The suicide by a young girl in a remote village in Kashmir valley’s Bandipora district last week after being repeatedly raped by her father for the past three years, has caused much outrage and shock. The father of the girl, a former BSF soldier, has now been arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police. He had also reportedly attempted to rape his younger daughter, who then informed the local residents and the police. Before committing suicide, the victim through the three years was being repeatedly pressured by her family not to reveal anything.
This incident can no way be looked upon as an isolated act of “crime” or “incest”, as some people in Kashmir are making it sound. The fact remains that crimes against women in Kashmir are increasing and there is no room for remaining in denial anymore. According to Kashmir Women’s Collective, a similar incident had occurred in Srinagar in 2017. Last year, a girl in Uri, Baramulla, was also raped and murdered by her step brothers. As a society, we are yet to come to terms with the multiple tragedies, such as of the eight-year-old Bakarwal girl, the women of Kunan Poshpora, Zalangam, and many other Kashmiri women.
The problem is that incidents of violence against women often go unreported. Such dreadful acts and their perpetrators should not only be condemned in the strongest terms but also be brought to justice. There have been condemnations and outrage over these incidents indeed, but the question that our society needs to ask itself is that it has badly failed women. There is indeed a general contempt for rule of law in our society which always encourages the perpetrators to get off the hook. legislative, executive and judicial system has failed to ensure the dignity and protection of women. Far from being able to ensure the safety of women, governments and political parties in Kashmir can often be seen providing cover to ministers and bureaucrats involved in crimes, such as rapes, molestations and sex-rackets. More than one year has passed and still we await justice in the Bakarwal girl’s case. Everyone knows about the infamous sex scandal of 2006, which allegedly involved several top bureaucrats, ministers and businessmen, but the inquiry never reached anywhere.
We must continue to pressure our governments and systems to usher in effective implementation of laws and make law-enforcing agencies more accountable in stopping crimes against women. It is being assumed that harsh punishments to perpetrators of these acts would possibly act as a deterrent mechanism in containing crimes against women. One hopes the deterrence works. But the problem does not end here. Mere protests, condemnations, or even punishments are probably not going to put an end to these acts. The real problem lies in our latent patriarchal attitudes that foment these criminal acts against women.
There is a deeply entrenched malaise in our society that often undercuts inhuman acts against women--the deep-rooted misogyny of our society where men are still more valued than women. In the recent times, literacy, education and income levels may have improved, but as numerous studies reveal, there has also been a steady increase in cases of foeticide, infanticide, domestic violence, ill-treatment of women over dowry, rapes, etc. As our regressive traditions teach us, a woman has to carry the burden of modesty and moral keeping of our societies, while men can always enjoy a leeway. As in the tragic Bandipora case, the life of the girl could have been saved but for the so-called “honour” of the family that forced the girl to remain silent. Even if a woman does dare to come out in public and names her male oppressors, it is belied by the society by resorting to victim blaming. According to Mantasha Rashid of the Kashmir Women’s Collective, “In such cases, the version of affected women is not generally believed either by the society or the law enforcing agencies.” Rashid further laments that “when the #Metoo movement in Kashmir exposed the predators, some educated men and women openly defended them…When we don’t believe women, when we support our abuser brothers, sons and friends, what will be the result?” Sadly, this kind of regressive thinking does inform our sensibility.
As various studies reveal, this is further complicated by the protracted violent conflict in Kashmir that finds women as soft targets. It is a fact that the impact of the armed conflict has been more on Kashmiri women than men. Kashmiri women have endured a tough existence under military oppression, an aspect of the conflict that has been generally overlooked by the rest of the world. Various scholars argue that the long period of militarisation and conflict in Kashmir provides the ideal scenario of an increase in violence against women as aversive attitudes towards them aggravate in an atmosphere of general impunity. The most unfortunate part is that this kind of attitude appears to legitimise violent acts against women in both public and private spheres.
Various studies have revealed that violence on the bodies of women, like rape or other forms of sexual assault in Kashmir, serves as a well-entrenched mechanism of political suppression. Scholars like Binalakshmi Nepram say that “rape, or other types of physical assault in conflict or under a repressive regime, as in Kashmir and Northeast, is neither incidental nor private; it routinely serves a strategic function and acts as a tool for achieving specific military or political objectives”. Such acts are propelled by an idea of keeping a woman confined and under submission. Since our culture wrongly put emphasis on women’s sexual purity and honour, the oppressive forces attempt to violate this “purity and honour” to hurt our collective sense of societal honour.
Since much of the Kashmiri society witnesses violence almost on a daily basis, it also mushrooms a culture of intolerance towards women which then manifests in the form of sexual violence. Scholars like Rita Manchanda argue, “Cultural violence against women gets magnified as conflict promotes macho values which legitimise misogyny.” Similarly, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, in her work Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, also interprets the predicament of women caught in violent conflicts, “Women have never been secure within (or without) the nation state--they are always disproportionately affected by war, forced migration, famine, and other forms of social, political, and economic turmoil.” As a result, gendered violence becomes too common and becomes institutionalised in the form of a general culture of impunity coupled with regressive cultural attitudes.
Even after such dastardly acts, some people nonchalantly lay the blame on the victims themselves. In the aftermath of the massive floods of 2014, many Kashmiri girls had narrated the trauma of the taunts of “blame” directed at them in the public places as being responsible for the floods. Surely, it could not have got anymore preposterous than that.
The Bandipora incident is a potent reminder of the psychological abuse that our women often face. Imagine the lives of Kashmiri women having to face double oppression in the form of patriarchy and militarisation. It is true that a significant number of women in our society have defied all the dominant stereotypes and structures to progress; yet, the fundamental attitudes towards women in our society remain the same. We need to abhor and condemn our own regressive attitudes towards women first, only then the application of laws will be effective.
The writer is a blogger and youth activist based in Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir.