By Seema Kazi
Dear General Hooda,
Now that the truth of abuse by soldiers under your command in Handwara has been publicly affirmed by the victim herself, your moral authority and that of the institution you represent is well and truly in shreds. Your institution’s attempt to employ the police as handmaiden-in-crime in order to redeem the Army’s deeply tainted and sullied-with-blood reputation in Kashmir is as condemnable as it is disgraceful. Deceit, duplicity and forced detention were the weapons your institution chose to employ to mask and bury the truth in Handwara. But alas, despite the plan to cover up the truth through illegal detention of a minor, and the equally illegal circulation of her coerced statement absolving your personnel of any wrongdoing, Handwara’s young victim did not succumb to the untruth forced upon her by Army Command and police authority. And the truth Sir, if you happen not to know it already, is that Handwara’s young victim was subject to the advances of a soldier whose job it is to guard territorial frontiers, not prey upon civilian women.
Handwara is but a microcosm of a larger, overarching truth which is that the presence of soldiers across the length and breadth of the Kashmir Valley since 1990 has been terrifying and catastrophic for the women of Kashmir. The history and legacy of sexual crimes against Kashmiri women by Army personnel is best symbolized by the tragedy of the women of Kunan Poshpora who were raped by soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles 68 Mountain Brigade in 1991, and whose brave and dogged struggle for justice is subject to persistent stonewalling and wilful delayby Army authorities in the courts of Kashmir. Harsh Mander, one of India’s best known activist-scholars categorised Kunan Poshpora as the single largest case of mass sexual violence in independent India (The Hindu, 9 July, 2013). More empirical evidence for similar sexual crimes is available at Jamir Qadeem (Sopore, 1990); Anantnag (1990); Chhanpora (Srinagar, 1990); Panzgam (District Pulwama, 1990); Trehgam (Kupwara, 1990); Chak Saidpora (District Pulwama) (1992); Haran (near Srinagar1992); Hyhama (Handwara, 1994); Gurihakhar (Handwara); Kangan (Ganderbal, 1994); Wavoosa (near Srinagar,1997); Bihota (Doda, 2001); Pahalgam (2002); Zachaldara (Handwara, 2004); Shopian (2009); Gujjardara-Manzgam (Kulgam, 2011).
The grisly compendium of rape of women in Kashmir by Army personnel is a permanent blot on the integrity and reputation of your institution.Having forsaken principle, truth and justice in favour of untrammelled power and unquestioned hegemony over land and people in Kashmir, you and your forces continue with your extra-legal, non-military mandate to erase the truth regarding crimes committed by Army personnel while bludgeoning and battering a people who wish to be rid of an ugly, squalid and brutal occupation.
After your soldiers murdered five unarmed Kashmiri civilians in Handwara, you termed the Handwara incident as “highly regrettable.” Regret, not remorse for murdering Kashmiri civilians. Soldiers’contempt for Kashmiri life as indeed their contempt for Kashmiri women’s dignity exemplify the bestial character of the Army’s AFSPA-backed imperial overlordship over Kashmir. Now that the ugly truth of the sexualisation of a military occupation in Kashmir is out in the open yet again, is it not “regrettable” Sir, that the authority of your institution and the State it represents can only flow from bayonets, bullets, the spilling of Kashmiri blood, and unashamed peddling of untruths by the world’s fourth largest Army?
— Seema Kazi is an academic and the author of “In Kashmir: Gender, Militarization, and the Modern Nation-State