Truth behind Armed forces' horrifying acts of rape & sexual violence in Kashmir

 

Harshal Kharat

harshal kharatRound Table India strongly condemns the ongoing brutality on Kashmiris by Indian forces on civilians, that is particularly targetting young chldren, youth, women and the hospitalized, and stands by the Kashmiris' right to self-determination. In this article, Harshal looks at the history of violence enabled by AFSPA and details the documented trail of sexual violence attacks on women in Kashmir.

Kanhaiya Kumar's issue was running on prime time TV a few weeks ago. While Justice for RohithVemula protest was at its peak suddenly came Kanhaiya & country's attention shifted from Rohith to Kanhaiya. Ruling party was unsuccessful in handling Rohith's case & was unable to deliver proper justice. Media & ruling party succeeded in making Kanhiya a sensation & removed country's focus from Rohith Vemula's issue. We don't know why ruling party & media gave so much attention & importance to Kanhaiya.

Some mainstream channels made it a media trial calling him as an anti-national & some channels stood with him. It was like Kanhaiya Vs BJP & BJP made it an Anti-national debate. Both sides made statements & counter statements. On one day Kanhaiya used to say something on other day BJP & BJP supporters used to give counter statements. It was like a dogfight between Kanhaiya & BJP & media took this dogfight & made it prime time news. It got a prime time slot & with media producing good entertainment for Indian people. We all know how ruling party had succeeded in spreading pseudo-nationalism throughout the country. But dividing country on the basis of nationalism-Anti-nationalism is very harmful for the country & its sovereignty. It will lead to a chaos.

On the eve of International Women's Day, Kanhaiya gave a speech in which he made a controversial statement that "while we have a lot of respect for our soldiers, we will talk about the fact that some Indian Army men rape women in Kashmir". People who are influenced by BJP's pseudo-nationalism went berserk and media brought Kanhaiya back to prime time.

Is it right to give such statements against the country's army? Will it lead to havoc in the country? Do you think that such statements are harmful for the nation's sovereignty? These and several other questions arose in the minds of Indian people. To solve these questions, let us go through a little information about what is happening in Kashmir, and about cases of Human Rights violation which took place in Kashmir.

Jammu & Kashmir is 'part of India', according to India. Kashmir has remained a disputed territory since post independence period. In 1948 India brought up the Kashmir issue in the first UN council. On 17 October 1949, Article 370 came into existence. At the end of 1980, Kashmiri separatists started a process of revolt by taking guns in their hands. A violent insurgency emerged. Due to this insurgency, Kashmir became a very sensitive state. After some years, India formed a law which gave special powers to the army and other security forces in sensitive regions - The Armed Forces Special Powers Act accords exclusive rights to the army in sensitive areas. It has been implemented since 1958 in India's North Eastern states (seven sister states). Arms Forces Special Power Act 1990 AFSPA (Jammu and Kashmir) was passed in 1990 to prevent insurgency.

People often call this a 'draconian law'. Armed forces working under this law get special powers in their area. Due to this, some army men use the special powers to violate peoples' rights and carry out mass abuses. The UN has repeatedly opposed this law. On 23 March 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay asked India to repeal the AFSPA. She termed the law as an outdated and colonial-era law that breached contemporary international human rights standards. Politicians like P. Chidambaram and Saifuddin Soz of Congress have advocated revocation of AFSPA, while others like Amarinder Singh stand against its revocation.

BJP in its 2014 election (manifesto) has said that it will repeal AFSPA. On one hand, by using this law the army and security forces are countering insurgency in the Kashmir region and are sacrificing their lives for our country and for the protection of our nation. On the other hand, some of the army men are using the same law to carry out rapes, gang-rapes, sexual humiliation and sexual torture. There are many cases of human rights violation. Due to this law, cases of rape, sexual humiliation and sexual torture and other violations could not make it to the stage of criminal investigation.

By carrying out such horrifying acts, jawans are bringing disgrace to the Indian army. There are several such cases. We shall now go through some cases that got publicised.

The Shopian rape and murder case involves the alleged abduction, rape and murder of two young women in mysterious circumstances between 29 and 30th May 2009 at Bongam, Shopian district, in the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. Two women, Neelofar Jan, aged 22 and her sister-in -law Aasiya Jan, aged 17, went missing from their orchard on the way home on the 29th. The next day, their bodies were found a kilometre apart from each other. Aasiya Jan had secured distinction in her matriculation exams the previous year and was a pre-medical student. Police filed a report which claimed that the death occurred due to drowning. However, it came out later in the forensic report that the death was a result of gang rape. The report mentioned that the unmarried girl Asiya died due to sexual assaults. The assaults were so violent that she sustained severe multiple injuries, resulting in bleeding from various body parts and subsequent death, while Neelofar died of neurogenic shock. Locals accused the security forces and 47 days of violent protests followed.

On 18 May 1990, another well-publicized incident took place, involving a young bride, Mubina Gani, who was detained and raped by BSF soldiers while she was traveling from the wedding to her husband's home. Her pregnant aunt was also raped. The security forces had also fired on the party, killing one man and wounding several others. The government claimed that the party had been caught in "cross-fire." After the incident was publicized in the local and international press, Indian authorities ordered the police to conduct an inquiry. Although the inquiry concluded that the women had been raped, the security forces were never prosecuted. Moreover, instead of a police inquiry, only a staff inquiry was conducted and 7 BSF jawans were suspended.

The most horrifying rape incident took place on 23 February 1991 in Kunan-Poshpora, Dist. Kupwara. On the night of Feb 23rd, a batch of 125 armed personnel carried out a search operation. The 4th Rajputana Rifles, of the Army's 68th Brigade, entered the villages and launched the most potent tool of repression used in theatres of political conflict - rape, sexual humiliation and sexual torture. The 125 soldiers laid siege to the whole village, separated the men from the women and sexually assaulted more than 50 women, from ages 13 to 60. Medical reports suggested that hymens of three minor girls had been torn. Syed Mohammad Yasin was the Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara in 1991. Yasin broke down when he said: "I was shocked to see the plight of the women ...A woman told me that she was kept under jackboots by the soldiers while her daughter and daughter-in-law were being raped before her eyes. A pregnant woman was not spared either...."

Although the Indian government′s investigations into the incident rejected the allegations as baseless, the United States Department of State, in its 1992 report on International Human Rights, rejected the Indian government's conclusion, and declared that there was "credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass rape in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora". Due to the outrage over the government's handling of the situation, divisional commissioner Wajahat Habibullah immediately resigned. Survivors of Kunan Poshpora - Essar Batool and Ifrah Butt published a book on the incidents of the night of 23rd February, titled "Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? : The Story of a Mass Rape". This case got reopened in 2013.

The gang rape of Hasina, a woman from Jamir Qadeem, took place on June 26, 1990. According to doctors at the sub-district Hospital in Sopore, the BSF had entered the neighbourhood at about 11:00 p.m, after an exchange of fire between their forces and some militant groups. The BSF had then conducted a search of the neighbourhood. The doctors stated that when Hasina was brought to the hospital, she had vaginal bleeding. The medical superintendent's report also recorded bite marks on her face, chest and breasts and scratches on her face, chest and legs, and injuries to her genital area.

On 22 July 1992, two women from Haran informed Asia Watch (A Human rights organisation) that they had been gang raped by Jawans. The incident occurred on July 20, 1992, during an army search operation near the town of Haran, approximately 25 kilometres west of Srinagar. Government officials registered a case but no action was taken.

On October 1, 1992, a BSF patrol returning from a crackdown in the village of Bakhikar, in Handwara district, came under attack by militant forces. One member of the BSF patrol was killed. Following the ambush, BSF forces rampaged through the nearby village of Battekut, killing ten people and burning houses and grain stores. After leaving Battekut, the BSF forces entered the village of Gurihakhar. During this, two women were raped. On October 2, 1992, local police took the women to a female doctor in Handwara, who confirmed that the women had been "severely molested"

The most brutal and inhuman incident took place on the night of October 10, 1992, when an army unit of the 22nd Grenadiers entered the village of Chak Saidapora, about four kilometres south of the town of Shopian in Pulwama district, on a search operation for suspected militants. During the operation, at least six and probably nine women, including an eleven-year old girl and a 60-year-old woman, were gang-raped by several of the army soldiers. The doctor conducted semen tests and examined all the females and reports confirmed that all were raped and sexually molested. Sperm tests of girls of age 11,18 and 21 as well as the 60 year old woman were all positive. Hymens of all the minors were torn and other victims exhibited signs of sexual molestation on the body. Senior government officials have also admitted that the search was carried out in violation of military regulations prohibiting soldiers from entering villages after dark. Officials announced that the case would be forwarded to crime branch.

Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, were two institutions that had reported various rape cases during the period of October 1999. The Hindu newspaper published an article called "Politics of Rape in Kashmir" in its February edition, in which it reported that more than 70 rapes were registered in the year of 2013. In 2012 – 2013, the Indian government denied access to a UN delegation to Kashmir. In 2014, the women from Kunan-Poshpora publicly recounted the night of February 23, 1991, when soldiers of the Indian Army invaded their lives, privacy and dignity.

During these seminars, one of the victims said, "when a girl was gang-raped in Delhi, the whole country rose against it. But in our case there was total silence. We don't want any woman to suffer like us. We don't want money or jobs but justice. We were raped but through our struggle we will expose and dishonour the accused. It is our last wish to get the accused punished." Due to special laws, the vast majority of cases could not reach the stage of investigation. Government officials, police and military forces created a fearful atmosphere so that such kind of cases would fail to reach the level of investigation. Reports of Amnesty International suggest that women's bodies have become part of the terrain of conflict. In modern conflict, military is using rape as an orchestrated combat tool. Such a horrifying tool is also being used in world's largest democracy i.e., India.

The equation that "Army is ultimate and saying something controversial against army will bring disgrace to our nation" is not right. We have to change this equation. Colonial laws like AFSPA should be diluted or should be kicked out from the system. Victims are fighting for justice and all they want is a fair trial. Draconian laws like AFSPA have no place in Indian democracy because it's violating the human rights of not only citizens of Kashmir but also the rights of Indian citizens from other states like Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. In these states the security forces have committed rape as a form of retaliation against civilians, most of who are believed to be sympathetic to the militants. This does not mean that the entire army is bad, but the inhumane acts of a handful of army personnel have brought disgrace to the Indian Army.

~~~

 

Harshal Kharat is from Ulhasnagar, Thane, Maharashtra. He did his B. Sc in Chemistry and has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Mumbai. He can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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