Dimensions of Sexual Violence and Patriarchy in a Militarised State

Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual violence have characterised Indian military operations in Kashmir. Of these, sexual violence has been used widely to “break” individuals and communities, and as a tool for punishing resistance against violence by the Indian state. The discourse around sexual violence, however, has always revolved around women with very little focus on men and transgender persons, given the patriarchal understanding of sexual violence and power relations. A critical part of this discussion is also looking at how the patriarchal structure of the society acts as a facilitator for the effective use of sexual violence as a tool against the people. The sexual violence that is propagated and implemented by a masculine patriarchal state can be resisted well with a deeper understanding of gender dynamics.

Kashmir’s armed struggle has been a matter of serious concern for the Indian state that has been claiming Kashmir as its own “integral part” contrary to the political aspiration of many Kashmiris. The embarrassment caused to the world’s “largest democracy” by the movement for self-determination and the resistance to military occupation by the people of Kashmir has been retaliated with extreme violence and gross human rights violations. In different cycles of both armed and civilian resistance, hundreds have been injured, killed and maimed as a result of direct physical violence perpetrated by the Indian state and there has been absolute impunity for these crimes (Human Rights Watch Report 1993a). People across divides of age, religion and gender have protested against the away occupation in Kashmir. While researching and writing about the human rights violations in this region that are widely believed to be the result of military occupation and army operations against armed rebellion, the wide use of sexual violence by the armed forces—that remain protected by the guarantee of legal immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958—cannot be overlooked.

Sexual violence has effectively been used as a weapon to crush resistance and break the morale of people across the world in conflict zones. In Kashmir also sexual violence has been used as an important part of strategy for crushing support to the popular armed rebellion in Kashmir. The families of militants, mostly women, have been attacked but the families of non-combatants and civilians have been victims and survivors of this violence too. It is usually incorrectly assumed that sexual violence is used against only women. Men have equally been victims of a sexualised form of violence. However, the motive behind perpetrating sexual violence against men is distinct from sexual violence against women (Kazi 2008).

Gendered Shades

Sexual violence against women by men is not about a male desire for sexual gratification, but is a proven assertion of sexual power to subjugate, given the unequal power dynamics between genders in the society. Many cases of sexual violence committed by civilian men against women end in the woman being killed or mutilated, proving that aggression and a display of masculinity forms the basis of motivation for such crimes. Coupled with the social structure where the blame and shame is directed towards the victim, sexual violence against women becomes an instant tool to break a woman’s sense of self, forcing her into victimisation (Bhugra and Kalra 2013: 244–49).

Sexual violence against women that manifests in the context of militarisation is immediately a fatal combination of unquestionable power and absolute impunity, as is the case in Kashmir. The institution of military has used sexual violence against women as a tool to punish them and the communities. It is an attack on “collective honour” and not just of individuals and their immediate families but on a collective identity (Human Rights Watch 1993b). In a state of militarisation, the idea of the “other” or the “enemy” is strongly, actively nurtured and thus sexual violence by this “other” is seen as an aggression against the entire community. Kashmir’s history is replete with examples of how the Indian state through its armed forces attacked the entire Kashmiri community. In 1991, a unit of the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the Indian armed forces raped women inside their homes in the twin villages of Kunan Poshpora, while the men were being tortured during a cordon and search operation. This was meant as an attack not just on the “honour” of the people of these villages, but on the entire Kashmiri community, that has been supporting the armed struggle against the Indian state, as a representative action that could break a whole community (Batool et al 2016).

There are other manifestations of this state-sponsored sexual violence too, ranging from everyday harassment on streetsto trying to embarrass women during search operations by displaying their undergarments to outright rapes of individual women and collective mass rape (Qadri and Haziq 2016). Merely limiting the violence to rapes or penetration would result in negating the everyday experiences of thousands of women by institutionalised violence that has the support of impunity. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as

any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work. (Krug et al 2002: 149)

Of Impunity and Denial

Sexual violence follows the impunity that the Indian armed forces have in Kashmir under the protection of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The AFSPA was passed in some states of India on 11 September 1958, but it was extended to Kashmir in July 1990. Under this act, army personnel can enter and search to make arrests without a warrant and fire to injure and even kill any individual “suspected” to be acting against law. Fake encounters, custodial killings, civilian killings, detentions and disappearances are a result of the impunity that this act provides to the Indian armed forces (Wani et al 2013: 62). In addition to the impunity that AFSPA grants, there is an extended cover of legal impunity as proven recently when the Supreme Court of India stayed investigations against Major Aditya Kumar, accused of firing on and killing three civilians in Shopian in January 2018 (Soni 2018).

There are only denials against accusations of rape and sexual violence. Till date no accused from the army has been tried in a civilian court, even when there are provisions for them to be tried in such courts for crimes such as rapes, murder and culpable homicide. Even in cases where there have been trials in military court, the accused has merely been suspended from service, as in the case of Major Rahman, who raped a mother and daughter in Bader Payeen in Handwara in 2004 (Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society report 2015). He was only suspended from service after a court martial and later reinstated (Jaleel 2018). It is abundantly clear that punishment for sexual violence is only an eyewash, intended to deceive people. The Indian armed forces have used sexual violence against women to create a sense of fear among the people, and to establish a norm of punishing people who might support resistance against the state. As in the case of the mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in 1991, the incident was a collective punishment against the villagers for “sheltering militants.” Through violating the bodies of women a message was sent, and not just once, that the community would be broken in any way possible for any act of defiance. These offences have not been limited to just the Indian armed forces, but were used as a tactic by the government-sponsored militia known as ikhwans to consolidate their power and instil fear within Kashmiris. Their crimes went unchallenged and unquestioned (Human Rights Watch 1996).

While sexual violence against women in Kashmir has received attention, countless men in Kashmir are also victims of sexual assaults perpetrated by the various apparatuses of the Indian state. Sexual violence works on similar lines of power and subjugation among both men and women, especially in conflict zones, where it is a more explicit weapon against a certain population. Within the patriarchal structure, however, sexual violence against men tends to break an individual, keeping in mind the expectations of hegemonic masculinity. Sexual violence against men, mostly boys, is also a reality in both conflict and non-conflict zones, but is mostly neglected as it is erroneously perceived to be a rarity (Kapur and Mudell 2016: 11–14). This fact further complicates the gender equations underlying the idea of why sexual violence is prevalent and perpetrated. Gender relations in sexual violence are seen mostly as men perpetrating violence against women, but the vulnerability of men to sexual assault in conflicts results in both men and women being victims. Sexual violence against men in conflict areas like Kashmir has been used mostly as a torture technique; being sexually violated has been reported as a routine by those who have been detained by the Indian armed forces. Common techniques include mutilation of genitals, forced sodomy or insertion of object into the anal canal (Qadri 2016). When used against men, sexual violence is a tool to break the man, to induce a sense of shame and to dent the “masculinity” of the man, so that he breaks into giving what is required of him, or as punishment for defying the state. The sexual abuse, torture, and mutilation of male detainees or prisoners are often carried out to attack and destroy their sense of masculinity or manhood (United Nations report 2002).

A step ahead in this discourse around sexual violence against men and women would be discussing the much ignored sexual violence faced by transgender persons in Kashmir, which is not considered even a remote possibility, given the focus on the gender binary. The transgender from Maisuma, Javed Ahmad, also called Jave Maam is famous for his style of protest. Jave Maam adopted the term ragda which became the hallmark of protest sloganeering in the 2008 protests. Jave, like other Kashmiris, faced sexual violence when he was stripped naked, as a punitive action for protesting(Rashid 2017).

Patriarchy as an Ally

An understanding and critical research of how sexual violence has been used by states against people in armed conflicts worldwide clearly reflects that sexual violence is an effective tool to break people. Militarisation in Kashmir has led to a climate of impunity and lack of accountability, where people are unable to report or engage with institutions that would otherwise provide respite to them. The low percentage of reporting of cases against the Indian state can be attributed to the fact that a fear of reprisal against the people is common, and there are no precedents of punitive action against the perpetrators. There is no denying the fact that militarisation provides a cover of impunity to its apparatuses, however, a critical ally to the effectiveness of a weapon like sexual violence is the patriarchal structure of the society. The state and the military in itself is a patriarchal institution that covers up morally for its crimes of war by citing patriarchal excuses, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Apologists for the Indian armed forces have used the notion of armed men being jawans, young men who are bound to commit sexual misdemeanour that has nothing to do with the state, but is a commonly accepted aberration of male behaviour. It is an exoneration of perpetrators using what is a universal system of oppression and justifying male dominance and excesses.

The deeper problem is that men seem to use sexual violence when deployed not only in times of war as the “enemy,” but also when their role is perceived to be that of protectors. An example of the widespread unchecked sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti, Cambodia, Congo, etc, against women and minors, proves that combined with a military/armed forces background, sexual violence is bound to be used to terrorise and abuse those who are vulnerable (Anderlini 2017). The state understands the patriarchal nature of Kashmiri society which makes sexual violence effective. An example of this is considering the bodies of women as repositories of “honour,” “chastity” and “chivalry” of men, which, when violated by the enemy, psychologically breaks the men of the community in their failure to “protect their women,” a role that patriarchy assigns them (Coomaraswamy 2002).

Similarly, when sexual violence against men is used to break their “masculinity,” and to “feminise” them, it is in accordance with the patriarchal notion that a man will not be fit to be a protector and is now “feminised,” as in a helpless individual overpowered through infliction of sexual violence. The refusal of men to report or document cases of sexual violence against them for the fear of loss of reputation in the society and a stigma of being mocked as “effeminate” is strong evidence of patriarchy helping the larger occupation. “Men also may be loath to talk about being victimised, considering this incompatible with their masculinity, particularly in societies in which men are discouraged from talking about their emotions” (Sivakumaram 2007: 255). This is similar to the women who are victims of sexual violence, and who would rather not report sexual violence against them from fear of reprisal, given the social stigma attached to rapes and sexual violence. A glaring example of this has been the Kunan Poshpora mass rape in which a lot of unmarried survivors preferred not to be named in legal documents out of fear for their future. The whole scenario of the experiences of transgender persons missing from the broader narrative of occupation is also an example of how as a society we are yet to open up beyond patriarchal gender binary.

The idea is not to exonerate militarisation and occupation as a reason and as a system to perpetrate sexual violence against Kashmiris, but to understand that patriarchy has been effectively used against Kashmiris to break and silence them. Questioning the structures of patriarchy in Kashmiri resistance is important, especially as women and transgender persons have been together in this movement both as contributors to resistance and victims of violence. The recent image of young college girls on the streets, with stones in their hands, should lead the way; they did not merely scare the occupation but broke gender norms to foil a plot and narrative of the Indian state, that of portraying women as victims whose actions are directed and dictated by men.


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