Indian administered Kashmir has been torn apart by conflict for more than 70 years now. Kashmir has become a hotbed of strife between India and Pakistan, who each control a portion of it since 1947 and have fought multiple wars over it since then. While war brings to mind the images of uniformed men fighting for what seems to be a bigger cause, it inflicts violence on the multiple lives that don’t play any direct role in the war. Violence in conflict-ridden places is not limited to the life and death of armed men claiming to be the guarding army or the rebel heroes fighting against them.
The most underrated form of violence in any conflict and war is perhaps the violence that is gendered in nature. Given the horror of violent shaming and social boycott that surrounds all forms of gendered violence it also remains grossly under-reported. Gendered violence doesn’t come as a by-product of the political violence of conflict and war but is in fact a tool of war used strategically to instill fear and reach convoluted political goals in a war. Gendered violence is always manifested in some form of sexual violence. As Inger Skjelsbaek, a gender studies scholar argues sexual violence is used as “part of a systematic political campaign which has strategic military purposes weapon of war”, therefore it is a weapon of war”.
As is the case in all types and forms of political conflicts and wars, there is a horrifying aspect of gendered violence in Kashmir. For the longest time, Kashmiri women have been the biggest victims of the ruthless violence in Kashmir. The wounds of sexual violence were recently torn open and social media reverberated by the helpless voices of Kashmiris remembering and seeking justice on the death anniversary of Asiya and Nilofar, raped and killed on 29th May 2009.
13 Years Since the Shopian Double Murder and Gangrape of Asiya and Nilofar
The names Asiya and Nilofar still resonate in the slogans of war-torn Kashmiris to date: “Asiya wali Azadi (Asiya’s Freedom), Nilofar wali Azadi (Nilofar’s freedom)”. 12 years ago, on May 29, 22-year-old Nilofar Jan and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asiya Jan, were kidnapped, gang-raped, and murdered by the Indian Armed forces in the Shopian district of India administered Kashmir. Their bodies were later disposed of in the same ankle-deep stream which the Indian army later claimed to have been the cause of their drowning and eventual death. Nilofar’s husband, Shakeel Ahmad Ahanger, was distraught when he returned home and discovered that his wife and sister had been missing. He went to the police station and several policemen went on to search for his wife and sister along the route of the Rambi River’s shallow bank until the police recommended the search be postponed until the next day. “Look there’s your wife,” the local police chief stated on the next day pointing to a patch they had already searched the night before. Ahanger claimed that their clothes had been torn and their bodies were in extremely bad shape with horrific injuries and visible marks of assault.
As of May 30th the next day, according to the police reports, the “post-mortem done revealed no signs on the bodies, including private parts,”. The incident was then investigated by Justice Muzzafar Jan, who was nominated by the then-Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference. According to Jan’s Commission report “The ladies were brutally gang-raped before being murdered by “men in uniform,” .While the army men denied all accusations and claimed that the women died of drowning the family of Asiya and Nilofer maintain that the two “could not have perished in ankle-deep water.”
Culture Of Impunity: AFSPA And Other Forms of Abuse by CBI and The Indian State
In an interview, Shakeel Ahanger described how Indian army men broke into the hospital where the initial post-mortem was being performed and attacked him and his family members while firing at the crowd in the hospital. The family and neighbors were then compelled to transfer the dead bodies of Asiya and Nilofer to Pulwama District Hospital in another district, where the rape and murder were confirmed by a report published by the Forensic Science Lab Srinagar in June 2009. During this time, the Indian government destroyed crucial evidence, and the Central Bureau of Investigation of the Indian government (CBI) declared that their deaths were caused by “accidental drowning” in the ankle-deep stream where their bodies were discovered. This incident stirred multiple protests across the valley seeking justice for Asiya and Nilofar and demanding punishment for the perpetrators. However, owing to draconian laws like AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) that provide the Indian army with absolute impunity to kill any local on the mere basis of suspicion, 2 people were killed and hundreds were injured during those protests.
Also read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir
Where’s the Justice?
It has been over 13 years since the Shopian double rape and murder case, and justice is yet to be served. Not only is there no justice, but the strict digital and social media vigilance by the government of India has made sure to censor not only anything about the remembrance of the crime and the absence of justice but also any other reporting that highlights the gendered aspect of the armed violence in Kashmir. The number of cases of violence against women in Jammu and Kashmir grew by 11% in 2020, from 3,069 in 2019 to 3,414 the following year, according to data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau. There has been little mobilization to win justice for women who have been wronged in conflict zones such as Kashmir, where everything is viewed through the lens of terrorism and security. Gendered violence remains underreported due to social stigma and security threats, and the cases that do come out in the public eye don’t receive any justice, rather the victims and their supporters are forcefully silenced and slammed with even more violence.