Cries of Kashmiri Women

Author Name: Maham Shahid Gillani      18 Sep 2019     Kashmir

Humanitarian crises revolving around armed conflicts and involving state actors usually have an important gender dimension that ought to be properly addressed. In this context, systematic sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence are often employed as weapons of war. According to a United Nations report in 2018, sexual violence is factored into the wider strategy of conflict, with women and girls being disproportionately involved.

Story of Kashmiri women is much the same as they have been savagely targeted over the years by the Indian military. Countless reports indicate that they have been pervasively subjected to physical and psychological torture, intimidation, harassment and sexual assault, and so on and so forth. A multitude of dastardly incidents for which the Indian state apparatus in general and security forces in particular remain responsible has lend credence to this.

The dark cold night of February 23, 1991 is an epitome of systematic violence against women in Kashmir when more than 300 personnel of Indian security forces reportedly entered the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora—which are located in Kashmir's remote Kupwara district. Precise number still remains unknown, but according to most sources, that night 150 girls and women were raped; barns became torture chambers and the next morning was marked by sorrow, pain and horror. Twenty-eight years on, victims of the tragedy continue their quest for justice. In the light of the annulment of special status of Kashmir, a new generation of women fear a recap of one of the darkest gender-based violent events in Kashmir’s history.

Announcement of the abrogation of article 370 sent a wave of jubilation among chauvinistic Indian men and blurred the line between patriarchy and misplaced patriotism; this can be gauged from the fact that just a day after annulment of special status of Kashmir, ‘Kashmiri women’, ‘how to marry Kashmiri women’ and ‘Kashmir girl pic’ topped Google trend list in India.

Meanwhile, songs on social media exoticizing and objectifying Kashmiri women cropped up, and a barrage of memes were shared on Twitter and Facebook depicting Kashmiri women as fair, innocent, dolled-up beings – objects of mere sexual desire. These sexist posts and searches on social media signify a shameless display of Hindu nationalist male chauvinism towards Kashmiri women. Political anthropologist Ather Zia rightly called it "fetishisation in the Indian imagination".

Modi’s stalwarts of Bharatiya Janata Party are at the forefront of fighting this battle drenched in deep misogyny against Kashmiri women. Vikram Saini—a BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district—openly said at an event, “the workers are very excited and those who are bachelors, they can get married there [Kashmir]. There is no issue now.” His statement was responded with petrifying applause portraying celebration among right-wingers of the idea of ‘getting’ a Kashmiri woman as if they are mere objects devoid of any agency. The deafening silence of many others provided legitimacy to such despicable ideas that would never be gain popularity in any civilized society of the world.

Reports emanating from Kashmir reveal that women in the conflict-stricken region are targeted for being involved in political activism, punished for being ‘sympathizers’ of the freedom movement, face retaliatory action for being related to men partaking in fighting Indian forces or merely being the Kashmiri ‘other’ vis-à-vis Indian state. Due to provisions such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that give the Indian armed forces draconian powers to quell dissent women are at a greater risk of sexual violence. This makes that already perilous situation much more intractable in nature.

The contestation over the land of Kashmir is playing out on women’s minds, bodies and souls as they continue to be subjected to various forms of unrelenting violence perpetrated by the Indian state.  Every house in Kashmir has a tale to tell pertaining to the price that has been paid for demanding freedom from Indian oppression in one way or another. While the women of Kashmir have vehemently resolved to stand shoulder to shoulder with their brethren to resist the illegitimate occupation of their land until the cries of Azaadi are heeded, would the international community lend an ear to their sacrifices and pleas? The paramount question remains unanswered to date.

 

The writer is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com