Kashmir since the occupation: Sexual violence and its survivors
Since the occupation began in 1989-1990, Kashmiris have experienced a high incidence of violence, including extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearance, and incarceration
There is increasing litigation and political agitation around the world over sexual violence committed by military forces. Social stigma and shame about mass rape and sexual slavery are being shoved aside by a new spirit of defiance that sees them as torture and war crimes especially targeting women and children.
What changed is that women survivors and human rights advocates began to come forward in large numbers to demand justice. The most prominent cases are against the Japanese military for sexual slavery involving over 400,000 “comfort women” from countries occupied by Japan during WWII; against the Guatemalan military which in the 36-year civil war between 1960 and 1996 raped over 100,000 Mayan women and forced thousands to work shifts at military bases as sexual slaves; and against the Indian military claiming impunity for the 1991 gang rape and torture of women and girls at Kunan Poshpora as well as countless other individual and mass rapes.
Military sexual violence in Kashmir has a comprehensive character because the Indian military occupation of Kashmir has gone on for nearly 30 years and because there is such a heavy concentration of troops—estimated to be one soldier to seven Kashmiris. It involves every aspect of the problem: rape—including widespread gang rape—child rape, male and female rape, along with sexual slavery and pervasive sexual harassment. Its effects on social life and psychological equilibrium, especially for the young, must be overwhelming and terrifying and, in fact, there are several reports that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic, phobia, sleep disorders, depressive disorders, even addiction, and stress-related physical maladies are prevalent among Kashmiris—but is especially high among women.
Sexual harassment as an instrument of intimidation:
Women and young girls have to sustain the indignities and terrors of soldiers’ verbal taunting, cat-calling, leering and staring, suggestive gestures, pawing and stalking. For young girls with developing sexuality and social modesty, this must be a living hell of humiliation and degradation because they are powerless to object lest they be assaulted or arrested. Helplessly witnessing your beloved or others go through this daily must create extreme anxiety and stress conflicts.
Rape as an instrument of repression and social control:
Since the occupation began in 1989-1990, Kashmiris have experienced a high incidence of violence, including extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearance, and incarceration. Sexual violence is routine and considered one of the most pervasive in conflict zones around the world. Rape under military occupation is recognised as a sexualised form of torture which overwhelmingly targets women and children but includes men who sustain sexual torture in prison. It affects all who see their mothers, wives, daughters, and other beloved violated and who feel helpless to resist it.
Statistics of military rape in Kashmir are not reliable, especially of individual rapes by soldiers, but what is known and recorded by Kashmiri human rights activists shows it to be widespread and sadistic. Some estimate that there are about 500 rapes every year. The majority go unreported because of social stigma and shame but also fear that, if reported, victims and their families will be subject to abuse and reprisals for impugning the occupying army. After 28 years of occupation, it is also abundantly clear that no action will be taken against the military perpetrators so there must seem little point to filing a criminal complaint.
There are countless documented cases of gang rapes and brutal murders. The most infamous case is February 23, 1991, gang rape and torture at Kunan Poshpora involving elderly women, young girls, pregnant women, as well as the torture of men. The Indian government had successfully stonewalled justice on this monstrous human rights crime for 22 years, but on the anniversary of Kunan Poshpora in 2013, Samreena Mushtaq, who had documented sexual violence cases for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), along with other activists petitioned the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to reopen the case and a magistrate ordered a new investigation. In 2015, Mushtaq and four other women activists wrote “Do you remember Kunan Poshpora?” as an exposé of the character of the crime and the cover-up by the Indian state and armed forces. Activists have also designated February 23 as ‘Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day’ so legal action will be augmented with political action which can be memorialised around the world in solidarity.
Stonewalling and impunity are where the politics of rape come in. These mass rapes are not cases of undisciplined troops on a sexual crime spree but are methodically calculated and orchestrated military operations to socially fracture and politically demoralise the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. The chief instrument of military impunity is the draconian law called the ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act’ which legalises extrajudicial killings and prevents prosecution of military and paramilitary forces so that not a single soldier has ever been prosecuted for rape or murder.
None of the cases cited here have received anything close to justice; all are still being fought out and there are thousands more sexual crimes associated with the military in countries around the world. But activists are now challenging sexual violence as an instrument of war which is part of opposing war and occupation, and are showing that social stigma and shame will not be a deterrent to fighting for justice but only inspire them to fight harder.
Kashmiri activists are showing particular boldness and it will be an honour to commemorate Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day with them on February 23, 2017.