Jammu and Kashmir: The politics of rape

South Asia Citizen's Wire
When it is important to celebrate women's existence & acknowledge their struggles and activism, it may also be worthwhile to look at how crimes against them are trivialized by traditionally & culturally reinforced notions of honour, rather than justice.
Unfortunately, another women's day has just gone by, marked by celebrations, and everybody wishes away the ugliness of rapes from their minds, even as they talk about other women issues.
Ironically, any discussion on rapes is associated with greater stigma than the rape itself. This is despite the growing incidence of women abductions and rapes in the state. This is more so, in the ongoing situation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

In an armed conflict, women's bodies, which feminists believe are considered by the various players in the conflict as markers of community identity, become vulnerable to violations. The problem with rapes in Kashmir conflict is not only that these are allowed to be happened, at the hands of militants, security forces and their paraphernalia of surrendered militants and informers, who enjoy unlimited authority and impunity.

The problem is also that there is a serious failure in putting rapes into a proper perspective. Unfortunately, the woman's tragedy is usurped, manipulated and subverted by political organizations and individuals for their narrow interests and this relegates the victim to the background. The collective strength of civil society crumbles as political parties, bureaucrats and other vested interests politicise victimization, thus subjecting women to another kind as well.

The politicization of rapes makes it important for different players to see who the rapist is and who is being raped. Is the perpetrator a security force personnel, a surrendered ultra or a militant from a banned organization? And is the victim a Hindu, Muslim, relative of militant or of a security forces informer? The political affiliations of a particular community or ethnic group shapes the entire discourse of politics of rape.

This has created the absurd notions on two sides of the divide: one that more rapes have been committed by security forces and another that more are committed by militants. Firstly, there is no documentation of rape cases to support either of the two beliefs. Secondly, such notions tend to rob the woman of her right to grieve. Her victimization becomes a political motif in the hands of everybody. She is forgotten but her victimization becomes eternal. What the woman gets in turn is pure stigma for two reasons. One is the cultural and traditional framework within which rape is defined. Second is the manner in which this is highlighted and protested by various players in field.

It is common in the case of Kashmir Valley, for separatist leaders to jump into the fray of protests against cases of rapes and molestations by security forces. The outrage is justified but the direction it takes may not do much service to women. It brings the victim centre-stage as a mascot of stigma and humiliation, after which she is forgotten. There is no bid to provide her any kind of psychological counseling or any kind of a rehabilitation programme. In a couple of cases women were abandoned by their husbands or unmarried rape victims failed to get married after they were raped, also creating economic problems for them. This is primarily because the protests and the media coverage seems to define the rape within the parameters of 'honour' and 'dignity'.

Rape is certainly used as a tool in wars and conflict, worldwide, with an intention to seek revenge from the enemy and humiliate his entire race through bodies of women. But employing the same discourse in support of the women victim has actually done more harm since it questions the inability of the woman, who is simply deemed as a symbol of chastity, to maintain her virtuosity. Besides, it tends to project the man or the patriarchal community as the one dishonoured.

The public rant of veiling the women as deterrence for rapes further puts the onus of rapes on the victim itself, leading to greater trauma and stigma. Her ostracisation becomes complete. The propaganda unleashed through official handouts and defence press notes, seeking to blame militants for rapes and abductions of women again tends to portray the woman in poor light. Not only this, the victimization is highly glamourised in all its political content. It becomes difficult for the victim to escape the stigma.

While the key players in the armed conflict politicize the rapes, it is the silence of civil society and women groups that is more damaging. Any bid to put rapes in the proper perspective without yielding to the discourse of 'honour' and 'dignity' might lessen the trauma of victims. The psychological repercussions of rapes and molestations go very deep and cannot be wished away by long spells of silence. It needs to be talked about. The misplaced stigma associated with rapes certainly cannot go away by deeming the subject of rapes itself as stigma that should forbid women groups, civil society and intellectuals to talk about. It needs to be talked about more to ensure that rape is not politicized and that rape victims can lead dignified lives. They have the right to and they must. Mukhatarn Bi's case shows a beacon of light.

Kashmir Times March 12, 2006
Editorial by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal