India: a culture of Rape, a legacy of Rape
If the ‘culture of Rape’ is argued to be conventional as the discussions on sexual violence followed after a brutal case of gang rape in New Delhi, the masses are seemingly questioning the wide spread acceptance of ‘sexual violence’ as a civilian culture enabling people to pull the skeletal from the closet. The young Delhi girl raped pitilessly by six drunken men on a private bus, resulting into her death has enraged the young people in the city. People are driven to the extreme, laying emphasis on ‘freedom’ for women and exposing the hard realities of this ‘culture’ that constitute of established behaviors clubbed with prejudiced patriarchy. According the statistics provide by National Crimes Records Bureau data the incidents of rape in India have risen by a staggering 729% over the period of last forty years. This hype in the figures is indicative of the justification of sexual violence as a norm. From media to embedded patriarchy, all account for this ‘culture of rape’. While the Indian ‘Nation’ was awakening to this hard hitting reality, the people in disputed Kashmir were asking different questions.
In Kashmir; a conflict ridden territory between India and Pakistan, divided up into three parts, in a part controlled by India, sexual violence has proven to be of both cultural and political use. In tactics of war were it has served as a ‘punishment’ for entire community by involving methods of collective shaming and by demeaning the cultural ethos of the revolting community . This recent incident in Delhi has now engaged the people in Kashmir in raising fundamental questions about the women, “Whether sexual violence perpetrated on women by Indian paramilitary forces accounts for rape as a ‘weapon of war’ and also then-by default an extension of this ‘culture of rape’ that is debated in the capital city? Furthermore, the question raised is whether these are conveniently operating under the protection of ‘uniform’ and enjoying the impunity under various special laws like AFSPA (Armed Forces Special powers Act) ?
The process of militarism in Kashmir has furthered its grip in a more sophisticated fashion in last twenty years ever since the inception of armed struggle by Kashmiri people in 1989 demanding ‘Freedom’ from Indian Rule. The widespread presence of Indian army in civilian areas has always been matter of contestation. Although, the incidence of sexual violence against women of Kashmir is not a problem necessitated by the problem of insurgency, recording the history of Kashmir’s political struggle, Mohamad Yusuf Saraf in his book, “Kashmiris fight for Freedom”, and comments on the inception of this military culture that took its roots hen Indian Military first moved to Kashmir:
“Every Town in the Valley has large number of Indian soldiers to overawe the population. Free movement was extremely difficult not only for Muslim women but also women of the minority Pandit community. In November 1947 many women were raped by Indian soldiers including the women political activists”
The history of this process of Militarism that unfolds in Kashmir is a masculine gendered pattern and is marked by consistent subjugation of women ever since the year 1953, when the Indian army was first flown to Kashmir. Several incidents of sexual violence in history are indicative of this practice .
However, in recent years the process has only increased since the excuse has been to fight the popular armed resistance and safeguarding the ‘honour’ of the Indian nation. A study done by Medicines Sans Frontiers a French organization working on mental health in 2006 revealed, the Kashmiri women suffer sexual violence on a large scale. It further mentions that since the beginning of the armed struggle in 1989 sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women, with 11.6% of the respondents saying that they suffered sexual abuse. The rampant militarism which engulfs the Kashmir valley has been accused of perpetrating sexual violence on Kashmiri women with impunity. Various Human rights organizations have tried to bring attention to the endemic impunity that the military forces enjoy while perpetrating sexual violence. In various remote villages of Kashmir, sexual violence seldom attracts attention, in case of Kunan-poshpora a mass rape perpetrated in 1991, which is now making its way into media attention and cases that do for example manage to get attention, people allege government of cover up.
In last twenty years Human rights organizations like Asia Watch and Amnesty International have published various reports indicating the incidence of sexual violence by the Indian army and its increase over the years. Many such reports have indicated that rape as a ‘weapon of war’ being tolerated if not condoned by the state.
“In May 1990 a young bride, Mubina Gani, was detained and raped by Border Security Forces (BSF) soldiers while she was traveling from the wedding to her husband's home. Her 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” --- Rape in Kashmir, a crime of War; the Asia Watch Report
The recent movement against sexual violence in India has focused on forming tougher Laws to deal with the issue, while in Kashmir’s case; laws are either never used or completely employed against the survivors. Government officials unfailingly attempt to dismiss the testimony of the women by accusing them of being militant sympathizers. About the implication of Indian soldiers Asia Watch Report comments:
“The prosecution of two soldiers for the rape of a Canadian tourist in October 1990 is the only case of criminal prosecution which the Indian government has made public. The soldiers were sentenced to prison terms, but as of April 1993, the soldiers remained in barracks and the case was on appeal”
The argument that is often employed to push the deeds of Indian forces in Kashmir under a dormant cover are by comparing it with the rapes committed by the armed militants over the years. Several women’s right Many Human rights reports have often concluded that in comparison to the Indian army the violence perpetrated by the militants against the woman is far less. Indian government claims the level of insurgency has considerably lowered over past five years. However people claim incidents of sexual violence have hardly come to a halt. The Kashmiri people have employed non-violent method of protest in recent years and year 2009 is marked with the ‘protest against sexual violence’ and murder of two girls, Asiya and Nelofer in Shopian by the Indian army personals. Yet again the case met with burdensome process of enquiry ending the matter where it always ends, “no justice delivered”. Further, the prosecution process even if it kick starts in few cases, often is hurdled by the attacks on even medical care providers, who testify sexual violence has been committed on the victim. In many cases the care providers are forced to retract statements says Asia Watch report.
In the wake of the recent emphasis and caution over sexual violence committed in civilian spheres many Kashmiris went online expressing their concern over the indifference towards Kashmiri women by Indian Army and by Indian government by following the policy of inaction. The Indian civil society is now casually engaging in tagging along the issues of Kashmiri women as a variant motif in the dominant meta-narrative of Indian civil society. However, the problems of Kashmiri women are in part and whole embedded in the rampant militarism. The culture of Militarism; a culture of rape that has a ‘gun’ and a ‘phallus’ tucked in on a female body of Kashmir, defending the ‘Women, Nation and honour’ of its own.
Inshah Malik is a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She also wrote her Mphil Thesis on “Impact of On-going conflict on Muslim women in Kashmir” submitted in TISS. She has continuously written on issues of Gender, Militarism and People’s movement. She is currently writing her PhD thesis on “Women’s agency in Kashmir’s freedom protests