Srinagar: The interface of local girls with government forces in every nook and cranny of Kashmir came into stark focus once again after Tuesday’s Handwara carnage that was purportedly triggered by one such incident. Women in Kashmir say the Handwara incident has heightened their sense of insecurity as they are victims of sexual assaults and molestation by men in uniform “time and again”.
Farheen Malik (all names have been changed), a college student from uptown Hyderpora in Srinagar spoke to Kashmir Reader of a sexual assault by a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) man at Balgarden, where her family used to live previously, near a CRPF bunker.
“It all started two years ago while I was passing through my lane. This CRPF man was urinating against a wall. He saw me coming and made a vulgar gesture,” she said. “I immediately rushed inside the house and told my cousins about the incident.”
Farheen didn’t have an inkling of what was in store for her. “Each time I walked past the bunker, this trooper would make lewd gestures and touch his private parts,” she said. She chose to ignore the trooper as much as she could. But this had no affect on him. He would take advantage of her silence and would also sing Hindi songs when she walked past. When the trooper’s advances intensified she informed her parents.
“My father and uncle went to this trooper and asked him to mend his ways,” she said. But, instead the CRPF man insulted Farheen’s father and attempted to put the blame on her. “Your daughter is a whore. It is she who seduces me,” the trooper told Farheen’s father. The angry father returned to home and beat up Farheen, and admonished her for wearing ‘inappropriate dress and not covering my head’.
“My father knew that we very weak and couldn’t fight the forces. Therefore, we changed houses and shifted to Hyderpora. My father ensured that our new house was not near a bunker,” she said.
Farheen is not alone. Most women in Kashmir have undergone such experiences. They often neither register a complaint nor can raise a voice against such harassment.
Mehreen Fatima, a mother of two, also has been a victim of sexual assault by police men. “I used to live near the civil secretariat. Every year, when the Darbar Move would shift to Srinagar, policemen would line up near our gate. “Every time a bunker was set atop our next door neighbour’s house in the attic,” she said.
She narrated an incident when two CRPF men attempted to molest her inside a deserted lane while she was returning from a picnic with her office colleagues. “It was June. I was returning home from the picnic at 9 pm. Two CRPF men tried to molest me. I shouted and the neighbours came out to save me,” said Mehreen. The next morning, locals held a protest demonstration against the incident, forcing the authorities to shift the troops from the area. “The faces of the culprits changed but not their intentions,” she said.
“Seven months after the incident,” Mehreen recalls, “the CRPF personnel molested a 6-year- old girl.” The troopers would offer her candy and play with her. “One day the locals found that the CRPF men were inappropriately touching this girl. There was a strong protest against the incident,” she said.
For tuition going and college-students, it is routine to face the lewd comments of armed personnel. Dia Khan, a 14-year-old girl from Nowgam said, “Four years ago, there were no paramilitary forces deployed in our area. But since last year they are conspicuous everywhere. It is very uncomfortable. Whenever I pass by, I make sure that my headgear is properly done and my body is fully covered,” she said. Often, she said, she heard the troopers saying ‘Kashmir ki kali’ when she walked past their bunker.
She said that even if the troopers’ language was not understandable at times, she could make out that they were talking about her.
Essar Batool, co-writer of the book ‘Do you remember Kunan-Poshpura’ says, “Every girl in Kashmir has experienced sexual harassment in one or the other way at the hands of uniformed men. But they (men in uniform) enjoy impunity. They won’t be taken to task. The biggest example of this is the mass rape in Kunan-Poshpura,” she said.
“If Indian soldiers can get away with Kunan-Poshpora-like crime how would they be taken to task for ‘routine’ stalking or sexual harassment incidents,” she asked.
Kashmir University professor and social activist Dr Hameeda Naeem said, “Police have too much interference in our lives. They have occupied our social spaces, so they will sexually harass our women.” She said that demilitarisation of Kashmir and shunting out armed personnel from social spaces is the solution for this menace.