Violence and Oppression against Women

When considering the case of victimization in Kashmir, it should be borne in mind that both men and women are victims of the complex state politics. The people have been suffering for their own dreams of azadi, which made them vulnerable to the machinations of the masters. Women being the ‘weaker sex’ stand doubly disadvantaged. The victimization of women in the state of Kashmir is intricately tied to the political situation there.

The women of Kashmir have been victims of both the State’s authoritarian measures, translated into physical and sexual offences against them as well as of the fake militants who emerged after the 1990 insurgency when matters at the ground level became complex. To quote the Human Rights Watch report:
Indian security forces claim they are fighting to protect Kashmiris from militants and Islamic extremists, while militants claim they are fighting for Kashmiri independence and to defend Muslim Kashmiris from an abusive Indian army. In reality, both sides have committed widespread and numerous human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law (or the laws of war).
People were disenchanted with the idealism and independence struggle and started favoring the Indian state which was not liked by the terrorists. The locals denied support to the terrorists by refusing them food, shelter monetary aid or refuge. Some even started serving as informers to the Indian army. This was unacceptable to the terrorists and these people were relentlessly punished with killing, tortures or rapes.
Thus, the victimization of women took place in several ways with the changing political scenario. Initially when the movement for independence started in 1989, there were violent confrontations between the army and the locals who were supporters of the cause of the independence of Kashmir. Thousands of men were killed, detained or went missing due to the severe repressive actions of the Indian government. The population of Kashmir was trapped between the insurgents and the state forces with many of their constitutional rights suspended with the implementation of the Armed Forces Special Power Act. (July 5th, 1990)

Widows and Half-widows: The huge number of missing men led to the case of widows and ‘half widows’ suddenly found in abundance in the entire Valley. According to the official Indian sources, there have been more than 50000 people who died and around 10000 people who went missing during the span of two decades (1989-2000) of the Kashmir conflict. The unofficial sources claim some 100,000 men killed during 1989 to 2005 and 15,000 disappeared. Of this, the majority were married.
Forced widowhoods entailed the added task of finding a new source of living besides finishing household chores and looking after children. Women who were aware of their widowed status were better off than the ‘half-widows’, a term coined for women whose husbands went missing for years and in most cases, never returned. They had to make regular visits to the army camps and offices to inquire about their husbands where they were harassed by the army men who suspected the disappeared men to be militants in hiding. The houses were randomly raided; women, children and elders of the family questioned and at times, unduly held as prisoners to extract information about suspected militants.

Violence to family members: Then, there were everyday cases of men—sons, husbands, fathers, brothers--tortured, beaten, imprisoned and killed in front of the eyes of these women. The women had to nurse them, search for them, bury them or else, sit back and weep for them! As the politics of the land became complex, the dialogues heated, and the actions more brutal, there emerged a reported tradition of mass rapes. The army also was alleged to be guilty of such acts frequently using rape of the women as a punishment to the men of the valley who had been rebelling against the Indian government. The infamous incidents which took place in Chanpora (Sringar) in 1990 and Kunan Poshpara in February 23rd, 1991 invited a lot of media attention from the international front. This forced the Indian government to set up an inquiry committee of the Press Council, a non-government body.
The army’s internal inquiry as well as the Council rubbished the episode as a mere fabrication to defame the army. But there was physical, economic, social, political as well as cultural violence all taking place simultaneously and women stood most harmed.

Social Implications Veiling: The women, mostly uneducated (female literacy rate in 1981 was a mere 18%) were forced to accept the ideologies of the male members and masters of the community they lived in. Also, the Wahabi brand of Islamic teachings forced on the Valley, crushed whatever little voice they had by making veiling and segregation of the women compulsory. Even at the start of the upsurge in 1989, there was a diktat by the fundamental militant groups to veil the Kashmiri women. The Hindu women were asked to wear tika all the time to distinguish them from the Muslim women. Warnings were issued, women were forced, thrown green paint at, or humiliated in public or at workplaces (which were mostly schools and colleges) if they failed to observe purdah or had their heads uncovered. The Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Daughters of the Faith, a women’s organization that fought for independent Kashmir and wanted it to be an Islamic state launched the burqa war in 1992. Its president Asiya Andrabi was the most forceful advocate of veiling women as per the Sharia (Islamic law).
This compulsory veiling of the women restricted their mobility. Coupled with limited formal education, women were left with very few professional choices especially for the urban ‘respected’ families.

Additional Burden: Women belonging to the rural and the lower income groups on the other hand, were burdened with the responsibilities—as the head of the families, as the breadwinners, as caretakers, and even as protectors. With the men of the family gone missing, women went out of the traditionally defined thresholds to search for them at the police stations, to army offices, to detention camps and haggled for hours with these unsympathetic officers.

Poor Compensations: Although the widows were allotted government compensations for their dead husbands ranging from Rs. 50000 to Rs. 100000, these compensations involved a lot of paper-work, legal procedures and red-tapism and were neither enough nor available in times of need.

Legal hitches: The half- widows had to go through a long period of traumatic waiting to make any monetary claim from the government. There were no FIRs, and thus no government help. Many widowed women were young but could not re-marry before seven years, which is the prescribed period of wait according to Islamic laws. They could also not depend upon the husband’s property as they were allowed only 1/8th share if they had no children.

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