KASHMIR: Obstacles continue for women reporting rape
Aliya Bashir – WNN Features
(WNN) SRINAGAR – Indian Administered Kashmir: In conflict zones worldwide sexual violence has become a tactic of choice in – it’s cheaper, more destructive and easier to get away with than other methods of warfare.
Indian Administered Kashmir has some of the lowest official numbers of reported sexual assault and harassment cases in the region. But this does not indicate the actual number of violent sexual crimes against women. Women in Kashmir are now facing a rising inner crisis, how to speak up publicly and in court when violence occurs to them personally. Most women who have suffered from sexual assault often fear retribution by government authorities, police or their attackers.
Saira Bano, a resident of Bijbehara 40 kms South of Kashmir, is a case in point. Bano was tragically raped by a group of soldiers in her village only six days after her marriage. After the incident her husband refused to accept her back in their home at first. A year later after Saira returned home she claimed to being treated poorly by her husband and beaten often.
“Women in Kashmir do not report rape due to the fear of reprisals,” says Khurram Pervez, Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Services, an independent rights group operating in JK. “They lack faith in the existing institutions of justice and due to the social stigma,” he added.
Marriage of raped women is non-existent in Kashmir. Once they have been raped a woman’s life, as she knew it before, is often changed forever as they face an ongoing string of public taunts and loss of respect. Not only is the life of a raped woman affected harshly; the stigma casts a shadow on a raped woman’s sisters and daughters, as men shy away from marrying even a victim’s siblings.
Many who originally spoke out now prefer to stay silent about the violence to keep them from being further targeted as ‘raped women.’ Even human rights organizations may have caused negative attention to come to the women.
“The village elders say being interviewed by journalists, human rights activists, and filmmakers from across the world has brought only disrepute to the village and its women instead of redemption,” said Srinagar, Kashmiri journalist Majid Maqbool in June 2011.
Former Chief Justice Farooqi, who interviewed 53 women who claimed to being raped, offered his support to the women in Kunan Poshpora in 1991 when he said that he had “never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one.”
One of the most infamous Kashmir cases of violence against women under conflict situations, documented by UNHCR RefWorld through Asia Watch, included excerpts from the 1991 report, “Kashmir Under Seige.” The report outlines the extreme conditions of hardship and corruption that occurred from the beginning of 1990 in crimes against humanity that included 200 documented cases of extrajudicial executions of civilians and militants by suspected paramilitary in the region.
As paramilitary forces rounded-up and removed men for interrogation from their homes in the village of Kunan Pospora in Dupwar district 60 kms north of Kashmir, soldiers from the 4th Rajputana Rifles division allegedly asked mothers, wives, aunts, daughters and children to stay in their homes. During the military operation, sexual violence and gang rape against what villagers claimed was 100 women, one as old as 80 years old, were reported
But the military denied this claim.
Following the event 53 women were interviewed by the office of former Chief Justice Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi (then chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court). Official allegations of severe violence and rape were made against the soldiers while the village women, without their men, were forced to stay in their homes. But their reports did not go very far with Indian officials.
The Press Council of India (PCI) with veteran Indian journalist B.S. Verghese was asked to write a report on the incident. In the process Verghese said he spoke to the local media, the district magistrate, police and military officers, families of the rape victims, as well as doctors who examined the injured women.
One respected human rights group also contacted Verghese himself to deliver a video showing women victims who were video taped retelling their excruciating experiences.
In the end the PCI report, amid local and global controversy, completely denied that any crime occurred at all during the event at Konan Poshpora calling it a “massive hoax.”
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