On 8 March 2016, celebrated internationally as Women’s Day, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, gave a speech in the university’s campus. Close to end of his speech, Kumar also asserted that he would not stay silent on the issue of human rights violations. “While we have a lot of respect for the soldiers in the armed forces,” he said, “we will still say that rape of women is committed by security forces in Kashmir.” Though the audience greeted his statement with applause, several politicians and sections of the media reprimanded Kumar for saying this. The Bharatiya Janata Party Yuva Morcha (the youth wing of the BJP) filed a complaint against Kumar for uttering “poisonous words against the Indian army.” This sentiment was echoed by an anchor at the Zee News channel, who accused Kumar of “speaking like a separatist.”
Among the critics of Kumar was also the journalist Shekhar Gupta. In a tweet, Gupta said that Kumar was “losing it,” and that by saying that the army rapes women in Kashmir, he was employing the “stereotypes of the rough 90s.” Gupta then asked Kumar to “read newspapers Comrade.” In doing so, he betrayed not only ignorance and prejudice, but also shed light on an attitude often adopted by much of India’s supposed intelligentsia: it is so enamoured by the valour and gallantry associated with the armed forces that it fails to acknowledge, or even hear of, any crimes committed by their members. In conflict areas such as Kashmir, the Indian armed forces have used severe forms of intimidation—torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, kidnapping and rape—to curb resistance. Of all the tactics in their arsenal, army personnel have often turned to sexual violence as the most convenient form of retribution for rebellion. In these areas, rape is a potent weapon used to discourage resistance and humiliate the population. The intelligentsia and much of the rest of the population of India, have, through their blind spot, propagated a system of impunity that saves the armed forces from ever having to answer for their crimes. For us, as Kashmiri women, Gupta’s statement is illustrative of a long line of violent attempts that aim to protect the image of the Indian state.
The rapes committed by members of the Indian armed forces are well documented through independent investigations of national and international enquiries by agencies, such as Asia Watch, the Asia wing of the international organisation Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, a non-profit organisation. Although several rapes committed by the members of the armed forces are not reported in areas such as Kashmir due to the fear of reprisals and the associated stigma, there are reported cases that prove this a reality even today.
On 30 May 2009, the bodies of 22-year-old Neelofer Jan and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asiya Jan were found in a stream in the Shopian district in Kashmir, not far from the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) camp in the region. Neelofer and Asiya’s family alleged that they had been abducted, raped and murdered by the members of the security forces. Later that day, the police released a press statement stating that no marks were found on the bodies. However, two hours later, the police withdrew this statement. The incident sparked violent protests across the Kashmir valley, which were to last 47 days.
In one of its August 2009 issues, the bi-monthly magazine Frontline carried a story titled, ‘A Flawed Inquiry.’ In it, the magazine recounted the investigation. On 1 June, Omar Abdullah, the then chief minister of the state, appointed a one-man commission headed by the retired Justice Muzaffar Jan to look into the matter. Four days later, under pressure from its alliance partners, the Congress, the state government asked the police to register an FIR. Jan’s report, which was released on 10 July, confirmed that the women had been raped, that the location at which the bodies were found suggested that the perpetrator was likely not a civilian, and that not enough evidence was left behind to name a perpetrator. However, the report contained an annexure that seemed to suggest that Neelofer and Asiya’s family were involved in their murder. Two days after the report was published, Justice Jan distanced himself from it, saying that the police had tampered with his report and added the annexure despite his rejection of it. As protests continued in the state, the police and the government vehemently denied these claims. A few months later, the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Little came of the CBI enquiry. No one was ever held responsible for the crime.