In conflict regions such as Kashmir where everything is seen through the prism of terrorism and security, there has hardly been a mobilisation to secure justice for women who have been wronged.
Srinagar: On a cold December morning, the family of 65-year-old Noor was mourning the death of their 21-year-old daughter who had been abducted from a marriage party by two men in October and then raped. After the incident, she was admitted to a hospital in Srinagar where she fought for almost a month before succumbing to multiple-organ injuries.
In the last week of October, Noor’s daughter, a final year Arts student, had gone to their relatives’ house to attend the wedding of her cousin, in the Akhal hamlet in the same district. On October 31, at around 10 am, the young woman had left to collect the wedding dress of the bride. As she was returning, two men abducted her. “After they kidnapped her, they took her to a dense orchard where they raped and brutalised her,” recalls one of her relatives.
The woman was found in a partially conscious condition lying on the ground by the locals. She was taken to the Kulgam district hospital where the doctors referred her to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS) in Srinagar in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
As per Dr Farooq Jan, medical superintendent at SKIMS, the woman was brought in a critical condition. She succumbed to injuries on November 27 after spending a month in the intensive care unit (ICU).According to the family, the woman was brutally assaulted. The details shared by the family members and villagers have been graphic. “What was done to her is not expected from humans. She was beaten, tortured and was choked using the thread of her amulet that she used to wear on her neck. Her tongue was slit. We cannot even imagine the pain she was subjected to,” said a close relative.
As per this relative, the two accused wanted to kill her, but some locals spotted them and caught them committing the crime. They were handed over to the police later.
Violence against women in the Valley
The official data from the crime branch, Srinagar, paints a grim picture of the struggle rape survivors have to face while fighting their cases legally, which can go on for several years. Data for the last six years (until March 2019) reveals that 1,046 rape cases in Jammu and Kashmir are currently under trial, of which 831 are pending since 2014. Around 820 of these under-trial cases involve victims who are minors.
The year-wise data and pendency rate, compiled by the crime branch of the erstwhile state, a copy of which has been accessed by this author, suggested that in the first three months of 2019, 64 rape cases were registered in J&K, of which 33 included minor victims. The data depicts that the conviction rate in the last six years is less than 5%.
According to a news report, in 2020 until April, the J&K administration has submitted a report in the court which reveals around 16 cases of rape and 64 cases of molestation were reported in the union territory of J&K during the lockdown period. The data exposes how crimes against women have become a norm, which was otherwise seen as an exception in J&K.
In 2014, the data shows that 352 cases, 265 of which involved minors, were registered. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, 312 (251 minor), 263 (204 minor), and 314 (213 minor) cases were registered respectively. The number of rape cases registered during 2018 was 359, of which 273 were minor.
An uncomfortable silence
The brutal rape and murder of the 21-year-old were followed by an uncomfortable silence in Kashmir. Although there were a few protests organised by the locals demanding strict and immediate action against the rapists and killers of the 21-year-old, the incident has not garnered attention at the union territory and national levels.
“There is no explanation about this silence. Has our society become impervious to such gruesome acts? The valley was known for its morally upright culture, but now it seems that no one cares anymore,” says the elder sister of the deceased pointing at the increasing acts of violence against women in the union territory.
Kashmir-based women’s rights activist Ezabir Ali fears that this strange silence will only increase the violence.
“Local news agencies have hardly followed up on the incident that took the life of a young girl. It clearly reflects that people are not making any hue and cry because the accused is one amongst us. If it would have been an outsider, there would have been a lot of noise around it,” Ali rues.
Ali believes that such indifferent behaviour of the society towards such violent cases will shrink the spaces for women in society. “This will certainly restrict the mobility of women and girls. They will not be ‘allowed’ by their families to step out alone,” she explains.
Prevalence of sexual violence in Kashmir
A few days after the death of the 21-year-old student, another similar crime was reported at Devsar in Kulgam district. A 17-year-old girl was raped. The incident recorded on a mobile phone was later shared by the accused on social media platforms. The police, however, acted quickly and arrested the accused within a few hours.
According to Nayeema Mehjoor, former chairperson, state’s women commission, “Earlier in the Valley, criminals accused of sexual harassment were treated with utmost disgust and disrespect. The incidences of rapes, however, have started increasing in the last few decades. There were some incidences that shook the entire Valley.” She feels that in conflict regions, where everything is seen through the prism of security and terrorism, women are worst affected.
Fear among women
The brutal rape and murder of the 21-year-old has not only left village women in shock but has jeopardised their freedom.
“After this incident, we fear going out in the fields. If it is absolutely necessary, we leave in groups and usually accompanied by men from our families,” says one of the village women.
“I am enrolled in the second year of graduation at a degree college, Kulgam. Post this incident, my parents have categorically told me that I cannot step out even for my studies. For them, my life is more important than anything else,” shares another cousin of the victim.
The accused in the case have been identified as 18-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar and 24-year-old Waseem Ahmad Dar. Both are residents of Ashmuji village in Kulgam. “Both of the accused are orphans. Waseem has been a bus driver while Adil is has studied till Class X. Both of them have a history of drug use,” says a local on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s been over a month since the incident and five days [at the time of this interaction] after her death. The accused are safe in the police custody while my sister is in the graveyard,” says the elder sister of the victim. The family demands swift action to ensure justice for their dead daughter.
Station house officer (SHO), Devsar, Jazib Mohammad did not reveal the charge sheet and cause of death. However, he says that the two accused in the case are in their custody since the incident took place and will be presented in the court soon. They have been booked for abduction, rape and assault among other charges. After the death of the girl, the police added Section 302, murder, to the charges.
“We still have 25 days left to file the charge sheet in this case. The investigation is still going on,” the SHO adds.