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On 10 January 2018, an eight-year-old Muslim girl belonging to the Bakarwal community of nomadic shepherds went missing from the vicinity of her home in Rassana village of Kathua, a Hindu-majority district of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Seven days later, her mutilated body was found in the forests of Rassana. The girl, who the world today knows as Asifa, had been raped and then bludgeoned to death. The Crime Branch investigation has revealed that the child was kidnapped and held captive for five days in a local Hindu place of worship, where she was sedated and repeatedly raped.
So far eight men have been arrested for the crime. They include Sanji Ram a former government employee who was the caretaker of the place where Asifa was held, and two policemen. The police say that the crime had been planned for over a month. The main motive behind it is believed to be a land grab, instigated by local developers. The perpetrators, who all belonged to the majority community, hoped they could terrify the nomadic shepherds and drive them off the lands on which they have traditionally camped while grazing their flock in the winter months.
This is borne out by the mass rallies by thousands of men and women who gathered under the banner of the Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Forum) waving Indian Flags, demanding the release of the accused men. Members of the Kathua Bar Association also attempted to prevent the Crime Branch from filing a charge-sheet. It was only several weeks after the crime was committed, when reports began to appear in the national and international press, that Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, and member of the Hindu nationalist BJP, saw fit to comment publicly on the crime. Even then, he chose to remain ambiguous: he said “India’s daughters” would receive justice. Implicit in this statement is the fact that the rapes and murders perpetrated by Indian armed forces on Kashmiri men and women—who do not consider themselves to be the sons and daughters of India—do not deserve justice.
The rape and murder of 8 year old Asifa needs to be understood in the paradigm of widespread militarization in Jammu and Kashmir, which is the densest military occupation in the world today. The conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives so far, and continues to generate a vast range of unimaginable forms of violence, including tens of thousands of victims of severe torture, as well as the recent blinding of hundreds of young men and women who were hit in their eyes with pellets fired from shotguns. The systematic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war by the armed forces is a common feature of this militarized violence. Accompanied by legal and political impunity and zero records of prosecution of crimes by the armed forces, non-state actors too have felt emboldened to perpetrate sexual violence as a tool of hegemonic politics.
Here are some examples of cases of sexual violence that have taken place over the years. (The documentation for each of these complaints is available in various reports on www.jkccs.net)
- On 18th May 1990, an 18-year-old bride and her pregnant aunt were gang-raped by troopers of the Border Security Forces (BSF) near Badasgam Village in Anantnag. A bus carrying a marriage party, including the bride and groom, was stopped and fired upon without reason, injuring almost 10 people including the groom. The bride and her pregnant aunt were dragged into the nearby fields and gang-raped. The bride, who was suffering from shock and gunshot wounds, was held in BSF custody for 48 hours. There were no convictions.
- On 10th August 1990, 8 women were raped in in Kupwara by an army patrol of the 6 Rajput unit, of the 68 Brigade of the Indian Army. The Army was engaged in a gun battle with militants in Pazipora. All the men had fled from the village and the women took refuge in the adjacent Ballipora village. 25 men were killed in the encounter, and following this 8 to 10 women were gathered in a cowshed and gang-raped. The survivors did not pursue the case for fear of reprisals from the army.
- On 23rd February 1991, during a cordon and search operation in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Kupwara District, while men were tortured in makeshift interrogation centres, soldiers of 4th Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade raped 40 women. A recent book by five Kashmiri women Do You Remember Kunan Poshpura? meticulously documents the crime and its decades-long aftermath. The case continues to languish in the labyrinth of India’s legal system.
- In 1992, Rashid Pahloo a ‘Commander’ of the Ikhwan (State sponsored private militia) from Preng area of Bandipora was accused of repeatedly raping a girl for over four months. Pahloo would visit the victim’s house; take her to a separate room where he would rape her. Out of shame, the victim did not say anything to her family. The victim was repeatedly tortured, raped and molested by others of the Ikhwan group. In 1993, she became pregnant and died after two days of hospitalization, a consequence of rape and torture.
- On 15 May 1994, a woman in Qazigund area of Anantnag was gang-raped by two soldiers of 1 Rashtriya Rifles unit. It took the police 11 years, from 1994 to 2005, to complete investigations and submit the documents for seeking sanction for prosecution. After applying for the sanction the Government of J&K has lost track of the case and nothing at all has been done.
- On 2nd January 1997, an Officer and two other personnel of 5 Rashtriya Rifles unit were accused of raping two sisters and killing their father in Dooru area of Anantnag. One of the sisters was raped by Major Arora and the other was gang-raped by the other army personnel. Their house was burned and the sisters spent the night naked in an outdoor bathroom in the village. The father continues to be ‘disappeared’. The available documents in this case suggest that even a court-martial did not take place.
- In April 1999, a 43-year-old woman and her 16-year-old daughter from Baldarri in Doda district were gang-raped by soldiers of 322 Air Defence Artillery unit after a grenade blast near their house. They were first assaulted in their house and then taken to the camp at Goha where they were repeatedly raped for 5 days. They were then released to the custody of the Doda and Bhaderwah police where they were detained for 8 days. The woman’s sons, have on several occasions been detained in the Joint Interrogation Centre and tortured to prevent them from giving testimonies.
- On 14th February 2000, an Officer of the 12 Rashtriya Rifles along with 3 Special Police Officers (SPOs) entered a house in Banihal, Ramban district of Jammu. The mother and daughter of the house were taken into two separate rooms and raped by Captain Ravinder Singh Tewatia and one of the SPOs while the other two SPOs kept guard. The perpetrators were convicted in a court martial. It was challenged in the High Court and the perpetrators were acquitted.
- On 3rd June 2001, three women from a single family from Bihota in Doda were raped by personnel from 8 Rashtriya Rifles. A First Information Report was registered in Police Station Doda, and their medical examination was conducted in District Hospital Doda. No investigations were carried out.
- On the night of 9th February 2002, a woman from Korafali Haand in Doda was raped by armed personnel from 10 Rashtriya Rifles in her neighbour’s house, where she and her mother-in-law had taken refuge as the army men had already threatened them during the day. She was 7 months pregnant at the time and developed serious complications in her pregnancy after this incident. She filed a complaint in Police Station Doda on 22nd February 2002. No details about any further investigation are known.
- On the night of 6th November 2004, an Officer of the 30 Rashtriya Rifles was accused of raping a 30-year-old woman and her 10-year-old daughter at Badra Payeen village near Langate in Handwara area of Kupwara district. The incident sparked protests in the entire Kashmir valley. Following a court-martial, Major Rahman was dismissed from service but was later reinstated.
- On 3rd July 2004, a minor girl was picked up from her school and taken to Zachaldara Police Post in Kupwara where she was tortured. The then Deputy Suprindentent of Police Altaf Khan tore off her clothes and kicked her in the abdomen until she lost consciousness. The girl later realised that she had been raped while unconscious as she was bleeding profusely from her vagina. The girl was hospitalized for close to fifty days where she was operated upon and her uterus removed. She filed an application in Handwara Police Station but no First Information Report was filed. She approached the State Human Rights Commission, which in its final decision on 19 November 2008, indicted Altaf Khan and recommended an investigation into the case. This is yet to be carried out.
- In 2009, a 22-year-old woman and her 15-year-old sister in law were raped and killed, their bodies found a day after they went missing, in the Rambiyar Nallah in Shopian. This incident led to a series of mass protests across the Kashmir Valley. The police, after its initial investigation, claimed that it was a case of drowning. The Justice Jan Commission instituted to probe into the case clearly stated that, “it is evident that both the girls were raped and in order to destroy evidence, they were killed”. The case was hurriedly transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which exhumed the bodies of the women and reiterated that the cause of death was drowning. The CBI went on to charge-sheet the lawyers and doctors who had been supporting the struggle for justice.
These are only a few cases that point to the systematic use of sexual violence in Jammu & Kashmir and to the systematic denial of justice. In most of these cases the families of victims and the survivors have given up hope from the existing judicial remedies. Those who are fighting are often coerced into silence. There have either been no investigations in these cases, or investigations have not led to prosecution and conviction, and inquiry commissions have been an eyewash. Sanctions for the prosecution of Armed forces personnel are either denied or not followed up by the State Government. The perpetrators continue to enjoy absolute impunity.
We the undersigned appeal to International Organizations, Independent Groups, Feminists and Gender and Justice activists to send Independent Fact Finding teams to Kashmir to conduct an impartial investigation into these cases of sexual violence in Jammu & Kashmir.
We also appeal to the United Nations to send a Fact Finding team to conduct an impartial investigation into the human rights violations perpetrated on a massive scale by Indian Armed Forces in Indian Occupied Kashmir.
– Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS)
– Eve Ensler
– One Billion Rising
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