Human history is replete with wars and conflicts that cause deaths, destruction and pile miseries on the vanquished or subjugated people. The painful reality about them is that sexual violence against women and girls is often employed as a weapon of war and as a tactic to brutalise, humiliate, dominate and instil fear.

In the modern era it has been used extensively in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Cambodia, Uganda, Vietnam, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Kashmir. According to UNICEF, systematic rape is also often used as a tool in ethnic cleansing. Regrettably, this has been happening and continues to happen notwithstanding a number of UN resolutions, international humanitarian law and international human rights law under which states have accepted obligations to discourage and shun the use of rape in wars and conflicts.

The reason is that powerful nations, which wield tremendous influence in the management of international affairs and are also a force to be reckoned with in relation to the role of UN in peacekeeping and preventing such detestable and inhuman practices – in pursuance of their strategic and commercial interests – not only obstruct the resolution of certain conflicts but also abet such crimes by looking the other way. Palestine and Kashmir are classic examples of this indifference by the powers that be.

The conflict in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) dates back to 1989 when, frustrated by the Indian intransigence to allow the people of Kashmir to exercise their right of self-determination as enshrined in the UN resolutions, they launched a freedom movement. Since January 1990, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the site of a brutal conflict between Indian security forces and armed freedom fighters. In its efforts to crush the freedom movement, India has been pursuing a policy of repression in Kashmir which has resulted in massive human rights violations by the Indian army and paramilitary forces.

They have enjoyed impunity for these brutalities under Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990.The law provides sweeping powers to soldiers, including the power to shoot to kill in certain situations and to arrest people without warrants. They also provide virtual immunity from prosecution. The law has facilitated grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture and ill treatment of the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).

There are authentic reports that the Indian security forces have killed more than one hundred thousand Kashmiris since 1989 to April 2020. The number of women raped and gangraped stands at 11170, besides 22913 women who were widowed.

Independent sources including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch have been regularly compiling reports and providing testimony in regards to extensive abuse of human rights in IOK particularly indulgence in rape of women by the personnel of the Indian security forces.

At the 52nd United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Professor William Baker gave testimony that rape in IOK was not merely a case of isolated incidents involving undisciplined soldiers rather the security forces were actively using rape against the Kashmiri populace as a method of humiliation and frightening. An Amnesty International report in 1992 stated that rape was conducted during counter-offensives against militants as part of a bid to methodically shame local Kashmiri communities.

A study in 2005 by Medicins San Frontiers concluded that the rate of sexual violence against Kashmiri women was one of the highest among the world’s conflict zones. Scholar Dara Kay Cohen from Harvard University listed the conflict in Kashmir, alongside Bosnia and Rwanda, as among the worst of the so-called mass rape wars. According to Human Rights Watch “There are no reliable statistics on the number of rapes committed by security forces in Kashmir. Human rights groups have documented many cases since 1990, but because many of the incidents have occurred in remote villages, it is impossible to confirm any precise number. There can be no doubt that the use of rape is common and routinely goes unpunished.”

One can imagine the plight of the widows whose husbands and the bread earners of the family have been killed by the Indian security forces. They are indeed living under miserable circumstances and finding it hard to maintain connection between their bodies and souls particularly when they are living under fear of the rampaging Indian security forces.

Besides these widows there are also women in IOK whose husbands have been taken away by the Indian security forces during search operations never to be heard of again. These women, called half-widows, according to sources, number between 2500-4000. Unaware of their husbands’ whereabouts, these women not only endure the grief that comes from being separated from their spouses but are also constantly struggling to survive. Their husbands – either still alive in the custody of Indian forces or dead at their hands – have not been declared deceased, hence the term half-widows.

The only thing that keeps them alive is the hope that one day they will be reunited with their husbands, and their children will hold their father’s hands. This hope alleviates their miseries and reduces their pain to some extent.

The situation in IOK has become even more precarious and excruciating for the local people since August 5, 2019 with the repeal of Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian constitution that ended special status of the state and its annexation through the Jummu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019. The people of IOK are under continued curfew since August 5. Two recent reports compiled by UN Human Rights Commission have also unequivocally indicated blatant abuse of human rights in IOK and demanded constitution of an inquiry commission in this regard. International media has also been repeatedly reporting about the killing spree and abuse of human rights in IOK. Kashmiris are looking up to the international community and UN to come to their rescue and end their sufferings by fulfilling their obligations towards them. The permeating situation in IOK is an affront to the conscience of the world community. Will it respond to its conscience?

The writer is a freelance columnist.ashpak10@gmail.com

Palestine and Kashmir are classic examples of this indifference by the powers that be.