited to men they affect women just as much, if not more. The world witnessed in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and continues to do so in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K), how misplaced nationalistic fervour coupled with moral recklessness resulting from the illusion of power can make soliders commit heinous crimes against women who have no direct part to play in the conflict. 

Suffering strikes the women in IOJ&K in various shades of ruthlessness. They suffer the disappearances, killing and blinding by pellet guns of their husbands, brothers and sons. As if this was not sufficient, their homes are invaded, their braids chopped and bodies violated. The latter being one of the worst crimes the world witnesses silently. To cause deeper infliction, the Kashmiri women are raped in front of their family members. Age of the victims is no bar to keep the Indian military forces from committing this vile act. From 3 to 80 years, girls and women of all age brackets have been put through this inhuman ordeal. 
Professor William W. Blake, a human rights activist, wrote in his book, Kashmir: Happy Valley, Valley of Death, “The use of rape by the occupation forces in Kashmir is not merely an isolated case or two of wayward soldiers but rather a well-orchestrated and contrived part of the overall plan to break the spirit and if possible, the soul of the Kashmiri people and their will to resist.” 
It is part of the Indian repressive strategy to crush the pride of Kashmiris, which has enabled them to persevere in their struggle for freedom for 70 years in the world’s most militarized region. 
Rape in Kashmir on Communal Lines 
In April 2018, protests erupted in India to support three rapists who had raped an eight-year-old girl, Asifa Bano, over the course of about seven days in a temple in Jammu. The girl was subsequently brutally killed and her body thrown in the bushes. Investigation into the crime revealed the incident to be pre-planned and inspired by religious hatred against the Muslim nomadic community in Kathua. The plan was to stoke fear among the Muslims so that they would leave the area to Hindu majority.   
The perpetrators of the crime belonged to the dominant Hindu community and had bureaucratic and political support. Hindu nationalists from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other political parties joined ranks to threaten violence if the accused were punished. When interrogated, the accused called themselves the custodians of Hindu nationalism. 
In an identical case of insensitivity for the Kashmiri Muslim women, just as the autonomous status of Kashmir was revoked with the abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution through a Presidential Order, the politicians from the ruling party started making misogynistic and sexist remarks. On August 10th, Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana was quoted as saying: "Some people are now saying that as Kashmir is open, brides will be brought from there. But jokes apart, if [the gender] ratio is improved, then there will be a right balance in society." Earlier, the BJP's Vikram Saini, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, said: "… party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the fair-skinned women of Kashmir."
Within minutes of these sexist and misogynist remarks, Google was inundated with search for ‘Kashmiri girls for marriage’. Women in Kashmir were objectified and singled out as a means of pleasure. International journalists posted on social media videos of Kashmiri women intimidated by what is in store for them in future, especially when BJP is bent upon changing the demographic structure of IOJ&K through their long held programme of making Kashmir a Hindu state.
In the archives of history, the worst incident reported against the Kashmiri women was the Kunan- Poshpora incident of mass rape by the Indian soldiers during a large military operation on February 23, 1991, in twin villages, Kunan and Poshpura in the Kupwara District. Marginalization of women in Kashmir could further increase the rising tendency among the Hindu nationalists to revert India to a period when the Aryans first stepped in the Sub-continent and laid the foundation of the Hindu religion.  
An ancient Indian treatise, according to American Indologist Wendy Doniger, "legitimised rape as a form of marriage and gave some degree of legal sanction, retroactively, to women who had been raped."
Rape IS a Crime 
Rape, as a warfare crime, is committed to destroy communities, terrorize population and in some cases change the ethnic makeup of the next generation. The Kashmir conflict has become a mirror image of stories from World War II that were rife with the  crime of rape having been committed by all sides, but silence shrouded the topic even in courts setup in Tokyo and Nuremberg by the victorious Allies to prosecute the suspected war crimes.

Rape cases in the IOJ&K are not only glorified, as was seen in the Asifa Bano’s case, they are also carried out with impunity to enslave Kashmiris. The overarching power given to the Indian military in the region has made objectifying women in Kashmir easier. This practice has had the support of the BJP and other nationalist groups.

It was not until 1992, when women were being raped on a massive scale in the former Yugoslavia, that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) started giving it a serious thought. On December 18th, 1992, the Council declared that the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina” was an international crime that needed to be addressed. In 1993, the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) called rape a crime against humanity when committed on civilian population in armed conflict. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994, also declared rape a war crime and a crime against humanity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, in force since July 2002, considers rape as a crime against humanity when committed in a systematic way on a wide scale. UNSC passed Resolution 1820 in 2008, seeking an end to the practice of using sexual violence as war tactics against women and girls and end impunity to the perpetrators. In 2007, all UN entities working on sexual violence in conflict were grouped under UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict for better coordination and accountability. And yet, the world seems to have turned a blind eye to the plight of the Kashmiri women. The Indian military has systematically subjected Kashmiri women to rape and sexual harassment as a weapon of state tyranny. Indian soldiers seem to have been given a free hand by the Indian Government to do as they please with the women of Kashmir without the fear of prosecution or any sort of legal action against them. 

Rape cases in the IOJ&K are not only glorified, as was seen in the Asifa Bano’s case, they are also carried out with impunity to enslave Kashmiris. The overarching power given to the Indian military in the region has made objectifying women in Kashmir easier. This practice has had the support of the BJP and other nationalist groups. 
The harassment of Kashmiri women has increased since the elimination of the autonomous status of Kashmir, belying Indian government’s announcement that the step would lead to gender equality and emancipation of women in the Muslim majority region as expounded by Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs. 
In this situation, it becomes obligatory for not only the UN, but the world to take a step forward and save the dignity of Kashmiri women threatened by Hindu nationalists. The time to request India to reconsider its anti-democratic move in the valley has long gone, it is now time to act and take serious measures against the unholy designs of Indian security forces. Now is the time to stand as one with our Kashmiri brothers and sisters and let them know that they are not alone in this fight against the Hindu nationalists and for their right of self-determination. HH

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.
E-mail:[email protected] 

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