Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kashmir's Epidemic of Child Rape.

By : Salman Nizami

Rabiya tucked her hands between her thighs and began to rock as she told her story. The details emerged in a monotone, her face expression less. Last winter she had just stepped out of her house in sogham kupwara of kashmir province to fetch water from the well when a neighbour approached her. He told her that her father was ill and had been taken to the hospital. He offered her a ride. When she refused, he threw her into his car, his hand over her mouth so no one would hear her scream. He took her to a room in the nearby army garrison. "And then he took off his pants," she says. "He raped me." Rabiya is only 11 years old. Child rape is on the rise in Kashmir. Government officials say only a handful of child rapes have been reported across kashmir in the past few years , Reports of Kashmir based social organizations put the figure of child girls raped, molested and abused above 500 but data compiled by international agencies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International put the figure around 1000. Interestingly, State home department has no specific data regarding the number of rapes and molestation cases that took place in the state during the last twenty years. When contacted, officials in the home department say that media reports regarding the number of rape and molestation cases hardly predict the actual picture. Further, they maintain that families of allegedly raped girls hardly take pain in going to the police and registering FIR against the accused, hence preventing the guilty from being convicted.Nargis Ara of the Human Rights Organization, says that over the past five months she has interviewed 19 victims from the three districts she serves. The youngest victim was 8 years old. Nargis carries the little girl's picture in her mobile phone, ready to show to anyone who might be able to stop what she calls a new plague on her state. She is not the only one bringing the crimes to light. In this conservative Islamic state where a girl's virginity is valued above all else, rape has long been considered something shameful, something to be hidden at all costs. But as the incidents increase, families are starting to speak up, risking dishonour in order to bring justice. Families of teenage victims are airing their tales on TV hoping, like Nargis, that somebody will be able to do something. So far, little has been done. The government has claimed that it will crack down on sexual assault. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said that any rapists found should face "the most severe punishment." Yet on the same day, a man charged with the rape of a 7-year-old girl in the kupwara district of Kashmir province and escaped from prison. Three policemen, thought to have assisted his escape in exchange for a payoff, have been detained; the man has not been recaptured. According to the newspaper reports, take the case of alleged gang-rape and molestation of seven girls four of them were below 13 at Hyhama, Batapora in District Kupwara. As per a report, on June 17, 1994, troops of Rashtriya Rifles accompanied by two officers Major Ramesh and Raj Kumar entered into village Hyhama and allegedly raped and molested seven girls. Reports maintain that next day; people took to streets to protest against the incident. Even the insane were not spared. According to reports, security forces allegedly raped a minor girl who was mentally ill in a house at Barbar Shah in Srinagar on January 5, 1991. Perturbed over the incident, locals lodged an FIR with concerned police station. Medical reports confirmed that she had been raped. She died in 1998 with her FIR awaiting action from the state government. It is not uncommon for criminals to bribe their way out of prison in Kashmir . But in some parts where criminals still command, Police often refuse to register cases against well-known criminals, for fear of retaliation and more often because they are on the take. When Amanullah’s 13-year-old daughter was kidnapped in Rajwal area of kupwara district last year, he had to pay for the local police officer's Rs.2500 in order to get the officer to visit the place where she had last been seen. The officer was no help. When Amanullah who, like most poor farmers in kashmir, only has one name finally found his daughter a week later, she identified the police officer as one of her second rapists. Three other suspects worked for the village strongman. When their case came to the local police officer, he dismissed it, saying there wasn't enough evidence. More likely, says Amanullah , there wasn't enough of a bribe. Amanullah says that in order to raise enough money for all the necessary bribes, he sold his 5 sheeps for 15,000. "I had to sell them in order to pursue this case," he says. "What else can I do? I am not a pimp, a coward, to let these men get away with what they did. I will sell my children if that is what it takes to get justice." Rabia’s family knows that revealing the details of her ordeal may condemn her to an unmarried life marked by shame and poverty. But they are not seeking money, only justice. After six months of waiting for resolution, Rabia’s sister Saleha has given up on the government and is starting to wonder if the past several years of Kashmir conflict have brought any progress at all to kashmir. "If the millitants were still here, that rapist would have already been executed by now. It would have been a lesson for all," she says. "If there is no law, and the government does not listen to people's complaints, then it is better to go back to the militancy era. At least then we had justice." There are many other such cases which have been reported by state media. But with victims reluctant to come forward; Documentation of these cases could never take place. Failure in documentation of these cases has worsened the situation. According to a 1994 United Nations publication from 1990 to 1996, 882 girls were reportedly gang-raped by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. While separatists address their plight by stating that they have lost their honour for a greater cause, state government orders an inquiry which remains inconclusive and guilty get rewards for having fought militancy tooth and nail. "I know by merely giving statements honour lost by our daughters, sisters and mothers cannot be restored. They expected a lot more from the separatist leadership than what it has been doing, unfortunately we failed in pursuing the cause of our women vigorously," said a separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq Chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference . He added that cases of rape and molestation deserved more attention than custodial murders and disappearances but it never happened. "Had all the incidents been reported, the number would have been somewhere around 3000, Social stigma associated with rape in Kashmir valley prevented a number of families from coming forward," added the separatist leader. However, he said that they have been helping those who came forward and reported the incident.Ironically enough, even human rights organizations have started forgetting women of Jammu and Kashmir who have been the worst losers. In an era when focus is on women empowerment, the report recently released by Human Rights Watch has details of instances of custodial killings, disappearances, shootings and arbitrary detentions, in the region, but the words 'rape' or molestation' do not appear anywhere in the report. Various female social workers say that state media and human rights groups have not reported the incidents of rape and molestation with greater interest, hence expecting the same from international groups becomes a little harsh. When officials of the state government are rung up, they plainly refuse to talk outside the official files which have been gathering dust since long. "A case cannot be framed against anyone on the basis of media reports, Victim must file an FIR on which an inquiry could be conducted. Once the inquiry report comes, state believes in giving exemplary punishments to those involved," said a senior officer of the home department on the condition of anonymity.

The author is a Journalist, doing in-depth research on Kashmir conflict and can be mailed at