by Tariq Hamid Butt (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 7, Ramadan, 1430)
The struggle of the Kashmiri people for freedom from Indian occupation may have fallen off the media radar screen because other trouble spots — Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine etc — have taken centre stage, but this does not mean that there is peace in Kashmir. Resistance to Indian occupation has simmered, periodically bubbling over the surface as happened on August 22 when there was a total strike throughout Kashmir in protest over a statement by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Based on last December’s local elections in Kashmir, Singh claimed that there was “no place for separatist thought” in the region. As a result of the strike call, shops, schools and businesses in Srinagar and several other towns were shut down. The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference called Singh’s remarks “condemnable”.
Politicians have a habit of misinterpreting events to suit their own preconceived notions. For instance, in December 2008 state elections, the voter turnout was 60 percent but in Indian national elections held last May this dropped to a mere 30 percent. Leaders of the freedom movement have always insisted that high turnout in state elections should not be interpreted to mean the people of Kashmir wish to be part of India. These polls indicate the people’s desire for a clean local administration. They are more concerned with such issues as regular electricity supply, better roads and less police brutality and a more efficient local government that affect people’s lives directly. This is not a vote to remain part of India. Their rejection of Indian hegemony and occupation was better reflected in the May 2009 elections when the turnout dropped to a mere 30 percent. Singh “should adopt a realistic approach and understand the people have never accepted the illegal occupation of Kashmir by his (Indian) forces,” said the Hurriyat leaders.
After a few years of relative lull in resistance activity, last year Kashmir was hit by some of the biggest anti-India demonstrations since the eruption of the insurgency against India’s rule in 1989 that has left more than 100,000 people dead. Last May, there were more anti-Indian protests over the rape and brutal murder of two women by India’s notorious security forces. Indian occupation forces responded by jailing most leaders of the Freedom movement but these have failed to dampen the people’s spirit.
The rape of two women, 17-year-old Asiya, and her 22-year-old sister-in-law, Nilofar, from Shopian town reflects the plight of the Kashmiris. On My 29, the two set out from their home to tend to their family’s orchard. Their path took them past a security forces camp located near a bridge over the Rambi River. When Shakeel Ahmad Ahanger, Nilofar’s husband, came home at 7:30 p.m., the two had not yet returned. He went to search for them but found no trace. By 9:30 p.m. he was frantic. He went to the police station, and along with several officers scoured their route, including the shallow bed of the Rambi River. The search was called off at 2:30 a.m. with the police urging Ahanger to return the next morning. After his dawn prayers, he went back to the bridge with police officials. It was at that time that the half-naked body of his wife was located in the river bed.
Ahanger worst fears had come true. Her body was bruised. “I knew immediately something very bad had happened to her,” Ahanger said, avoiding the word “rape” because it brings shame to a family. His sister’s body was found a mile downstream, blood dripping from her nose and a deep gash in her forehead. Their bodies were taken for autopsies, but the cause of death seemed clear to residents who have long lived in the shadow of the security forces.
“Two girls disappear next to an armed camp,” said Abdul Hamid Deva, a member of a committee of elders set up in response to the killings. “Their bodies then mysteriously appear in a river next to the camp. It does not take much imagination to know what is likely to have happened.” In what has now become familiar routine, under threat from the dreaded security forces, doctors routinely issue benign reports about such incidents. Asiya’s and Nilofar’s case was no different. The doctor said they had ‘drowned’. So incensed were residents with this conclusion — the stream was barely ankle deep — that they pelted the hospital with stones and a riot erupted. A second team of doctors was called in to investigate.
“What was done to these women even animals could not have done,” the gynecologist who examined the women told the crowd, weeping as she spoke, according to witnesses. Two men who had been at a shop near the bridge would later tell investigators they saw a police truck parked on the bridge and heard women crying for help.
Even Muslim state officials, serving at the pleasure of the Hindu rulers of Delhi, are not much help. Initially, the state Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, told reporters that the women had drowned. Later security officials said that advisers had misinformed him. A few days later Abdullah acknowledged that the women had “come to harm” and appointed a commission to investigate. But investigators say crucial evidence has been lost and that they are no closer to finding the culprits despite the arrest of four local police officers on suspicion of a cover-up. The people of Kashmir have little faith in such investigations. Few if any security personnel or other officials have ever been prosecuted. This is especially appalling when tens of thousands of women have been gang-raped in Kashmir since 1989.
India maintains more than 500,000 armed forces in Kashmir for a population of 12 million. The worst offenders are the unruly mob referred to as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a Hindu-dominated outfit brought over from India to indulge in rape, murder and pillage. The rape and murder of two young women is the latest in a long series of such crimes perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces. While India claims it faces insurgent violence, its own security personnel are the principal instigators of such violence. Statistics compiled by the Kashmir Media Service provide a glimpse into the beastly Indian behavior. From 1989 to the end of July 2009, in addition to the 100,000 people murdered (92,906 killed in the streets or in their homes and another 6,959 murdered while in custody), 107,262 children have become orphans. Nearly 23,000 women have been widowed and 116,333 civilians have been arrested. The number of rape cases stand at 9,885. These are horrifying statistics on any scale. How many Indian security personnel — whether from the army, Border Security Force of CRPF have been tried and punished for such horrendous crimes?
Not surprisingly, Kashmiris insist the security forces are the real threat to their lives and honour. “The only thing I can do now is hope justice will be done,” said a distraught Ahanger, Nilofar’s husband, who is struggling to care for his two-year-old son, Suzain. “Nobody is safe in Kashmir — even a child, an elderly man, a young girl. Nobody is safe.”
Another resident of Shopian, 20-year-old Majid Khan who is employed, offered this comment: “India says Kashmir is a free part of a free country.” He then asked: “If that is so, why are we being brutalized? Why are women gang raped?” There is no answer to such questions, only more Indian brutality, especially against the most vulnerable: women and children.
India gets away with rape and murder because the West looks the other way viewing it as a bastion of ‘democracy’ where rich pickings are available in terms of trade. Money talks and this is what matters in the world. The Kashmiris’ blood and honor is a small price to pay for such benefits. Regrettably, the Kashmiris do not get much support from the Muslim world either where rulers are so beholden to the West that they dare not raise the suffering of the Kashmiris lest their regimes be denounced as supporters of ‘terrorism.’ The Kashmiris must suffer — and struggle — on their own.