The attack on the fairer sex especially the rape has always been used as a war weapon in the conflict areas and Indian administered Kashmir has not remain immune from such an atrocious practice. Hundreds of rape incidents have taken place in the IaK after the eruption of armed rebellion in 1989. The latest rape incident took place on May 29/30 in Shopian, some 55 kms South of summer capital Srinagar. 17-year-old Asiya and her 22-year old sister-in-law Neelofar were raped and killed allegedly by men in uniform.
The Chief Minister of the region, Omar Abdullah initially said that the ladies got drowned in the stream. However, locals and family members of the victims confronted the claims of chief minister by stating that the shallow stream has no such history and is only ankle deep. The incident along with CM’s statement infuriated the masses triggering widespread peaceful protests and seven days strike across the restive region of IaK.
It was the first such incident where government buckled under peaceful protests and ordered an inquiry to probe the rape and murder. The one man commission of Justice (Retd) Jan, appointed by Omar Abdullah did not identify the culprits. However, it pointed the accusing finger towards men in uniform.
Writing in weekly newsmagazine Frontline, one of India’s best known law expert A G Noorani observes, “The Chief Minister wanted to have his own hand-picked man. Justice Muzaffar Jan was not known to be corrupt but was famous for mediocrity.”
“The Commission,” writes Noorani in the same article (A flawed Inquiry), “was set up to silence the critics and turn the tables on political opponents.”
Noorani, who is widely read in India notes further: “On June 1 itself, he (CM) quickly appointed Justice Muzaffar Jan, a retired Judge of the High Court, flouting the settled practice of asking that Court or the Supreme Court to name the Judge.”
The Commission did not identify the culprits behind the heinous incident.
According to Indian human rights activist and Prof Angana Chaterjee, who teaches in California Institute of Integral Studies, USA, more than 7000 cases of sexual assaults and related acts have taken place in Kashmir at the hands of Indian troops.
“This will not be the last such incident. We still remember the incident that took place on 23 February 1991 at Kunan Poshpora in North Kashmir. There was a shoot-out between militants and Indian troopers in the village on that day. Afterwards, troopers encircled the village and raped 30 women. The age of the victims ranged from 13 to 80 years,” said a human rights activist.
A Kashmiri photo-journalist, who was the first and only journalist to reach the village to cover the happenings, was arrested by the troopers. “He was tortured brutally and released only after the newsmen in Srinagar staged demonstrations and called for his release,” a journalist, wishing not to be named, said.
The photo-journalist suffered multiple fractures in left leg and had to undergo multiple surgeries. It took him long time to recover from the trauma.
Another human rights activist said these kind of incidents increase the alienation from the India among the Kashmiris. “Since the troopers enjoy impunity for their acts in Kashmir, the IaK government cannot try the troopers without the approval of Indian government. The sanction of approval from Indian government has never come and such type of incidents has always been covered-up under the pretext of fighting militancy,” he said.
The rape and molestation incidents in Kashmir have particularly happened in the far flung and remote areas. The concentration of troopers in the hinterlands is far higher than the urban areas. “Any such incident in urban area can get instant global coverage while due to the fear of gun the villagers in remote area are hesitant to come forward and complain against troopers,” the human rights activist said.
There have also been some allegations that militants also raped and molested some women in the region during the 20-year old turmoil.
The Geneva Convention related to “The Protection of Civilian Persons In Times Of War, 1949” and “Additional Protocols of 1977” provide that women shall especially be protected against humiliating and degrading treatment; rape, enforced prostitution or any form of indecent assault . The Vienna Declaration and Programme Of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in Situations of Armed Conflict states: “The violations of human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. Even though states are under an obligation to make grave breaches of Geneva Conventions and protocols additional thereto subject to the jurisdiction of their own courts and punishable by severe penalties.”
The soldiers deployed in Kashmir, according to senior human rights activist Khurram Parvez, cannot be tried for rape and other human rights violations because they enjoy special powers which give them impunity from such acts in Kashmir.
“In Indian capital or any other place outside Kashmir, rape is being seen as a normal crime. However, here it is part of State oppression. The State cannot act against its troopers for the fear of demoralizing them,” he said.
“It is because of the military might,” adds Khurram, who lost his one leg in a landmine explosion in 2004 that killed one of his lady colleague, “that India has been able to hold on to Kashmir. Under such a situation, Government of India would like to keep its men in good humour in the restive State. They won’t like to open Pandora’s Box by acting against their own men.”
“Justice has not been delivered in any of the rape, killing or another human rights case in Kashmir so far. Although Kashmir government states 134 Indian troops have been prosecuted so far in 20 years. But no publicized information about the quantum of punishment and the crime for which the troops were punished was made public,” said the human rights activist.
(The author, Mr. Fayaz Wani, is a Srinagar based journalist and can be reached at: [email protected] )