Is AFSPA responsible for rapes in Kashmir?

The case of gang rape in Indian capital has remained a focus of almost all the print and electronic media in the country, followed by the violent and angry protests at India Gate, in the heart of New Delhi. Not only the residents of Delhi, but also the whole India has condemned this heinous crime. Living their own life of peace, far from turbulent Kashmir, the young generation of the city has rarely witnessed such protests, yet it arose in anger to protest against this brutal incident. People all over India have condemned the brutality of the crime and demanded a harsh punishment to the culprits. Cries of justice for the victim have echoed in many quarters. However, this has also exposed the duality of attitude of majority of Indians. If an incident of gang rape against a medical student, on a moving bus in the capital, is a matter of grief and sorrow for India, provoking it to demand justice, what about Kashmir where many such cases of rape against innocent girls involving forces have come to fore and yet have been overlooked by majority Indians? Why hasn’t the rest of India demanded justice for these girls?

The residents of Kashmir, the “integral” part of India, which has been the bone of contention between India and Pakistan for a long time, which is still considered the most militarized part of the world, where the Armed Force (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) gives extraordinary powers to the military forces, and where protests against alleged human rights violations take place on a daily basis, have cried hoarse demanding justice in a number of rape cases against the innocent daughters of the state.

One of the major rape cases in the history of Kashmir and indeed whole of India is the Kunan Poshpora mass rape incident. A village in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara district, Kunan Poshpora, on February 23, 1991 witnessed incidents of alleged mass rape of 20 women by the Army troops in one night. The incident drew the attention of national and international media. However this was soon forgotten and the womenfolk of the village landed in unending troubles. Women who deserved the respect and honor of the society, were not secure anymore form the cruel face of the armed forces and since that incident, numerous other cases of rape and enforced disappearances have come to fore in the last three decades. Another case which shook the region was the 2009 Shopian rape and murder case which resulted in protests rocking the whole Valley and several families lost their loved ones in the agitation.

Shutdowns, curfews, protests are not new to Kashmiris, something which are unimaginable for the Indians. Importantly, womenfolk have become the victims of sexual abuse in the state. Several decades have passed but Kashmir is still fighting to restore its internal peace by achieving justice for its loved ones who have been subjected to enforced disappearances and the womenfolk who have been subjected to senseless violation of their dignities.

The root of the problem as pointed by many is the existence of AFSPA which grants special powers to the armed forces deployed in Kashmir. According to the law the forces have the powers to, “Enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it”.

Does this imply that in a crackdown, the forces can take away all the male members of a community and do whatever they wish to do with the womenfolk left behind? Kashmir has witnessed too many of such incidents.

On March 31, 2012, a UN official asked India to revoke AFSPA saying it had no place in a democracy like India. Christof Heyns, UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who visited the region said, “During my visit to Kashmir, AFSPA was described to me as ‘hated’ and ‘draconian’. It clearly violates the international law. A number of UN treaty bodies have pronounced it to be in violation of international law as well.”

Just as the rest of the country is fighting for victim of the Delhi gang rape case, people of Kashmir Valley too have showed solidarity with the victim by protesting against the heinous crime and demanding harsh punishment to its perpetrators. However, majority Indians continue to ignore Kashmir- a region where there is huge number of cases lying since decades, without the slightest hint of any justice. While the issue has remained a focus on electronic, print and social media, the incidents in Kashmir are yet to receive such focus. This has prompted people of this part of the country to raise several questions: Is anyone fighting for them? Has anyone raised the voice against the culprits involved in these acts? A rape is a rape and the sooner the nation does away with its hypocrite attitude and double standards to deal with this menace, the better it is for all the countrymen.

(Aijaz Nazir is the freelance journalist from Kashmir)