Rape as a political tool
Rape in a conflict or under repressive regimes, is neither incidental nor private. It routinely serves a strategic function and acts as a tool for achieving specific military or political objectives. Like other human rights abuses, rape serves as a means of harming, intimidating and punishing individual women. Further, rape almost always occurs in connection with other forms of violence or abuse against women or their families. There are different ways in which rape functions as a tactical weapon. Human Rights Watch investigations in the former Yugoslavia, Peru, Kashmir and other conflicts, whether international or domestic in scope, found that rape of women civilians has been deployed as a tactical weapon to terrorize or to achieve a grand end of Ethnic Cleansing of the target community or communities. Rape is also used as a tool in enforcing hostile occupations, and also as one of the means of conquering a people or seeking revenge. History is evident that in conflict areas, rape of women of particular ethnic identities, is a part of perpetrators campaigns to drive these women, their families and communities out of the area, state or country. Same is the case in Kashmir, where women have also been raped and killed after being abducted by various elements.
In year 2016 when a deputation of farmers including a Hindu farmer approached Lal Singh (former Minister for Forest, Environment and Ecology) at his official residence at Gandhi Nagar on May 18 2016, in connection with issues pertaining to their orchard land, the Minister asked for the names of the members of the delegation. After knowing that the members were mostly from a particular community (Muslims), he used abusive language against them to shove them away, without listening to their pleas. “Oye Gujroo tum 1947 bhool gaye ho?” (You Gujjars! Have you forgotten 1947?)”, Lal Singh had said. In the same matter, a complaint was later filed by the farmers in the Police Station Gandhi Nagar, Jammu.
At least two to four lakh Muslim residents of Jammu were massacred by communal forces in 1947, described by historians as a planned cleansing of the community from the region. The historians say that the killings carried out by the Hindu ruler’s army and the Sikh army was a “state sponsored genocide” to bring out demographic changes in Jammu – a region which had an overwhelming population of Muslims. “The massacre of over two lakh (two hundred thousand) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS (a right-wing Hindu organisation) was brought to communalise the whole scenario and to kill the Muslims,” writes PG Rasool, the author of the book ‘The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute.’ The Muslims, who constituted more than 60 percent of the population of Jammu region, were reduced to a minority after the killings and displacement.
Furthermore when the then Indian Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah met a delegation of Muslims in Jammu, they were told about the “tragic events” but they preferred to remain silent. They didn’t want that people in Kashmir – which had a Muslim majority from the beginning – should know about it because it could have led to a mass uprising in the valley. The state from the beginning has refrained from documenting this genocidal episode. This staged genocide, because of the lack of official data and documents, and because of certain repressive measures that the state has imposed on civil society, is unfortunately not much talked about even now.
A rape is a brutal and a heinous crime. But sadly in India, a rape also becomes a political issue. The ground swell of support for the rapists and murderers of an eight-year-old girl child, Aasifa, in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua vindicates the political nature of this horrific crime. The child was kidnapped, confined using sedatives and repeatedly gang-raped in a temple. She was strangled and then pelted with a heavy stone. But rather than focusing on the fact that a child was abused and murdered, the discussion appears to have taken a different turn. The matter has turned into a Hindu versus Muslim debate in the country. It seems to be of utmost importance that the victim was a Muslim and the accused perpetrators Hindus. The Right-Wing Hindu groups like the Hindu Ekta Manch have come out in support of the suspected rapists and held protests in the Jammu, a Hindu Majority region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. A couple of ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also took part in these protests. The incident took place earlier, in January this year, but it came to public notice when the police filed the case after doing a meticulous investigation, nailing the culprits in April. However, what came as a shock was the way in which Bar Association of Jammu came out in favour of the accused. They prevented the police from filing the report in the court.
Deepika Singh Rajawat, an advocate based in Jammu, took up the case of this 8-year-old Bakarwal girl. Within days of her decision, even as many from the Bar took to the streets — some brandishing sticks — and shouted slogans against the state government, asking that the case be transferred from the J&K police’s crime branch to the CBI, she began getting threats to stay away.
From last one week or so, worldwide protests have been held in solidarity with Aasifa and the community she belonged to. Her crime was that she belonged to the Bakerwal community, a socially and politically marginalised Muslim minority community that the Hindutva forces want out of area. Her rape and murder are part of a larger narrative of communal violence, with crimes against women being used as a war tactics. As long as the perpetrator of crime is an institution and obstructer of justice the state itself, more and more rapes will happen as a politically motivated acts.
Author is Human Rights Defender (Chairman at Kashmir Policy Research Initiative) and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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