“These soldiers grabbed me, tore my pheran, my shirt – I don’t even know what happened after that. There were five of them. I still remember their faces.” This was the last memory of that night which Zooni (not the original name) had. It all happened on 23rd February 1991 when the Indian army started a routine “cordon and search” operation in the small village of Kunan in Kupwara district. This was just a single, among hundreds of such cases of rape and sexual violence committed by the barbaric Indian army. Zooni wasn’t the only victim of this brutal mass-rape, the numbers were stated in the first information report (FIR) as 23, and in the study conducted by the Human Rights Watch, it was somewhere between 23 and 100. Indian government however called these allegations as terrorist propaganda against the forces. The evidence was said to be insufficient and none of the allegations were considered for serious investigations. These victims had been fighting for justice for the last 28 years but in vain. This has been happening for a long time in IOK since the Armed Forces Special Power Act 1990 immunes the soldiers from prosecution and has been facilitating such acts.
Sexual violence has been used frequently by the state and non-state actors during serious conflicts and this practice has been quite consistent throughout history, even though it has been included in the category of war crimes by the Geneva Convention in 1949. In 2015 the International Day for Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict was proclaimed on June 19 by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/69/293). These practices are often authorized by the state in the case of state actors either openly or by shadowing and censoring the facts if anything happens of this sort. Most of the war statistics rely completely on the deaths and casualties not focusing on the severity of sexual violence. This type of war crime is usually employed as a tactic to mentally subjugate the victims and inculcate the feeling of powerlessness and defeat in their minds.
In India, the white-skinned Kashmiri women have always been seen as objects of sexual desire and have been objectified. Let aside the extremist Hindu groups of India, renowned politicians and public figures including Manohar Lal Khattar (CM Haryana) and BJP’s Vikrim Saini had been making such misogynistic and hateful comments regarding the Kashmiri women. Kashmiri women are always afraid that they would be used by the forces to satisfy their lust.
An incident of this nature was reported in January of 2018 from Redwani village in Jammu and Kashmir when Yasmeen (name changed on request) was brutally manhandled and verbally abused to such an extent that she “felt naked”. Another victim of such vandalism thirty-year-old Rumaisa (name changed on request) said she was molested by the soldiers saying that they will strip her naked in Tral chowk and shove their guns inside her. These practices are commonplace during the Cordon and Search Operations (CASOs) carried out by the forces. During the recent lockdown, complete censorship of statistics has been observed but the possibility of these acts happening again cannot be brushed off completely. “At present every Kashmiri is immensely subjugated but women are the biggest victims of this inhumane siege.” said the 20-year-old Uzma Javed in her interview with Al-Jazeera. We cannot deny the hate Indians have for the minority since they openly express their animosity wherever possible. On TV9 Bharatvarsh, in a live program, an ex-Army officer General SP Sinha said “death in return for death, and rape in return for rape” (balatkar ke badlay balatkar) stirring a new controversy. This kind of statement by a retired general shows the degree of despise which the Indians have for the Kashmiris. Records mention the rape of almost 13000 women in Indian occupied Kashmir. (Dr. Muhammad Khan, Professor of politics and IR, IIUI). Amidst the recent lockdown due to the COVID pandemic, almost 16 cases of rape and 64 of molestations were reported in the districts of Jammu and Kashmir.
These acts are not only humiliating the victims, but they also lead to many psychological disorders in victims ranging from sadness and disorientation to depression, post-traumatic disorders, chronic insomnia, and the list goes on. In 2013 the Kunan Poshpara incident was highlighted by a young Scholar Natasha Rathar in her book “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpara”. A petition was filed to reopen the case in the State High court.
The future of this territory cannot be predicted, but International bodies are more aware than ever of these acts. The violation of human rights is evident and if still, no one stands up for these people, the consequences might be worse and heartbreaking.