The world over, August 5 was celebrated as ‘Kashmir Exploitation Day’. A year before, Prime Minister Modi annulled the special status of Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir (IIOK), in violation of international law and understanding with the Kashmiri leadership. Moreover, to add insult to injury, the state was bifurcated into two parts, and merged with Indian union. Later, with the intention of changing the demographic equation, a new domicile law was introduced, where non-Kashmiris could buy property and get jobs in the besieged area. This is not only a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions 47, 51, 80, 96, 98, 122 and 126, but also an effort to insult and demean the already crushed Kashmiri men and women. For three generations, not only Kashmiri youth but women and children have been continuously persecuted, utilising most brutal methods, by the Indian armed forces, which can easily be characterised as war crimes.

Although there are many types of war crimes, the worst relates to gender, with reference to Kashmiri women. According to Kashmir Media Service report, since January 2001, at least 671 Kashmiri women have been killed by Indian soldiers. History demonstrates that whenever a country undergoes an emergent situation, whether an epidemic or war, the most affected are women and children. However, during war or a civil strife, women suffer the most. The first comes in the shape of dislocation or migration. Women spend more time at home, thus when they are forced to migrate; in comparison to men, they and their small children endure more physical and psychological challenges. Secondly, at times they are used as an instrument of war, to humiliate the adversary. They are physically weaker than men, so easily become victims of enemy’s brutality, as witnessed in Kashmir, where Muslim women are routinely harassed and raped by Indian occupational forces. This brutality was highlighted in 1993 and 1996 reports of Human Rights Watch, where it is stated that “the security forces use rape as a method of retaliation against Kashmiri civilians during reprisal attacks after militant ambushes”. The same concern is endorsed by at least three Scholars—Inger Skhjelsbaek, Subh Mathur and Seema Qazi. Skhjelsbaek states that the pattern of rape in Kashmir is such that when soldiers enter a civilian residence, they kill or evict the men before raping the women. Its glaring example is “Kunan Poshpora incident” of February 23, 1991, when during a search operation, more than 30 Kashmiri women were raped in a single night by Indian armed forces. Mathur calls rape an “essential element of the Indian military strategy in Kashmir.” While explaining it in more detail, Kazi state that rape in Kashmir is a “cultural weapon of war” and that it is a failed effort by Indian forces “to demoralise the Kashmiri resistance and that there have been documented cases of soldiers confessing that they were commanded to rape Kashmiri women”.

Another instance of using this ugly strategy is the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl (who belonged to a poor family of Bakarwal community), in January 2018. Seven Hindus (including four policemen and a temple priest) were involved. Protests were held, led by two ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the arrest of the suspects. Eventually, all culprits were released. The Secretary General of the United Nations also took notice of this crime. This incident is known as the “Kathua Case”.

International attention to this incident shows that although international media and opinion has repeatedly exposed the oppression of Kashmiri people including women, they still find themselves helpless to curtail these war crimes. The main reason is that powerful nations are themselves involved in gross human rights violations, and suppress the voices of international institutions, designed to provide justice. For example, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) tried to investigate American war crimes in Afghanistan, the Trump administration through an executive order, on June 12, 2020, sanctioned members of the ICC, to not only protect the American troops in Afghanistan but also Israeli war crimes against the besieged Palestinians. The second obvious reason is the stated policy of the Indian government, where no investigating agency can enter Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir. This also applies to the Indian human rights organisations and that section of media, in particular, which desire to investigate heinous crimes against Kashmiri women.

In order to protect the widespread war crimes of the Indian soldiers, Indian government enacted in 1990, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). Article 7 of this Act, restricts the government from taking legal action against security officials, without an advance approval of the Indian government. It makes Indian forces unaccountable for their violent activities in the valley. Therefore, despite of numerous recorded incidents of rape, violence and murder reported by the media in last 30 years, not a single Indian soldier has been accused, what to say of conviction.

During the recent complete and most stringent shutdown and curfews for the last one year, the atrocities against Kashmiri women have grown tenfold. Dr Maleeha Lodhi, then Pakistan’s Representative to the UN, says that Kashmiris under brutal occupation are living, “in an armed cage in the silence of a graveyard”. Quoting The New York Times reporter, who when visited Kashmir “found a population that felt besieged, confused, frightened and furious”. Dr Lodhi says that the report is “especially true for women living in occupied Kashmir where the continuing lockdown has exacerbated their pain and suffering”.

In spite of restrictions and curfews/lockdowns Indian national (although very few media outlets are independent) and international media have constantly highlighted such violations but the Indian government continues its high-handed war crimes in IIOK. While concluding, it can be said that though Pakistan’s foreign office and media is continuously highlighting the on-going atrocities of Indian armed forces in IIOK but it will be prudent that international agencies and the community of nations should take cognisance of the continuous war crimes by the Indian forces. Otherwise, history will blame the world for its silence and ineffective posture over such violations of gross human rights.