Pattan: One morning in June 2004, Riyaz (not his real name) went to an army camp in Pattan for construction work. He was one of the labourers hired by a contractor. In the afternoon, he was called into the office of an army captain, escorted by two soldiers.
“I was nervous to meet the captain. I have no idea why I was called,” Riyaz said. The captain shook hands with him and ordered his men to leave the room. The captain then smiled and said, “You are very handsome man and I like you. I saw you yesterday and I felt like talking to you.”
He told Riyaz to sit on the sofa and the started fondling him.
“After sometime another man, a Kashmiri, came into the room. The captain then invited us to his personal room and poured in drinks in glasses. Although I declined the drinks, they forced me to drink it and said it will ‘make me forget everything’. After some time I felt dizzy and that is when both of them raped me. I remember both the pain and the humiliation,” said Riyaz, who was 19 then and had got married recently. The encounter was only the beginning of a catastrophe that was to befell his wife and child later.
At 31, Riyaz is still handsome, a fair, tall man with light blue eyes and brown hair. He has tested positive for HIV as has his wife and child. Some symptoms of the infection have started to appear in Riyaz.
Many people in the camp’s neighbourhood said the captain used to visit the village frequently and try to cosy up with young boys. He would invite some to lunch.
“Many believed that he was a good person. He wasn’t aggressive like soldiers are in Kashmir. He was a homosexual. I have heard that he would pay for sex with men and use coercion if money didn’t work,” said a shopkeeper, (identified here with his first name only), Mohammad.
“I went to the camp once and he tried to force himself on me. But when I protested and threatened to make it an issue he slapped and abused me and kicked me out of his office,” Mohammad said.
While rape of women by soldiers has been documented and reported widely, incidents of sexual assault on men remains unknown in the Valley, the world’s highest militarised region.
“Male rape is perhaps the easiest crime to get away with in this country,” said psychiatrist Hamidullah Shah who has treated the victims of sodomy.
“If you and I decided, as two men, that we were going to go out tonight and rape a boy or a man, we could almost guarantee – 99.9 per cent certain – that we’re going to get away with it. The reason we’re going to get away with it is because we know the victim is not going to report the crime. His sexual identity is going to be brought into question. He’s going to be made to look a fool in front of his family and friends. He’ll be asked ‘How on earth could you let that happen to you?” he added.
Riyaz also did not tell about the sexual assault to anyone.
After many months, the captain sent two of his men to Riyaz’s home and called him to his office.
“I was certain that I would be raped again but I was shocked when he told me that he was sorry for not having worn the condom that day and that was HIV positive. He then took me to army hospital for tests. I too had been infected. The captain gave me money and said ‘forget about it’. He warned me that I would be killed and my body thrown in a river if I spoke about it,” Riyaz said.
After he developed symptoms of TB and was asked to do blood tests, he was detected with tuberculosis and HIV by doctors at TB Centre Pattan. He was referred to SKIMS AIDS Centre in Srinagar for treatment.
After six months of the diagnosis, his wife gave birth to a baby at Lal Ded hospital. Doctors told him that both mother and baby were HIV positive.
“I lied to the doctors when they asked whether I was HIV positive. But they insisted on taking my blood samples,” he said, fearing it is only a matter of time when neighbours will come to know about it.
His wife suspected that Riyaz was a homosexual and sleeps with men.
“I told her the truth. But she refused to accept it and said I have ruined their lives,” he said.
The baby had died a year later.
“I died the day my child died. That day I wanted to get a gun and kill that captain. Who will believe me that he raped me and therefore killed my child?” Riyaz said, weeping copiously.
Riyaz and his wife make frequent visits to SKIMS AIDS centre for treatment. “I and my wife have thought of killing ourselves many a time,” Riyaz said.
The captain had been transferred from the camp in 2010. Riyaz apprehends the army officer might have infected many more.
According to Dr Shah, because of stigma attached to homosexuality and bisexuality, it is possible that a homosexual could make rape an excuse for his sexual preference and sexually transmitted disease he might contract in the process.
“However, because sexual gratification is not the main objective, a rapist may be gender blind, able to act either on a male or a female victim. An offender often pays little attention to his choice of victim or his age or physical condition,” he added.