By Rimli Bhattacharya
The picturesque valley of Kashmir is experiencing synchronization with rape. Some days ago, the news of a toddler getting raped jolted us. Protests were heard from all over the world. The hashtag #JusticeForAimanZehra went viral on all the social media networks with people demonstrating extreme abhorrence and trepidation, leading to a cry for justice for the toddler. Violent protests erupted when the accused Tahir Ashraf Mir produced a fake age certificate claiming to be a minor. In India, an underage criminal can get away with lenient sentences. The accused thought of the same but didn’t succeed.
A teenager committed suicide in the Valley’s Bandipora district. She had been a victim of rape by her father which she had endured for three years. The father also tried to rape his younger daughter who took the help of local residents and police. The most disturbing fact is that the rapist is a former BSF soldier.
There was a similar crime which was reported last year regarding a little girl of eight in Kathua district. And the nightmare of Kunan Poshpora has been permanently etched in our mind.
When we type “Rape cases in Kashmir” on Google, we are welcomed by a barrage of more than thirty such gruesome results within a span of one year. And the most startling factor is that the majority of these rapes have been executed by the Indian security forces.
I am a forty-year-old single mother to an eleven-year-old girl child. I reside in Mumbai. And I claim I am safe. Is it so? Then why does my father prevent me from staying out late nights? Why am I extra careful when my daughter plays with her male classmates? In spite of being repeatedly careful I have still been molested several times in the local trains, markets, movie theatres and common public gatherings. Staying in a cosmopolitan city is of no value; we have perpetrators everywhere. Then how can we assure the ladies of Kashmir a secured and peaceful life when we wake up with stories of blood bath almost every day from the valley? The fact is that there has been a reported upsurge in violence/rape/crime against women in Kashmir and it cannot be denied.
Considering our patriarchal society with parochial mentality, Kashmir is the best example of how incidents can go unrecorded. Though these occurrences have brought criticism and indignation, the fact remains that the society has miserably failed the women in Kashmir. Such awful acts should not only be castigated in the strongest terms but the criminals should be brought to justice. The law and order in Kashmir is in total jeopardy and it gives chances to the criminals to go scot-free. Women are seen as vulnerable and easy prey to rapes whereas our government and political rulers (yes looking at the current political scenario I use the term ruler instead of party) can be seen catering to cover the misdeeds of the ministers and government mandarins involved in spine-chilling crimes like molestations, rapes and sex rackets. We are still waiting for justice in the Bakarwal girl Asifa’s case. It has almost been a year but things are either not moving or moving at a snail’s pace. We have no update on the same. Once out of sight, it is out of mind. And Kashmiri women – they are not humans – are to be devoured. But we cannot draw a conclusion here. Mere protests, vilification and severe punishment will not end these acts. The real problem lies in our quiescent misogynistic patriarchal standpoint that provokes such ghastly acts on women.
There is a severely rooted malaise in our society that often undermines such cruel acts against women. As I said, our misogynistic society still considers a man superior to a woman and Kashmir is the best example of the same. There has been a rise in the sine curve graph indicating increase in cases like dowry, rape, abuse, physical violence, infanticide and foeticide. As per our retrogressive traditions, a woman should carry the burden of modesty and morality of our societies, while the men can always enjoy total freedom. Very often we refrain from naming and shaming the culprit in public as it is contradicted by our society as victim blaming. Sometimes it is our honor (Bandipora case) that makes us hold our tongues. When the #MeToo movement exposed such predators in Kashmir, our educated class comprising of both men and women came to defend the offenders. The guilty were addressed by terms like ‘young’, ‘innocent’ and ‘brother’. Such atavistic thinking questions our sensitivity. As a result we see nothing wrong when a Kashmiri woman is raped by her own father, brother, the Indian security forces which comprise the Indian Army, Central reserve police force (CRPF) and Border security personnel. The cries of the women being raped by the Indian state force are generally ignored. In the words of scholar Seema Kazi, women have been subjected to rape even by the militants to a certain extent though the measurable parameter is less in comparison to the Indian state forces. The Kashmir conflict also provides evidences of gang rape being carried out by Dogra, Hindu and Sikh troops.
As history reveals, such prolonged violence in the valley has resulted in women being the soft targets. The effect of the conflicts has been more on Kashmiri women than their men-folk. Kashmiri women have undergone enough torments and a difficult existence under military abuse, a fact the world likes to ignore. The intellectuals assert that a long period of militarization has provided the ideal scenario of increase in violence against women. The apathetic stance against women have exacerbated in an atmosphere of lax accountability for the culprits. The attitude of perpetrators appears to endorse such violent acts against women in both private and public spheres.
The recent Bandipora incident is a compelling case of the psychological abuse that our women in Kashmir often face. While in Mumbai I cannot get away with incidents of grabbing and physical touches which we call molestations, I shudder to imagine the plight of Kashmiri women who face double oppression in the form of patriarchy and militarization. Though we argue that women in our society have broken stereotypes and have forged ahead in long strides, one cannot deny the fact that the basic attitude towards women remains unchanged. It’s time we change our retrogressive and blinkered attitude towards women and Kashmiri women in particular. Once we do that, we can always challenge the government mandarins for failure of law and order. I can celebrate my independence the day these rapes and atrocities on women cease in Kashmir.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Hatred and Mass Violence: Lessons from History”, edited by Navras J. Aafreedi, Presidency University, Kolkata, India.