Conflict and Women: A Study of Kashmir Valley

AP PHOTO/MUKHTAR KHAN

Abstract: Through the twentieth century there has been a significant growth in the frequency of armed conflicts across the globe. These conflicts have not only led to widespread death but extensive displacement, fear, and economic devastation. Kashmir which is known as “Paradise on earth” has now become the “synonymous with death, destruction, and genocide.” The Kashmir conflict has its roots in colonialism when the British Raj sold the Kashmir to a Hindu Dogra King Ghulab Singh for Rs 75 lakhs under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846. The conflict has its due impact on the women of Kashmir. During conflicts, women are more exposed to insecurity because they are pre-occupied with the children and cannot run away to safety. Conflict destroys the safe environment provided by family and leads to lack of education, unemployment, and many other issues. The paper will try to examine the impact of armed conflict on the women of Kashmir especially those women who lost their loved ones.

Keywords: Armed conflict, forced disappearance, women, widows, deprivation, trauma, social stigma.

Introduction

Ours is a patriarchal society where women are believed to be inferior to men in all spheres of life. This disparity has even been accepted by the Greek and Roman philosophers. For Aristotle, women, children and slaves are inferior beings and accepted these as a natural hierarchical order. According to him, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, so also slave is inferior in status by nature. George Lobo describes, “The Greeks particularly Aristotle and the Stoics, developed a notion of the natural law, according to which, each being had its inherent value. They created the idea of democracy wherein the citizens had certain rights simply by being born into the society. However, the Stoics thought of humanity in hierarchical order. At the bottom were the slaves, then came children, then women and then at the top free male adults (Stephen, 2002: 12-13).

When there is a preoccupation that women are inferior to men, one can imagine the condition of women living in conflict zones like Kashmir. Kashmir which is known as “Paradise on earth” has now become the “synonymous with death, destruction and genocide” (Navlakha, 2009: 1). Kashmir conflict had its roots in the partition of India in 1947, and since then it has been the main reason for the tension between India and Pakistan. To suppress the mass insurgency movement of 1989 in Kashmir, the Indian Government brought around seven lac (7000,000) troops and implemented various draconian laws like-AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities), PSA (Public Safety Act), TADA (Terrorism and Disruptive Activities) and so on. These laws gave the extra powers to the Indian military which resulted in various kinds of human rights violations in the valley (Farooq, 2013: 01). The conflict in Kashmir has its impact on every section of society and women are no exception to it. Rather women are the worst sufferers of the conflict. It can be reflected from the fact that since 1989, there have been cases of rapes, molestation, enforced disappearances, widows, half-widows The term half-widow was coined in Kashmir in the nineties for a woman whose husband suffered enforced disappearance and remains untraceable.

, orphans, half-orphans and so on. To understand the impact of conflict on women in Kashmir, many surveys were done and which suggested that due to the conflict, the Kashmiri women have been suffering from many physical and psychological problems like trauma, depression, miscarriages and spontaneous abortions and so on. As quoted by Siddiqui in his work, Butalia narrates the condition of half-widows as quite worse than other affected women. She argues:

‘Being without an earning member in the family meant they were forced to go out and seek work, but the moment they stepped out of the home or stayed away from it, family members would accuse them of being women of bad character- a stigma that is difficult to live down, the more so when it is added to the stigma of widowhood.’ (Siddiqui, 2013: 26).

Impact of Conflict on Women in Kashmir

Like other societies, Kashmiri society is patriarchal, where women are not able to enjoy their rights at par with their menfolk. They are even denied their legal share of their ancestral property (Maqbool, 2017: 115). The armed struggle which emerged in the late 1980s for the right to self-determination, mostly by the youth of Kashmir against the India had a large impact on the people of Kashmir in general and on women and children in particular. There have been cases of both sexual as well as physical violence against women, committed by both security forces as well as militants (Nabi & Sharief, 2017). Though women rarely initiate the conflict, they are the worst victims of the conflict. There has been enormous literature available about Kashmir conflict, but little literature is available on its impact on women (Subarmanian, 2002: 02). As defined by United Nations that violence against women can be defined as, “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”(Bhat & Wani, 2015:134). The impact of conflict on the women of Kashmir may be categorized under following headings:

Impact of Conflict on the socio-economic condition of women

The conflict has a large impact on the socio-economic conditions of the state in general and particularly on women. Men are considered as the main source of economy for a family. In the 1990s there were forced disappearances of men carried out by the state and its actors to crush the armed movement, which resulted in half-widows and half-orphans. So the economic burden was thrown on the shoulders of women. Moreover, since the husbands of half-widows were not officially declared as dead, there remained a great deal of confusion over inheritance, property rights, and bank transfers, all of which required death certificates (Manecksha, 2017: 31).

To meet the family needs, women of disappeared men are forced to seek work outside their homes. But these women lack education or any skill and are hence forced to work as unskilled laborers. The physical work is not sufficient for the women to meet family needs as any health problem can lead to disaster for the family (Qutub, 2012: 260).

Besides economic problems, these women also face social problems within and outside the family. It is not uncommon for the half-widow to subsist under a cloud of suspicion. Being a single woman there is an eye over their movements and is being forced to remarry within families by their in-laws. The subject of remarriage is in itself fraught with uncertainty, with clerics disagreeing on the number of years a half-widow has to wait before remarrying. At one point, it was seven years but, in 2014, some clerics decreed that remarriage was permissible after four years. Today, there are half-widows who say they rejected the idea of remarriage because they do not believe their children, especially their daughters, will be wholly accepted by a new husband, or because they fear that matrimony will get in the way of their full-time struggle for justice (Manecksha, 2017: 31 & Qutub, 2012: 263 ).

On the one hand, conflict in Kashmir has impacted women to a larger extent, and on the other hand, the patriarchal society has inflicted grievous wounds and caused enormous hidden damage to the psyche of the women and their children.

Rape against Women in Kashmir as a Strategy of State Terrorism

It was International Criminal Tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which for the first time defined rape as the systematic use of war weapon against humanity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal defines “Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as a crime against humanity “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in 2008 and recognized that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” They also noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act concerning genocide.” The UN resolution further stressed the need for “the exclusion of sexual violence crimes from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict resolution processes” (Mathur, 2016: 105).

Rapes, as well as sexual violence committed by security forces against women, have been an indispensable element of Indian military strategy in conflict zones like Kashmir and northeast. Those who were legally bound to protect the civilian rights have been involved in crimes particularly against women in Kashmir. For two decades there have been incidents of rapes and sexual violence committed by Indian security forces against Kashmiri women such as Handwara (2016), Shopian (2009), Handwara (2004), Bihota (2001), Wavoosa (1997), Theno Budapathary Kangan (1994), Haran (1992), Chak Saidpora (1992), Kunan Poshpora (1991) and Chhanpora and Pazipora (1990) and so on. The targeting of women sexually by the security forces is a political action, so it should be subjected to public accountability. As noted by Asia Watch and Human Rights Watch in one of their reports on Kashmir “Rape by state forces is not a privately-motivated form of …abuse …but an abuse of power that implicates public responsibility” (HRE, 2016 & Kazi, 2009: 13).

In Handwara, a school going girl aged 16 years was sexually assaulted by an army man on 12th April 2016, which led to a protest, resulting in the death of five civilians by the state actors. Recalling the incident, the girl said, “I had gone to a public washroom. When I was coming out, a soldier came and held my hand… I freed my hand and ran out, weeping”. Following the incident, the girl was taken into police custody and kept there with her father. What happened with the girl in the police custody, she says, “I was taken into a room (inside the police station). There were three policemen there. Their faces were covered. They asked me what happened. I narrated the whole incident,” she said. “They told me that I should not say this to anyone because it would put my life and my family’s life in danger. When I asked them why I should lie, one of them slapped me and said, ‘Don’t you understand? You should say what we tell you. That will save you and your family”. The girl alleged that the police recorded her video by deception where she was pressurized to accept that she was not molested by the army man but by a local boy. Instead of providing justice to the victim, the police tried to distort facts and blamed the girl for the incident (HRE, 2016 & The Indian Express, May 17, 2016).

In Shopian district of Kashmir valley, the people here alleged that the security forces abducted, raped and murdered two young women namely Asiya and Nilofar on 29th of May 2009, which led to large-scale protests against the state for forty-seven days. However, the police refused to file FIR until June 7, which later was filed due to public resistance on court orders. The state government constituted an inquiry committee headed by a (Retired) Justice Muzaffar Jan on June 01, 2009 to investigate the incident and the committee submitted its report on July 08, 2009. However, it was reported that the major findings of the report were doctored by the local police as Justice (Retired) Muzaffar Jan distanced himself from the findings in the annexure of the report. Further abduction, rape, and murder of two women were confirmed by the Dr. Fareeda Noor, who was the Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Government Medical College Srinagar, who while testifying herself as an expert witness before Jan Commission stated:

“The cause of death in no way is drowning as proved by the lung floating tests that were conducted. The presence of spermatozoa on the two bodies is another fact that denies drowning as the cause of death. Since the water in the Rambi-Ara stream is running, how spermatozoa can remain on a body when it is in water for 4 to 5 hours? In Asiya’s case, the cause of death is a powerful strike with a sharp-edged weapon. Usually, the thickness of the scalp is 3 to 8 millimeters while the grave injury on her forehead was 2.5 centimeters deep which proves the attack by a sharp weapon with force” (Chatterji et al., 2009).

Eight years have passed since the incident, but there has been no justice rather the family of the two women has been harassed, threatened and put under ‘security index’ by the state police. Also, their phones were tapped, the house was under surveillance and was denied passports (Shrivastava, 2017; Mathur, 2016; Chatterji et al., 2009).

Similar is the case of Kunan and Passport-two villages in district Kupwara of Kashmir division, where Indian army cordoned off the two villages and started search operation on the intervening night of 23 and 24 of February 1991. All the men were assembled at one place, and women were left alone at their homes. During the search operation, the army men were drunk and gang-raped about 23-40 women (the numbers differ in different reports) including minors, pregnant and disabled, who were trapped in their houses. The victims were between the ages of twelve and eighty years old. The then, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah had visited the villages and asked for judicial inquiry, but it was rejected by the Indian government and instead sent a team of two members from Press Council of India to examine the crime. The villagers alleged that the team never visited the villages but the team met the commanding officer of BSF (Border Security Force) at a checkpoint and concluded that “The Kunan rape story on close examination turns out to be a massive hoax, orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as part of a sustained and cleverly contrived strategy of psychological warfare and as an entry point for re-inscribing Kashmir on the international agenda as a human rights issue. The loose ends and contradictions in the story expose a tissue of lies by many persons at many levels”. However, the victims never give up. In 2011, the State Human Rights Commission asked for re-opening of the case while reinvestigation into the crime was ordered by the Judicial Magistrate of Kupwara. But unfortunately, the state High Court stayed the judicial investigation in 2013. All the successive governments of the state since the incident in 1991 have been insensitive towards the victims as if there was no such incident in Kunan Poshpora. Even the government has failed to submit its report which was asked by the SHRC in 2011. Though more than two decades have passed and many victims have died, there has been no justice provided to the survivors (Mathur, 2016; HRE, 2016; Kashmir Life, 2015; Bhat & Wani, 2015:135).

Violence against women is a crime whether it is Delhi gang rape, rape, and murder of Manorama Thangjam-a Manipuri woman, raped and murdered by Indian army in 2004, Shopian double rape and murder case or Kunan Poshpora mass rape. The accused of Delhi gang rape were brought to justice on fast-track basis, but the perpetrators of crimes in conflict zones like Kashmir and northeast were never held accountable (Mathur, 2016: 110).

Psychological Implications of Conflict on Women in Kashmir

The women of conflict-hit valley suffer from various psychological problems. The half-widows are the most sufferers as sudden disappearance of their husbands leave them in a state where they find it difficult to meet the household demands. The socio-economic problems caused due to the forced disappearance of their husbands and the legal struggle in knowing the whereabouts of their disappeared ones further contributes to their psychological sufferings (Qutub, 2012: 270). The women who are imprisoned within the four walls of their home, they are known to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Further to take psychiatric help is riddled with a social stigma like few women are taking mental health care and others are blamed that they sleep too much due to the intake of sedative prescribed to them, and they do not take care of their children and are neglecting their familial duties (Manecksha, 2017: 32).

The women in Kashmir are undergoing traumatic conditions for the last two decades. The symptoms of stress, trauma and depression are commonly found among the women of Kashmir. There has been an increase in the cases of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages among the women. The conflict has also created distrust even among the members of the family which has led to increase in domestic violence (Irfan, 2015). Many women have been suffering from anxiety and heart-related problems. According to Dr. Arshad Hussain, who is working as a Psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Srinagar says, “the relatives of the disappeared, especially the half-widows, often suffer from Complicated Grief, Unresolved Grief, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (Qutub, 2012: 273).

Conclusion

Though women hardly initiate the conflict they along with their children are its main victims. The women in armed conflict suffer from human rights violation which includes torture, disappearance, rape, family separation and displacement. Further, the consequence of conflict leads to various lifelong social and psychological traumas. The conflict in Kashmir has led to social as well as economic insecurity among women. Traditionally the women of the valley were dependent on their husband’s income, but with their sudden disappearance, they are forced for their survival and family. The other problems faced by the half-widows were social stigma and suspicion. It is very difficult for them to seek help either formal or informal and which too is scarce. In a study conducted in Kashmir by Medicins Sans Frontieres in 2006 says, “Like any other armed conflict situation, the continuous violent situation prevalent in Kashmir since 1989 has hit the Kashmiri women in every aspect, every day due to the ongoing-armed conflict women continue to suffer. She is a mother grieving for her missing or dead sons, a widow or a half-widow fighting for her existence and the bringing up her children and a refugee to find shelter once displaced from her land”. Lastly, I quote Julinda Abu Nasr Dr. Julinda Abu Nasr is the founder and director of Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World. Dr. Abu Nasr established the Institute in 1973, and served as director for 24 years, who once said that “If a child especially a girl grows up with the idea of violence, that you get what you can by force, what kind of world will this be?”… Perhaps same is the story of Kashmir.

References
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