Caught In The Crossfire
The Invisible Scars Of The Women of Kashmir
The impact of armed violence on women and girls has been the subject of research worldwide. Over the last two decades, the relationship between gender-based violence and armed conflicts has received international attention. The impact and implications of violence against women in conflict zones needs careful analysis. In Kashmir too, women and girls have suffered gender-based violence. Given the nature of the Kashmir conflict, the gender-based violence perpetrated by some rogue members of the state forces in the early years of the conflict has been amplified by the separatists for generations. But the gender-based violence perpetrated by the terrorists has deliberately been whitewashed from public memory.
The discrimination against women and children in the conflict region of Kashmir is multi-faceted. Patriarchal societal tendencies, the imposition of religious codes by non-state forces, discrimination on the basis of victimization by state and non-state forces, curbs on socio economic and political activities, non-participation in conflict prevention and resolution, sexual abuse by both state and non-state forces – these are the main characteristics of the conflict. The conflict in Kashmir has been fully exploited to their advantage by both India and Pakistan, at the cost of the local population of Jammu and Kashmir.
Below are some telling examples.
Banning Of Family Planning By Militants
With the inception of armed militancy in Kashmir in 1990, the first diktat issued by the militants was against women. Family planning was banned. The facilities of family planning in health centers all across Kashmir valley were destroyed.
Women were treated as reproduction instruments. They were asked to produce children without any break all through the fertility period. Some couples would silently and secretly travel to the comparatively peaceful Jammu city to avail the facilities of family planning.
If the militants got information about such couples, they were targeted on their return for daring to opt for family planning.
Dress Code Imposed By Militants Upon Women And Girls
* Another diktat of militants pertained to the imposition of dress code among girls studying in schools, colleges and universities. On many occasions over the last three decades, extremist women organizations threatened to deface girls and women who did not wear the hijab.
Instant punishment was doled out by the militants to women for not wearing the hijab. In the urban centers of Kashmir, particularly Srinagar city, acid attacks were carried out upon girls who did not adhere to the strict dress code.
Forced Marriages, Sexual Exploitation
* Forced marriages were a common feature. In hundreds of cases, girls were forced to marry militants, otherwise their families were threatened with death. Sexual exploitation of women and girls by militants or foreign terrorists became a common feature.
The sexual exploitation of the victims of violence by some office bearers of separatist organizations is a sad reality that has not been brought to the fore. These women were later given pennies as compensation. This injustice was never brought to the fore.
Because of the economic distress faced by the victim’s families, women in large numbers are subjected to sexual exploitation. Even today, in a conservative society like Kashmir, distressed and destitute women are driven to prostitution to make ends meet.
Discriminatory Approach Towards Victims
Both state and non-state forces have a unique biased and discriminatory approach towards the women who are victims of violence. The state would compensate only those women who were subjected to violence by the militants. The separatists would compensate only those women who had suffered at the hands of the state forces. Such skewed welfare measures in the name of social justice are discriminatory and divisive.
Over the last few decades, this discriminatory attitude led to unfortunate consequences in Kashmir. The state did not own the people who are the victims of violence perpetrated by some rogue members of the state forces.
Harsh Code Of Conduct Imposed By Militants
The non-state actors impose their own harsh code of conduct. Militants do not allow people to mourn the death of their loved ones, if the killing is carried out by someone from the militant ranks.
Social sanctions are imposed on the families of the victims. They are not allowed to complain and are seen as collaborators. Even the right to education is discriminatory. The children of those who have fallen to the bullets of the militants are forced to study in government schools because of limited means. Since the standard of teaching in these schools is not up to the mark, these children become victims of apathy and are not able to build academic excellence.
Meanwhile, hundreds of children who were from a separatist background got admission in Pakistan’s medical colleges and other professional colleges on the recommendations made by separatist leaders.
Women as Weapons Of War
The world is still facing the issue of gender inequality. Discrimination against women remains the political and social narrative globally. We often come across phrases like patriarchal misogyny, inequality and so on. All these are related to the larger issue of women empowerment. The narrative of women empowerment is indicative of the societal makeup. Under developed and poor societies continue to be gender-biased. Women face unimaginable challenges as unequal partners.
Even now, women in many developed societies are striving for equal rights and equal opportunities. We can only imagine what kind of challenges women face in societies marked by political, ethnic, communal and border conflicts.
The resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000 underlines the need to make women equal partners in conflict prevention and resolution. The document highlights the gravity of the challenges faced by women in conflict regions. It has been observed that the safety and human rights of women are the last priority in violence hit regions.
The Forgotten Victims
Unauthorized detentions, enactment of harsh legislations, forced migrations and disappearances are among the most common war weapons in conflict-ridden regions. Use of disproportionate and excessive force against street protesters, harassment of women and children in nocturnal security operations, molestations of women and girls are the charges leveled against states forces in almost all conflict-hit areas.
Globally, it has been observed that militants mete out unimaginable inhuman treatment to the civilian population. Based on my firsthand experience of Kashmir, I say it emphatically that militants and terrorists indulge in far more inhuman activities because they are answerable and accountable to none. They don’t believe in the law of the land. As a result, they indulge in most grievous unlawful activities against the civilian population.
Even among rogue elements in the state forces, there is fear that they may be held accountable for their illegal acts against the civilian population. The militants are bound by no such consideration. Their agenda is to violate the law more and more in order to discredit the state. Hence they indulge in the violation of the rights of all the sections of the society.
The women and the children are the worst victims of armed rebellion. Women are used as weapons of war by both sides. This leads to a double whammy. The state imposes hash legal measures to quell the rebellion. The non-state forces enforce a ban on civil liberties to try to browbeat the state.
Women and children are the worst hit because they are the most vulnerable. They face gender biases, religious prejudice, sexual abuses, economic distress, societal sanctions and emotional exploitation. The woman has to bear the brunt of the violence. Social and religious codes are misused to exploit her vulnerability and her tethering to domestic constraints.
In my interactions with female victims of violence in Kashmir, I have come across heart wrenching anecdotes of violence against women. I have tried to bring them to the fore. It has correctly been observed that war is an inherently patriarchal activity. Violence against women is one of the most common and extreme expressions of the patriarchal thrusts of war.