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Sexual Violence, Military Impunity, and Women Resistance: The Case of Kashmir – II

By Sabahat Ali Wani

After introducing the basic themes encircling Kashmiri Feminism in the first article, the second article of this series draws attention to the grave sexual violence and abuse committed against the Kashmiri women. This article aims to, first, underline the culture of impunity enjoyed by the Indian Armed forces and, second, show the impact of military impunity upon the women experiencing everyday abuse in the valley.

Gender and Sexual Violence

In the case of military occupation, sexual violence has always been an immediate weapon used by the state to humiliate, dehumanize, and coerce entire communities into submission. But, this humiliation and dehumanization is gendered, as, on the one hand, men may also experience sexual violence; it is, however, not the same as women’s experiences because ‘sexual violence against women has been common across conflict zones, if not unavoidable’ (Christine Chinkin, 1994, as cited in, Alliya Anjum, 2018)

Concerning the differing experiences amongst genders, Alliya Anjum (2018) comments that the ‘rationale’ behind committing sexual violence against men is different from that of women and regarding the same, Cynthia Cockburn (2013) writes, 

‘A woman who is raped in war is raped as a woman, a despised category. A man who is raped is assaulted as a man, to reduce him to the status of a mere woman, and thus destroy his masculine self-respect’. 

To some extent, the incidents of sexual violence against Kashmiri women are reported and documented but the same cannot be said for the Kashmiri men, transgender community, and other sexual minorities. For the transgender community, it is the complete negation and erasure of their experienced violence and abuse and, for Kashmiri men, Alliya Anjum (2018) comments,‘instances of male sexual violence in Kashmir, however, are not as well-documented as those of violence against women, owing to heightened stigma and shame’. 

The shame and stigma around sexual violence for men is primarily based on the patriarchal culture that reduces a sexually abused or violated man to a mere category of a ‘woman’, who was not able to protect his so-called dignity and honour. Apart from the crackdown by the Indian state upon the reporting of such incidents, the deep-rooted patriarchy is undoubtedly, one of the underlying reasons for many unreported, undocumented and silenced cases of sexual violence in Kashmir.

Military Impunity and Sexual Violence

State – Security Apparatus

In Kashmir, the number of armed forces’ personnel is enormous. There is ‘a massive state-security apparatus in Kashmir Valley, consisting of more than half a million troops, including military and paramilitary personnel of various units including the Indian Army, Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and Rashtriya Rifles, the Indian Reserves Police Force (IRPF), the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP), as well as other vigilante structures…’ (Haley Duschinski, 2010).

Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act

One of the most important questions encircling the literature covering sexual violence in the occupied and conflict zones is the existence and prevalence of impunity. In the article, Reproducing regimes of impunity – Fake encounters and the informalization of everyday violence in Kashmir, Haley Duschinski (2010) talks about how AFSPA has been framed on the 1942 British Ordinance, which came into being to limit the Indian Independence movement and has been in existence in India since 1958, when it was introduced to contain the armed rebellions in the North-Eastern territories of Assam and Manipur. Hence, one can argue that AFSPA is a colonial act and is used purely for colonial purposes. 

Since 1990, Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act has given state-sponsored legal backing to the crimes carried out by the armed forces against the Kashmiri community as a whole (Amnesty International, 2015). To highlight its certain provisions; Section 4 of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) states, 

‘Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area, if he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order…’

The degree of special powers given to the armed forces under this Act raises critical questions on its nature and the accountability of the armed forces in J&K. According to the report of Amnesty International (2015) on the ‘Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’, the problem with the definition of the so-called ‘disturbed area’ is that it allows the armed forces to declare themselves as officers in the line of duty at all times in any region of J&K, even if it involves grave human rights violations as those acts are also considered to be ‘service-related acts and not criminal offences’. It is also crucial to note how the language of this Act is instructive as it empowers the armed forces to use force against any individual ,even if it results in that person’s death (Haley Duschinski, 2010) and that too, without any accountability. 

Rape in Kashmir by Indian Security forces and Militant Groups

According to the report of Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Kashmiri women were raped by the Indian security forces right after 1990 and a huge number of cases were not reported and, if reported, the personnel involved were never prosecuted. The report also sheds light on the culture of impunity by documenting the reported cases of rape of Kashmiri women and the injustice that followed. 

In May 1990, the Kashmiri bride, Mubina Gani and her aunt were raped by BSF (Border Security Forces) and the forces had also fired upon the party. The government claimed that the party was caught in a crossfire but after a widespread publicizing of the incident, an inquiry was conducted by the police. The inquiry found that both the women were raped but the security forces involved were never prosecuted. 

In July 1990, Sopore police had registered a case against the BSF (Border Security Forces) for raping a 24-year-old woman, Hasina. The medical superintendent’s report ‘recorded bite marks on her face, chest and breasts and scratches on her face, chest and legs, and injuries to her genital area’. Even after the members of BSF were charged by the police, no investigation or prosecution followed. 

On February 23, 1991, the mass rape of Kashmiri women of the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora by the army soldiers of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles was reported. The officials denied the charges and claimed that ‘no clear complaint was made’. Later on, the Press Council of India was called to investigate the incident. According to the Amnesty International’s report, the Council declared the evidence and charges baseless and, 

“…concluded that the medical evidence was ‘worthless’, that ‘such a delayed medical examination proves nothing’ and that such abrasions are ‘common among the village folk in Kashmir’. About the torn hymens, the committee argued that they could be the result of natural factors, injury or premarital sex”.

Other rape cases include: Rape in Shopian, Rape in Haran, Rape in Gurihakhar and also, the attacks on Kashmiri women by the militant groups to threaten them that ‘severe action would be taken against them if they didn’t maintain purdah’. There are also the cases of abductions and rape of Kashmiri women by the militants but most of the time these acts are defined as forced marriages in the Kashmiri society and ‘gives some indication of the social ostracism suffered by rape victims and code of silence, and fear, that prevents people from openly condemning such abuses by militant groups’ (Asia Watch and Physicians of Human Rights). 

Women Resistance and Sexual Violence

Nitasha Kaul (2018) comments that many scholars have tried to understand the relationship between sexual violence and women resistance, mostly in post-colonial militarized societies. Some of these scholars (P. Jeffery and A. Basu, N.A. Khan etc.) have tried to explore the complex relationship of women leaders like Asiya Andrabi and other militant women activists with feminism and religion in Kashmir.

Drawing upon the intersection of identities in conflict zones, Alliya Anjum (2018) states that women are targeted and raped because of their gender and also their ethnic, racial, or national identity but one should understand that women issues in these zones are not to be considered ‘secondary’ to the community’s political goals. Women in conflict zones are active recipients of abuse and violence; their security should be given utmost priority and not treated as a ‘later on’ concern. Kashmiri women are not the battlefields upon which the flag of masculine nationalism and abusive religious orthodoxy should be erected. 

Sabahat Ali Wani is the Young India Fellow at Ashoka University.

This is the second article of the three-part series on Kashmiri Feminism. The last article of this series will look at the representation of Kashmiri women in popular media and culture and how such representation is viewed by feminists.  

Image credits: Mir Suhair

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