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

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When Cricket ‘Threatens’ The ‘Integrity’ Of A Country

KASHMIR-WEB

“Where the head is held high and mind is without fear”, wrote Noble Prize Winner and Renowned Poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore doesn’t need an introduction for any Indian. The nation respects him and his thoughts. However, today it turns out that the nation that derives or rather claims to derive inspiration from his thoughts, have reduced this thought to mere words.

The reference is to the action of the State Government of Uttar Pradesh and Subharti University (a private university in meerut) taken against the kashmiri students who cheered for the Pakistani Cricket Team. Both the government and the university have maligned the concept of fearless minds. They have instilled fear in the minds of the citizens who shall now think before praising any country for any reason.

For the state government regarded the act of praising Pakistani cricket team and cheering upon its victory to be so dangerous that it booked the students with the charge of sedition. Similarly, the university had expelled these students. It had also not taken into account the fact that other students in their protest against the act of kashmiri students had broken windows and vandalised their hostel rooms. For it, their act was much more dangerous than their right to life that was also under threat. Isn’t that a problem?

This incident has several other aspects to it.

VIOLATION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

A very basic thing that comes to one’s mind is that it is clear violation of freedom of expression. They were merely expressing their choice and preference. How can a government tell us whom we should cheer for? Will the state now govern our choices and preferences? It is yet another blot on the world’s largest ‘democracy’.

Also constitutionally speaking, supporting Pakistan or any country with whom we have a diplomatic relation and which India has duly recognized as a sovereign state, in no way constitute any crime unless and until it coupled with hatred or motive to destruct and a will against the Elected Indian Government or Constitution.

EXPRESSION OF RESISTENCE

While it cannot be assumed that kashmiri students were cheering for Pakistani cricket team as a way to show their resistance against Indian oppression. However, even if they were, I think India should care more much about the oppression than the expression of resistance against it. They should be bothered more about why they are protesting.

Another point is that even if it was an expression of resistance can this method be seen as seditious? Cricket is afterall a game, just that and if not then may be we should start solving our international issues through it.

INCREASING STATE’S ROLE

If we accept this today, let’s be prepared for more such acts. Today, they do it with Kashmir and so we are silent but tomorrow, the state will come up with more definitions of sedition.

IS SEDITION ONLY FOR THE CITIZENS?

If merely speaking or cheering in favor of another country or condemning one’s own country counts to sedition, then there have been innumerable situation wherein the Indian government itself should to be charged under sedition. Violating human rights of kashmiris, applying force on peaceful demonstrations of people and suppressing vioces should come under sedition because it degrades the fundamental essence of democracy that are the citizens.

EDUCATION SYSTEM AND NATIONALISM

The action taken by the university clearly shows how we are generating hatred, intolerance and radicalism through our knowledge-systems. Our knowledge systems should emphasise on the values of equality, justice and humanity. They should not become an apparatus of the oppressive state.

HARMING THE ‘DEMOCRATIC’ IMAGE OF INDIA

Needless to say, this incident has also raised questions on the country in the international sphere. The country or the so-called democracy is being condemned for this shocking and unacceptable reaction.

As we noted, this incident raises several issues. It forces us to think that where are we heading to? 

 This article was published on Countercurrents and Kashmir Times dated 9 March 2014.

Kashmir: A People and Region torn between Two Maps

It was in the 18th-19th century, in the British period, that cartography came to India. It was in this period that a map was drawn for India. It wasn’t simply a map – it had given British India a marked and formally recognised territory. Since then, India has been quite protective about it. So post-independence and partition, India had claimed all the regions that constituted the map of British India. It has also tried to extend it, make the map bigger. Today, India is among the largest nations, or rather one should say, India has one of the largest maps in the world.

But in its quest for a bigger map, India doesn’t seem to mind being inauthentic. It doesn’t mind having a map that does not reflect the reality. This points to the region of Kashmir that is actually a part of Pakistan. The region in question is what is called ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’ in India and ‘Azad Kashmir’ in Pakistan. In the first India-Pakistan war (1947-49), Pakistan had conquered one-third of Kashmir. But still India has not recognised it. It has refused to make any changes in its big map. The entire Kashmir is shown as a part of India.

It seems to be a paradox as this is the same India which has created such an uproar about Arunachal Pradesh being shown in the map of China. While India cannot tolerate Arunachal Pradesh being shown in the map of China, it has parts of Kashmir that are formally with Pakistan.

So how does one read this? For this, we must look at the importance that any country attaches to the map. The map is an epitome of a nation-state. It marks its territorial sovereignty. Maps are serious and sensitive pieces of paper. India, like other countries, attaches a high value to it. For India and Indians, the map of India is and should be fixed. Any change in it would mean the collapse of the entire nation-state. Failing to reflect the reality post the India-Pakistan war of 1947, shows this sentiment. The unchanged map serves to reflect the notion that India was, is and has to be, a unitary and bounded nation-state, even though it is just an illusion.

The unchanged map shows India’s refusal to accept or acknowledge that some parts of Kashmir were conquered over by Pakistan. The use of the word “occupied” in “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” also shows that India considers Kashmir to be a part of India. In such a scenario, can India and Pakistan really resolve the Kashmir issue? When India has already claimed Kashmir to be its part, what solution can they arrive at?

The world atlas reflects the reality. It shows Azad Kashmir and the region of Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Pakistan. But India is adamant about it, as though if it doesn’t change its map the reality would change. Speaking of reality, beyond these imaginary boundaries lies the reality of a terrible life that people in Indian Kashmir live, or rather, survive. In the name of protecting the ‘sovereignty’ of the nation, Kashmir is ruled by draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) which has changed the meaning of ‘normalcy’. The ‘normal’ in Kashmir is characterised by heavy militarisation, check-posts on every corner of the street, fake encounters, torture and rape. Kashmiris live in the shadow of guns. They live with the constant threat to their lives and honour. This seems to be the cost that they are incurring to keep the map of India intact.

It is tragic that people seem to be more concerned about the map than about the people inhabiting the region. The unchanged map also points out that there remains a possibility that India may try to recover the territories that were taken over by Pakistan. But in this ongoing struggle over the maps, who is suffering? What is at stake? It is not the map, not the nation, but common lives. It is time that India should leave this hypocrisy and reflect the reality in the map. The entire Kashmir is not a part of India and in the part that is, India should respect the inhabitants of the land, and not the land. Life is more important than a map. Let there be peace. If it is the question of being fair, let the people of the land decide for themselves. Let them re-draw the map if they have to. Kashmir is not just a territory to be acquired; it is not just a barren land, a battle field and a mere location on a map. It is a region with human lives. 

This article was published on South Asia Monitor and they have the copyright. 

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

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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”.

Afzal Guru or our democracy…who was hanged?

Published at Greater Kashmir 

afzal guru

This is not a direct appeal for abolishment of capital punishment though it does raise questions on it. Afzal Guru was one of the accused in the 2001 parliament attack. After 12 years, today early in the morning, he was hanged till death.

As justice was buried, there was an outpour of reactions, carefully sorted and handpicked by the news channels across the nation. The ruling party pated its own backs and talked about the need to take this “crucial” step. The largest opposition party, BJP, expressed its “relief” even though it meant that another point on their agenda has been dismissed but nevertheless they criticized Congress for the delay. People rejoicing or expressing relief that finally, “justice” has been done.

Afzal Guru was given the death penalty way back in 2002. It was upheld in 2006 by the Supreme court and then after a series of approval, on the republic day, this year, the President passed the recommendation to depart justice in the country.

Yes, today, justice was buried, it departed. And this does not involve just a questioning of whether this would mean the end of terrorism or insurgency. It has re-iterated questions on the world’s largest democracy to have denied the right to free trial, the right to present his case and the right to prove his innocence.

Afzal Guru was presented as the biggest terrorist in the country, even “bigger” than Ajmal Kasab. And this charge suppressed any voice to counter or question it. There have been several debates on his case on major news channels. However, the debates were mostly on the death sentence and not on the hard facts that render him innocent and another victim of dirty and communal politics.

When in 2006, Afzal Guru’s execution date, time and place was announced, there were widespread protests in Kashmir. The protests involved thousands of men, women and children taking to streets. The protests continued for several days and had also involved several political parties and leaders of the Kashmiri movement for self-determination. There is also a SaveAfzal Guru Campaign that primarily demanded for his right to be heard, to present his story and for justice.

More importantly, let’s focus on the innumerable petitions that were filed by Afzal Guru himself. These petitions were not petitions of mercy. Here are some excerpts from a petition submitted in 2006 to the then President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam:

“It is true that I did not file any petition before you but it was not out of any arrogance or ill will. I had no hope of getting justice. Besides, I was told that my lawyers would be filing a curative petition and I was hoping that I may still get justice from the Supreme Court. But my lawyers did not file any such petition and instead my death warrant was issued.”

“I am aware that there is one other argument being given for hanging me. They say I have not shown remorse or begged for forgiveness. Your Excellency, I cannot ask for forgiveness for something that I have not done.”

I take this opportunity to write to you, the President of India as a Kashmiri because very few kashmiris get an opportunity to be heard.”

In his petition, he narrated the daily experiences of a kashmiri. He had joined the secessionist movement to demand freedom and the right to basic human rights for his people but he himself had surrendered to the Border Security force, only to face a life of torture and indignity. In his petition, he exposed the corrupt and inhuman treatment by the Security Task Force.

One of the allegations that he was charged with was that he knew the people who were involved in the attack. To this, he said:

“It was these officers of the STF who used me and introduced me to one Mohammad who was one of the persons who attacked the Indian Parliament. I do not know who this Tariq was and I did not know what the plot was. I became involved in the conspiracy to attack Parliament without my knowledge, intention or willingness. Your Excellency, I was made a scapegoat by the investigating agencies because they could not catch the real masterminds behind the attack”, petitioned a MBA-degree holder.

In the petition, he exposed the truth of the investigating agencies, the torture and how he was falsely implicated in cases to “crack” the case. He provided his side of the story, the evidence and the loopholes in all the charges that he was accused of. According to him, he was never given a proper lawyer. According to him, out of 80 prosecution witnesses, only 22 were cross-examined by the advocate appointed to “represent” him.

Besides his petition for a fair trial, there is a need to look at the findings and the verdict of the Supreme Court of India. Quoting from several newspaper clippings and the publication “The Afzal Petition – A quest for justice”:

“The Supreme Court did not award Afzal the death penalty because he was the mastermind or because he was involved in killing any of the security personnel or even of actually planting any bombs. The charge sheet did not have his name. The five accused who had carried out the attack were all Pakistanis, though no proof of their identity was produced. Therefore, it is clear than even the prosecution did not accuse Afzal of being involved in the actual attack, killing or planting. Infact, there was no evidence at all that Afzal belonged to any banned or illegal organization. He was acquitted of charges of belonging to any terrorist organization.”

But he was hanged till death with the logic given by the Supreme Court that:

“The incident, which has resulted in heavy causalities, has shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender”.

He was hanged, said the Supreme Court, to “satisfy” the collective conscience of the society. What conscience is this? Re-iterating the inhuman practices of the past to impart “justice”?

We need strict laws but not the barbaric and inhuman ones. There is also a need to ensure that the innocent do not get targeted. There is a need to check on the corruption and the biases in the legal and judicial proceedings. 

Most importantly, we need to strike the roots. Even if Afzal Guru was really a terrorist, we must remember that terrorists are not out of this society, they are a creation of this very society. There is a need to reform the society, a need to attack these forces of inequalities, hatred and religious fundamentalism.  

With remorse, I have written this piece. We have “granted” death to a man who may have been completely innocent. ButAfzal Guru was not the first person who has met this fate. He was one of the many who has died as a victim of communal and corrupt politics, as a victim of extreme and blinding nationalism and another blot on the ‘secular’, ‘democratic’ republic of India.