Sexual violence by army is a reality and cannot be justified

AFSPA devika mittal

In 2004, Thangjam Manorama, was brutally raped and murdered by Assam Rifles. She was arrested from her house at around 3 am on the allegation of being a “militant”. Her body was found a day later. There were bullet shots in her vagina and semen all over her skirt. To protest against this brutual rape and killing, a group of about 50 women had staged a nude protest in front of the Kangla fort. They had raised slogans like “The Indian Army rape us”. This protest had forced the Manipur Government to act. The Manipur Government had ordered an inquiry and submitted a report but the Guwahati High Court had rejected it saying that the Manipur Government does not have the authority. After continuous pressure, there were some developments in the case but they have not led to any result. Till now, justice has not been granted. This case was not an exception. Such incidents have happened before and continue to happen in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) has been imposed. Many believe this is because AFSPA provides the armed forces with legal impunity.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) rules over eight states in India – North East India (except Sikkim) and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In the name of “upholding law and order”, the law gives the right to armed forces to arrest without a warrant, shoot to kill any person on mere suspicion. The law protects the army persons with legal impunity. The officers found guilty can be punished only after the central government issues a sanction. This is one of the main reasons why today AFSPA has become a symbol of army arbitrariness and cruelty in AFSPA areas. AFSPA has resulted in fake encounters, rapes, torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Much has been written about how the army is misusing its power not only to disregard the civilians but also the government and judiciary. We have had instances where the armed forces have refused to co-operate even when the judiciary has taken up such cases and have been accused of destroying or manipulating evidence. Even in the case of Manorama, it is alleged that the guilty officers had shot her several times in the vagina to destroy evidence. The state government too has acknowledged cruelty of the army in some instances. State government officials have in some cases in Manipur paid compensation to the victims of AFSPA. Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had acknowledged that he felt “ashamed” of the Kunan Poshpora incident of Kashmir wherein atleast 50 women were raped by the soldiers of Rajputana Rifles in a single night. But the army alone cannot be blamed. In many cases, the central government has also refused to sanction the right to punish the guilty officers.

There is a sense of hypocrisy, when India talks about human rights, and criticizes China for the atrocities committed in Tibet, and gives shelter to political refugees. While we are proud to call ourselves a democracy, the truth is that the army is very powerful. Also, while AFSPA, an anti-human law, does permit killing, the law does not permit sexual violence. How can the sexual violence be justified at all? This should not come under legal impunity. This was also one of the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee that was appointed in December 2012 to review laws for sexual crimes. The committee had recognized sexual violence by armed forces in AFSPA areas and had recommended that the cases of sexual violence be brought under ordinary criminal law.

The army being held responsible in cases of sexual violence will, in no way, “degrade” or “disrespect” the army as the army officials would like us to believe. We must respect our army. They do sacrifice their lives for us, whatever the motivation may be. It does not mean all their acts are right or should be justified. These incidents are real, they are not fabrications and the guilty army personnel should be punished. The cases of sexual violence have not only been reported from AFSPA states. There have been several reported cases of army men raping civilians in non-AFSPA states. While this does not mean that all army persons misuse their power, some definitely do. The glorification of army and army persons serves like impunity even in non-AFSPA states. Army personnel should never feel insulted or degraded because of measures to ensure transparency and accountability under certain circumstances. But the army cannot and should not have criminals in uniform, they cannot be above the law. This is a democracy and the army being a part of the state must respect it. 

This article was published on The News Minute

Advertisements

Living in the shadow of guns: Life in militarised Kashmir

Published in The Alternative

As my friend and I went to each stall in Dilli Haat in the capital city of Delhi, a group of Kashmiris called out to us. We went to their stall of stoles and pashmina shawls. As they were convincing us to buy a stole, one of them, a middle aged man, remarked, ‘We came here from Kashmir to avoid curfew but here also it is like a curfew’. He had related the curfew situation in Kashmir, when no one would go out on the streets, to the negligible crowd that was visiting Dilli Haat.

It may seem like an illogical connection between two completely different situations, however, it tells us about the experience that the man had in his hometown in Kashmir. The effect was so profound that it has entered his language. Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, with a deployment of half a million military, paramilitary and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in addition to the ever-expanding ranks of the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP). Kashmir is one of the core issues in Indo-Pak relations. China has also claimed a part of Kashmir. In the context of these “foreign” threats combined by internal conflicts, since the 1990s, Kashmir has been militarized in order to uphold the “integrity of the nation”. But at what cost? What is it like to live in Kashmir? How is the “everyday” in Kashmir?

pic-04-kashmiri-protester-being-beaten-by-indian-security-fo

Gar Firdaus, Bar-Rue Zamin Ast, Hami Asto, Hami Asto, Hami Asto

(If there is heaven on earth, it is here in Kashmir)

This famous couplet forms the common sensibility of the masses, and to them, Kashmir poses as the ideal vacation spot. However, the valleys are as dangerous as they are beautiful. Though this is also a known fact to the common people in the rest of the country, what is unknown is that this danger is not only posed by militants and insurgents, but by their own army men as well. This has been the unfortunate fate of Kashmir.

At the time of Independence, both India and Pakistan had claimed Kashmir, but Kashmir wanted to remain independent. In the wake of the threats from Pakistan, the then Kashmir ruler approached the Indian state and signed the Instrument of Accession. According to the bond, Kashmir had become a part of the Indian union temporarily, and a plebiscite would be conducted to decide the fate of Kashmir. But the plebiscite never happened. The Kashmiris feel cheated and this has led to secessionist groups, and a struggle for Azaadi or freedom. It is difficult to ascertain if this movement for Azaadi is an unanimous voice but the discontent of the Kashmiris towards the Indian state is definitely unanimous. The reason being the heavy militarization of Kashmir that has disrupted civilian life.

The landscape of Kashmir is mapped by army check-points and camps which are impossible to pass without being interrogated. Kashmiris live in a state of constant fear of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, sexual harassment, torture, and custodial deaths, legally supported by the draconian laws – Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety act that has granted the security force personnel unrestricted power to carry out their operations, search, torture and killing of “suspects”.

People live in the shadow of guns, where every day is characterized by fear and threat to life and honour. Encounters with military and paramilitary forces begin with stepping out of their house for any reason, at any point of time. They have to show their identity card, and failing to produce one can mean torture, rape or death. But this does not mean that the house is a safe place. At any moment, the army men can come and raid the house. The night is most dreadful as the army men begin their search. In the name of searching for “militants”, all they do is to raid villages, break-open doors of  random houses, and identify the male in the house as a “suspect”.

According to news reports, during the search operations, there have been many reported and unreported cases of sexual assault and rape. One of the most gruesome rape cases that had rocked the valley was the Kunan Poshpora Incident. On the night of 23rd November 1991, the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles had surrounded the village of Kunan Poshpora for a ‘cordon and search operation’. According to the report by the J&K State Human Rights Commission (JKSHRC), an autonomous body, constituted by the state government under the Human Rights Protection Act (1993), entered the village. The men folk of the village were made to gather outside. Small groups of 4-5 personnels entered the homes forcefully. They were all drunk. They gang-raped women in the houses. They did not spare even minors as some of the victims were as young as eight years old. The gang-rapes continued till 4 in the night. A police man had tried to raise alarm for help from the loudspeaker of the local mosque but he was killed by the army personnels. The Kunan Poshpora incident had received national and international media coverage, yet the Government, the judiciary did nothing. Rapes by army men are very common in Kashmir and the rapists enjoy legal immunity.

Kashmir also has a significant population of half-widows or women who do not know whether their husbands are alive or not. There is a high record of custodial deaths, extra-judicial killings and torture. There are stories where young men are picked up by the army men while they are going to the mosque or to the marketplace, never to return again.

Because of militarisation, today, Kashmir is, what a Kashmiri youth had told Haley Duschinski, “a beautiful prison”.

This is the unfortunate fate of Kashmir. In the name of “protecting” national interests, this seems to be a situation of citizens’ rights v/s human rights. It is another tragic reality of the world. The modern nation-states were crafted by dividing territories. Since their formation, there has been a persistent struggle for controlling as well as extending territory. In order to survive, they also instilled strong and blinding emotions of patriotism. And in all this struggle for “territory”, they forgot the inhabitants of the territory. An average Indian would tell you the importance of Kashmir. “Kashmir belongs to us”, he would state fiercely. The confidence and pride instilled in the voice would mistake one to believe that the person actually cares. He does care, but only for the territory, not for the Kashmiris.

‘Celebrating’ Women’s Day

Published at Greater Kashmir

iwd

Mission Bhartiyam’s poster for International Women’s Day

March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day. By ‘celebration’ I mean, there will be exchange of greetings, SMS messages, and there will be special offers for women particularly from beauty salons and some other special programs on television and radio. They will all talk about the strength and will of the women. Some will celebrate the “sacrificing” nature of women, others will celebrate them as mothers, sisters and wives and also, of course, their struggle to have “ventured out”.  Though, it is a reality that this day has also become another archies day, what is more important and ironical about this day is that it is for a particular set of women.

Owing to the fact that some men demand a “Men’s day”, it can be said that most people do not even know the origin of this day. Women’s Day commemorates the struggle, the movement against injustice and the goals of equality and justice. It had a proletarian angle to it. This is hardly celebrated or even recognized in this celebration today. But what is more striking to me is the concept of “justice”. Women’s Day is not only restricted to urban areas but to the class of relatively privileged women in political, social and economic sphere.

We celebrate Women’s day but what about women who, leave alone rights of women, do not even have basic human rights. What about women like Irom Sharmila, Soni Suri, victims of everyday torture in AFSPA-imposed states? What about women of the socially-underprivileged castes? What about the women on the lowest strata of the society? What about the women who are forced to engage in flesh trade?

The Government, the concerned Ministry, National Commission for Women, will introduce some scheme or will as a least send out a greeting to “respect” the power of womanhood. But what happens to this “respect” when they have all been silent on the torture and gang-rapes that take place each day in the AFSPA imposed states. Why have they never paid any form of respect to the victims of the Kunan poshpora incident? Leave alone respect, they amuse themselves by seeing the heart-wrenching condition of Irom Sharmila. They have honoured the police officer with medals who has dishonoured Soni Sori, an adivasi woman who has been implicated in false cases. So who are they really respecting?

The same question also goes to the International women’s organizations. It is not a hidden reality. Everyone knows about it but no one is speaking. They are all shamelessly preparing messages to be circulated on International Women’s Day.

But besides them, the common or the relatively privileged people (women) are also the culprits. They support this torture in the name of “national security” and the bigger farce of “integrity of the nation”. Which integrity? Whose security? They allow the state and the army to perpetrate torture in these states and then they dare to go about celebrating women’s day.

Women’s Day seems to me in alienation with the other and horrifying reality. It disturbs me that most of us, belonging to this privileged section, will dare to exchange greetings when our sister is dishonoured by the state forces. It disturbs me that we will celebrate women’s day, avail offers, write articles about its importance because we are the “privileged” ones among the women community. It disturbs me that there will be special programmes on television, on radio where they will ask us, “what women’s day means to us”. To them, I would say, “it means nothing to me and it should mean nothing to anyone in this country where the state, the army and the judiciary allow the dishonor of women”.

Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

India is known as the ‘land of the miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of this “incredible india” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands the revoke of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA). The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting the law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958(enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. But its AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of the women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one of the thousands of the victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army rape us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things…they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still don’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina’s kaif new boyfriend is apparently more important a news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’..it has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?

In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…thats another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The north-east people are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India. But interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peaceful at night”, they argue.So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced..but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on the roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

also published @

http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.Top_Stories.Top_Stories_2011.NextGen_India_Blog_award_to_a_post_on_Irom_Sharmila_by_Devika_Mittal