We live in a strange arrangement of a system where crime is easy and justice is hardly awarded
What would the #MeToo stories of Kashmir look like?
The closing debate of the Jaipur Literature Festive (JLF) 2018 was titled “#MeToo: Do Men Still Have It Too Easy?” The musically charged debate discussed the influence that global #MeToo campaign has brought in gaining the public attention on the severity and common nature of sexual harassment and violence that encompasses our society. The first speaker of the debate, journalist and activist Ruchira Gupta questioned the very title of the debate and commented that the title should not be a question but rather a statement that ‘Men still have it too easy’. Sitting in this jam-packed Front Lawn of Diggi Palace, which hosts the swarm of people every year for JLF and listening the speakers about the caste-specific sexual violence, institutionalized patriarchy, judicial inadequacy and other raison d’être of sexual harassment and violence, my mind raced back to Kashmir and I began to re-write the title. The title that my mind was constructing was ‘Men in Uniform’ as an addition to the title that Ruchira Gupta had provided but none of the esteemed panelist, Namita Bhandare, Pinky Anand, Sandip Roy, Bee Rowlatt, Vinod Dua and Manu Joseph even hinted in that direction.
Time magazine named the ‘Silence Breakers’ as ‘TIME Person of the Year 2017’. Silence Breakers are those who spoke about their experience of sexual violence and harassment in the global and viral #MeToo campaign. The Me-Too movement was actually founded by Tarana Burke in 2006 almost ten years before the hashtag movement actually gained toehold in an attempt, as described by the Burke, “To help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing. Using the idea of “empowerment through empathy,” the Me Too movement was ultimately created to ensure survivors know they’re not alone in their journey”.
Following the JLF event, there again has been a certain resurgent of the similar thoughts of linking the International Me-Too Campaign and Kashmir, particularly in light of the series of events that were celebrated back to back to commemorate the strength of women folk. The Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day on February 23 and then International Women Day on 8th March. The idea here is not to restrict or manufacture a particular direction to the campaign but to highlight the greater malignancies in the system here in Kashmir that even a global movement might not be able to penetrate. The aim is to bring to light a systematic war that is being waged on the bodies of the women. The intention to highlight the arc of violence that has rendered the global feministic discourses about the sexual violence and harassment ineffective, to say the least.
The structure of violence that has engulfed the valley has left none untouched. Every nook and corner of Kashmir is screaming with the stories of brutality and suffering. Even though we know very little about these violent events but some light has penetrated through the widow provided by the particularly notorious cases like Kunan Poshpora and Asiya And Neelofar Jan dual rape and murder case. All this set me wondering what the #MeToo discourse would look like in Kashmir. The Me-Too campaign was designed to shed light on the on the wide spread prevalence of sexual violence and harassment especially in the workplaces but later on transpired into a campaign against the overall crime and brutality that happens in the shadows which doesn’t get reported or victims are coerced into submission. We have that institution form of coercion present in Kashmir were in the victims in a large number are forced in submission but we also have a system where we tried public naming and shaming of the culprits, not just that we have tried to get them booked for the heinous crimes that they have committed but these crimes were dragged to the shadows were they are being buried into legal and bureaucratic haywire of Disturbed Areas Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Acts(AFSPA) and other similar red tap mechanisms.
Let me refresh some of these #MeToo stories that is the common knowledge here in Kashmir. Everybody, at least in Kashmir has some semblance with what transpired on the intervening nights of 23th and 24th February 1991, in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora. Since we are sharing stories as using #MeToo, let me do a #MeToo version of Kunan Poshpora. On that fateful night, 4 companies of Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade comprising of almost 400 personnel lead the cordon and search operation (it was called Crackdown back then, now CASO), in which at least 40 women (that we know of since they are the one who filed the report, but various estimate states that number is much higher) were gang-raped at gun-point. Here is the detail that is not a common knowledge even is Kashmir, that “On the night the 40 women were gang-raped, army personnel also trampled a four-day old baby girl under their boots while raping her mother. The baby died after three days due to extensive injuries to her internal organ. Another baby girl, who was in her mother’s arms while her mother unsuccessfully tried to flee the scene was injured in her leg and has been unable to walk normally since. One survivor, nine months pregnant at the time she was raped gave birth to a child with a fractured arm five days later. Five rape survivors have died since, at least two of them had continuous vaginal bleeding on account of being raped, which did not stop even with medical treatment. Many other survivors have undergone multiple surgeries attributed to the rape. As many as fifteen rape survivors have had Hysterectomies surgeries to remove their uteruses according to reports from JKCCS”. What is equally gruesome is that all these rapes took place in their own home, within the familiar setting of domesticity, while some of the men were being tortured while others were waiting barefooted in snow at night waiting in-line to be tortured. How does on reconcile with the fact that a place of safety, reprieve and serenity, a place called home turning into a horror cage of eternity. These atrocious stories are not numbered in Kashmir even by taking into account the conservative structure of the society, were instances of rape, molestation and harassment was still taboo in nature and are not reported very often. Even if they do report, predominantly in cases were the men in uniform are involved, it seems to take a particular pattern. Firstly, the police refuse to register the FIR or carry out any sort of investigations. It is only when a mass protest by the locals or the news gets highlighted in the media, the police is compelled to register an FIR. The investigation, charge sheet and justice thereafter are as they say is just history. The fight for justice in the Kunan and Poshpora case (the most highlighted, on account of the availability of information gather over the years of litigation and interaction with survivors) has entered 27th year with the case jumping from Session Court to High Court to Supreme Courts and in no particular order and justice is still a distant dream.
In India, in general but in Kashmir particularly, we live in a strange arrangement of asystem where crime is easy and justice is hardly awarded. The #MeToo campaign was followed by #TimesUp campaign, but unfortunately there seems to be no end in sight, wait seems to be eternal with no chance of us chanting the Time’s Up slogan.
The author is a student of Social Work at Central University of Rajasthan.