‘Indian people are now visibly less apologetic while talking about sexual offences by the army in Kashmir’

Published: March 18, 2013 - 18:27 Updated: March 18, 2013 - 18:32

The Justice JS Verma Committee, appointed by the central government in December 2012 following widespread protests against the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, made public its recommendations on January 23, 2013. One of the key recommendations of the Verma Committee report has been that sexual offences by armed forces personnel be brought under ordinary criminal law. While the report has been seen as a major breakthrough by most women’s groups across India, with eminent human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover calling it “a major paradigm shift in the understanding of violence against women in the country”, things continue to be different in Jammu & Kashmir.

Souzeina Mushtaq spoke to a cross-section of Kashmiri women: How do they see the recommendations of the report? Will it end impunity for armed men in uniform? Can this report be seen as a moment of hope in the infinite struggle for justice against relentless human rights abuses in Kashmir. Excerpts:

The Justice Verma Committee report imbues hope by challenging the patriarchy that lies at the root of sexual offences, questioning the police for dereliction of duty in registering rapes, and challenging the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). For Kashmir, it is not only the question of AFSPA that is significant. Without bringing in necessary amendments to the civil law, especially emphasis on protocol for the police and medical examinations, penalising cops for refusal or delay in registering cases, and without bringing a change in the mindset, it would be impossible to expect any fair outcome in the civil trials or expect victims to break the shackle of stigma and fear of ostracisation and freely come out
with complaints.

The Delhi protests were effective in the manner in which they brought the issue to centrestage but that is because of the essentially elitist composition of the protesters, comprising mainly educated people and students. However, it fails to be inclusive; Kashmir or other conflict areas are not the only ones ignored, they have also ignored the question of caste-based sexual violence and sexual offences during communal riots. However, it would be unfair to call it a premeditated exclusion since such victims remain marginalised in the way the media projects them or blacks them out, with the rest of the country having little knowledge about them.

The Delhi protests were a reflection of essentially what ails Delhi, not beyond that.

Even when cases of the marginalised and cases of sexual violence in Kashmir or the Northeast are well-publicised, there is a conscious silence maintained by Indian civil society that has been conditioned to believe that this would harm its so-called ‘national interest’.

The Verma Committee report can bring hope only in the manner it is implemented. Without putting enough onus on legal-justice institutions, the AFSPA deletion in sexual violence cases would be irrelevant. The State will continue to use all mechanisms for a cover-up.
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal Journalist, Srinagar 

In Kashmir’s case there is a systematic processing of putting the ‘other’ in place. Kashmiris are seen from the prisms of predefined or pre-imagined Indian history. The little reactions of people in India are a product of this resultant consciousness of ‘us and them’ to the point that even Indian Leftist parties act as Rightwing parties when it comes to Kashmir. The Kashmir question itself has the capacity to challenge the larger Indian imagination which neither allows them to include nor exclude the realism of Kashmir.

For me, AFSPA is not the real problem. Although in legal terms it is, seldom do cases of violence against women get to the stage of an FIR. The real trouble is the rampant culture of militarism, fragmented,
broken-down society and corruption-driven governance.

The real impunity of militarism lies in its use of land, indulgence in civil society and enforcement of militaristic rule. At the overall civil engagement level, it is the break from the generic understanding of the Kashmir problem in India; but, largely, there is not much hope to end the relentless suffering through which the Kashmiri people have been forced to move.

Inshah Malik, Research Scholar, JNU, Delhi

I believe that AFSPA needs to be revoked as it provides complete impunity to State forces. The recommendations relating to AFSPA will be helpful in shaping the discourse but not in bringing about any real change in the near future. What is of significance is the growing acknowledgement of army excesses within Indian civil society. In the protests at India Gate, this acknowledgement was noticeable. The Indian people are now visibly less apologetic while talking about sexual offences by the Indian army
in Kashmir.

The recommendations are inconsequential unless they result in legislative reforms. The Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013, has already done grave injustice to people’s sentiments by ignoring the key recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee report, including this one. No one has ever questioned the role of State forces in encounters. However, impunity in the case of premeditated murder and rape is shameful, to say the least, for a democracy. Although, there will be amendments in, additions to and deletions from the Ordinance when Parliament takes it up, there is no political will to implement the recommendations dealing with AFSPA.

The ruling Congress would obviously prefer to keep the issue lingering for now. They are being attacked by the opposition for being ‘too soft’ on terrorists. I don’t see the recommendations being implemented, in no way before the 2014 elections to Parliament. Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram has clearly said that the army is dead opposed to any changes in AFSPA. However, India is not ruled by the army. The word of the civilian government must be supreme.

Shehla Rashid Shora, Activist, Srinagar 

I do not see any hope in this report for Kashmir. The reason is that AFSPA and other draconian laws have been imposed in Kashmir. The recommendations can be fruitful for India, but they are not applicable
in Kashmir.

The gangrape in Delhi was heart-wrenching. We all share the pain; but when it comes to crimes committed against women in Kashmir, why do people maintain silence? The widespread jingoism and the stereotype of a righteous, sacrosanct jawan (soldier), fed by nationalist rhetoric in Bollywood and media, makes it difficult for many Indians to come to terms with the reality of sexual abuse by the armed forces.

Impunity will stay as long as AFSPA stays. What else can you expect when people are caged in their own land, with more than 700,000 para-military forces and indigenous police?

Zamruda Habib Anjum, Human Rights Activist, Srinagar.

This story is from print issue of HardNews