Rape molestation, kin’s disappearances, psychological trauma and torture! Inspite of the fact that the violations of human rights in Kashmir are in direct disregard of the principles of international human rights and humanitarian law including the Geneva Conventions and the protocols additional thereto, no attention has been directed to address the issue at national and international levels. An appropriate response is necessitated by the fact that the violations of human rights in Kashmir’s armed conflict have had a direct bearing on its civilian population. Civilian victims, mostly women and children, often outnumber casualties among the combatants. A study done by Medicines Sans Frontier’s in mid 2005 reveals that Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. It further mentions that since the beginning of the armed struggle in Kashmir in 1989, sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women, with 11.6 per cent of respondents saying they were victims of sexual abuse. Interestingly, the figure is much higher than that of Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Chechnya. The state home department has no specific data in this regard for the last 17 years. This serves as a telling comment on the plight of women and on the indifferent attitude of the state towards addressing the issue. Cases of rape and molestation abound in Kashmir and many go unreported because of the fear of social stigma, and of reprisal by state agencies. And even in those cases, where the victims manage to transcend these fears and report the matter to police, they achieve little or no justice. More often, police refuses to lodge an FIR against the troops.
In Kunan Poshpora, a small hamlet in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, soldiers of fourth Rajputana Rifles raped about 30 women on the night of February 23, 1991, during a search operation while men were taken away from their homes and interrogated. The ages of women raped ranged from 13 to 80 years. According to newspaper reports, on June 17,1994, troops of Rashtriya Rifles accompanied by two officers Major Ramesh and Major Rajkumar entered into village Hyhama and allegedly raped and molested seven women. In another incident, troops raped a mentally ill old woman in her house in Barbarshah in Srinagar on January 5, 1991. Medical reports confirmed rape and locals lodged an FIR with the concerned police station, but the police did no investigation. The victim later died in 1998 while the FIR still awaits action from the state government. In another gruesome incident, an army Major in Badra, Handwara, raped Aisha, a 29-year-old woman and her 10-year-old daughter, Shabnum. These being just a few examples, incidents like these are aplenty in Kashmir and ironically pass unheeded for.
The Geneva Convention related to The Protection of Civilian Persons In Times Of War, 1949 and Additional Protocols of 1977 provide that women shall especially be protected against humiliating and degrading treatment; rape, enforced prostitution or any form of indecent assault . The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in Situations of Armed Conflict states that violations of human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. Even though states are under an obligation to make grave breaches of Geneva Conventions and protocols additional thereto subject to the jurisdiction of their own courts and punishable by severe penalties. The domestic courts do not peruse the law laid down under the said convention for rape trials in conflict areas like Kashmir. However, rape is not explicitly listed as a grave breach of Geneva Convention, although acts willfully committed and causing great suffering or causing grave injury to body or health do constitute breaches.
The fact that rape has been systematically committed against Kashmiri women and that justice has not been delivered in these cases makes rape in Kashmir eligible for an appropriate legal response at the international level. The state has to be held for breach of its obligations under various relevant treaties and customary international law.
Enforced disappearance is one of the most harrowing consequences of the armed conflict in Kashmir. During the last 18 years of conflict, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation of the relatives of people who have disappeared in custody, claims more than 10,000 people have been subject to enforced disappearance by state agencies and were mostly picked up by the troops. Of the disappeared persons, between 2000-2005 a majority were married males. Although men have been subject to disappearance largely, but women have been adversely affected because of being related to them as daughters, mothers, sisters and wives. In the absence of any information about the whereabouts of the disappeared men, their wives have acquired the title of ‘ half-widows’. These half-widows apart from other relatives of disappeared persons are left without any entitlement to land, homes, inheritance, social assistance and pensions. Most of these women also suffer from harassment by the troops. Fahmeeda Bano, 37, lives in a remote village of Kupwara and 14 years back army picked her husband. She has gone from pillar to post searching for him but to no avail. “If my husband is alive I want to see him. I want authorities to tell me where he is. If he has been killed let them hand over his body to me,” says Fahmeeda.
The Indian government does not provide any relief to half-widows before the expiry of seven years from the date of disappearance. And even after the completion of seven years from the date of disappearance, they get either a one-time grant ranging from US$1,000 to US$2,000 or a monthly pension of US$10 . Further, a half-widow cannot remarry for seven years from the date of disappearance of her husband whose whereabouts must not be known in these seven years. In the meantime, the right to her husband’s property is often threatened. Some widows, who intend to remarry, largely do not find men who are willing to marry them.
Before the onset of the armed struggle, certain disorders that were not known to Kashmiris started showing a significant presence amongst the civilian population. The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD), one of the psychiatric diseases, which was completely unheard of before 1990 has witnessed a major upsurge. Major Depressive Disorder (MDO) is the other disorder. There are other mental diseases like bipolar disorder, panic, phobia; general anxiety and sleep disorders that have also shown four-fold increase as told by Dr Arshad of the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Srinagar. Kashmir newsline