‘Jammu and Kashmir in India is one of the world’s most militarized regions. Six to seven hundred thousand Indian troops are stationed in a region with over 11 million residents. The women have been hard hit by the conflict.
They are raped and imprisoned, their husbands and sons have disappeared’, says Ghazala Peer. A lawyer and women’s rights activist, though no ‘celebrity’, Ghazala does research on violations of women’s rights in Kashmir.
‘The conflict in Kashmir affects the lives of both men and women. It is about the violation of human rights but also the rights of women. Women are also subjected to sexual violence,’ she says.
In her view, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is the most draconian law. Under the AFSPA, the police and the Indian army cannot be held accountable for carrying out raids in private homes, arresting and shooting people in their homes and on the streets, says Gazala Peer.
Gazala visited Stockholm, Sweden in April and spoke at a seminar organized by the Nordisk Kashmir Committee. While in Sweden she spoke to Viewpoint’s SholehIrani.
Under AFSPA, the police and the military infringe unimpeded upon human rights in the name of law and order and ‘terrorism’. They shoot; they arrest, search or do whatever they think is necessary. There are no means to prosecute the police or the military for crimes against civilians. They enjoy total immunity. As a result in approximately the last 24 years no police or military men have been brought to justice for crimes of which they have been accused.
Women in the Indian part of Kashmir have suffered much violence during the long bloody conflict between the Indian military and the separatist movement. They have suffered and endured torture, rape, imprisonment, economic dependence and extreme poverty as their husbands and fathers disappear or are murdered. Despite these hopeless situations, the women have organized and participated in civil society resistance. One important fight women have been organizing against is rape as well as lost sons, daughters and spouses.
In February 1991, police went into the village of Kunan â€ Poshpora in Kupwara Province. They seized all the men, forcing them out of the village. The soldiers then raped 40 women and children between the ages of 13 and 80. Since then these women have been trying to bring the four soldiers who were identified soldiers to justice. As late as 2013, a group of 40 lawyers and women’s rights activists took the case to court.
The only way to report crimes committed by the police and the military is to take them to military tribunal. When Ghazala was doing research on the topic she requested documents from the military courts and was flatly refused access. ‘I was asked to go to the courthouse and review the documents. Since the courts are inside the military areas, where no woman dare set foot in, I simply did not dare go,’ she told the seminar.
Gazala Peer, the lawyer tells of a case involving a double rape. A 29 year old mother and her nine year old girl were raped by the military. The father gathered the courage to file a case against the rapists. He didn’t give up and got as far as the case going to a courtâ€martial. ‘The father told me that he and his family were locked in a room for several hours inside the barracks. When they finally entered the courtroom, there sat 30â€40 military men. Not a single woman was present. They interrogated the nine year old girl on such details as ‘how’ she was raped in the presence of her father and mother. The court suspended the rapist from service. But he appealed and was reinstated,’ Ghazala told the seminar.
The Kashmir dispute is a territorial dispute between India, China and Pakistan. There has been a militant resistance movement since the 1980s that has rocked the Kashmir valley.
India claims that Jammuâ€Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan has a claim over the territory and says that the Jammuâ€Kashmir belongs to her. This conflict has existed since 1947 and three wars between India and Pakistan have been fought over the dispute. Indian military intervention in Indianâ€held Kashmir escalated in 1988â€1989 onward as a separatist uprising gripped the Valley.
While the majority of people in Jammu are Hindu with Muslims making up the remaining 30 percent, in Kashmir valley the population is 95 percent Muslim.
Women’s freedom of movement is very limited in Kashmir. According to Gazala Peer, women do not dare go out after five o’clock in the evening.
‘I remember when we were young, if we had to pass by a military regimentâ€â€â€ in my town there were three of themâ€â€â€ we would dress ourselves with an extra shawl to cover our bodies so our body parts were not visible. I walked long distances to school so not to pass the camp every day. We were all afraid of being dragged into the camp, raped and murdered,’ she says.
Threats of sexual violence and murder define and shape the lives of women and their freedom of movement. For these women, sexual violence is the most commonlyâ€occurring violence. Occupiers use sexual violence to control the region. It is an effective way of subordinating people.
‘When the military strikes and raids the homes, they rape women. They raid on the pretext that they are looking for miscreants and terrorists,’ according to Peer. ‘To insult and demoralize the population, by raping the women they punish their men. It is a case of collective punishment,’ she argues. She relates the case of a woman who while she was being raped was quizzed, ‘where are they hiding in your home’?
But women are resisting. They speak out about the violence they are subjected to. In 1994, many women formed an organization consisting of mothers and wives of disappeared family members. Each month, they gather in a park in Srinagar, waving pictures of their loved ones. They peacefully protest. But rarely do they receive any media coverage because the state does not allow this.
The initiator of this protest is internationally known ParveenAhangar whose son has been missing for several years. She has collected data on most of the missing people in Kashmir. She went door to door and spoke with the mothers and wives of the missing men. The Indian government denied all the disappearances but now there is documented evidence of all the missing people.
Gazala Peer told the seminar about the phenomenon of ‘half –widows’ in Kashmir. They are the women whose men are arrested by the military and who never return. Neither are they declared dead by the state. Consequently, a woman is not a widow by law. According to Peer this has created major problems for the women. ‘They can not remarry and with their husbands having disappeared, they need to support their families. Being a woman without a man but not a widow affects women’s status in society,’ Ghazala says.
As late as the year 2013 there came a fatwa from religious leaders in the region who said that women should be counted as widows if their men are not found after seven years. If he is imprisoned woman should get a divorce and remarry.
During her research Ghazala met many rape victims. She tells of a young woman who was pulled out of the car in her wedding dress and raped in front of the groom.
It is interesting that in this region people do not blame the sexual violence on women. While young women who are raped in other parts of India are ostracized and often kill themselves, Kashmiri women go out and talk openly about what has happened to them. ‘The women are treated as victims of war and are not shamed’ she says.
Gazala Peer says that, based on the cases she reviewed, she thinks the fate of a raped woman in Kashmir is different in most cases compared to her Indian counterpart.
‘Kashmir is populated by poor Muslims. The war and militarization have led to more poverty and religious identity has become strong’ she says. But this, she believes, has not in the larger context, led to people leaving the raped and abused women defenseless or to them being expelled from their society’s patronage. On the contrary, the men are on women’s side as they fall prey to militarism in Kashmir.