In October, 1992, an Army unit entered the Kashmiri village of Chak Saidpora, on a search for militants. No warrant was required, as per the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for Jammu and Kashmir. Approximately nine women with ages ranging from eleven to sixty were raped during the operation. Victims reported of soldiers specifically asking for the women in the houses they entered, and proceeding to rape them. In 1999, four women from the Daree Village, Doda, were detained for four days, where they were raped and tortured by senior Army officials, including the commanding officer. After this, a fake certificate was made by a doctor claiming that no rape had occurred. In both cases, as in the numerous others, no one was held accountable.
The AFSPA is unnecessary in the interiors of Kashmir, and provides a conducive atmosphere for horrific, deliberate, human rights violations against the locals. A well-regulated, transparent form of the act may be enforced at the border.
Atrocious individual rapes abound till date; however, I described these cases of mass rape to emphasise the systematic structure of this war crime. Raping Kashmiri Muslims is a political and cultural weapon of psychological warfare meant to demoralise the population, and neutralise local resistance (Kazi, 23, 26), facilitated by the clauses of AFSPA.
1989-1990 saw a militant-led revolt by Kashmiri Muslims for independence from Indian State repression; in 1990, AFSPA was enforced in Kashmir. First promulgated in Assam and Manipur in 1958, it ensures special powers to the Army in Central or State government-determined “disturbed areas”. The right to shoot dead or use force against anyone breaking or thought likely to break the current laws, with impunity, applying to all ranks of officers is lethal. Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment portrays the catastrophe of giving one group excessive power over another – in Kashmir’s case, a cultural outgroup. The army is a representation of India in Kashmir, and the encouragement of such violent dominance worsens its image. Therefore, the government hinders its own interests as most civilians, now, would not willingly accede to India. The militant front is based on religious separatism and backed by Pakistan; however, the popular antipathy towards India is due to the army’s intense repression and abuse of the AFSPA.
Line of Control, Gulmarg
In confrontation with armed militancy, should soldiers be restricted to protocol? That could endanger their lives. Troops posted in brutal conditions at the border should, therefore, operate under AFSPA, with transparent judicial procedures. Stronger resistance to militant penetration is naturally a better strategy. In the interior of the state, however, this situation hardly arises. On a recent visit to Kashmir, the locals I encountered vehemently opposed the Army’s presence, as they merely want to live in peace.
Army camp Gumri, near Dras.
As per the law, human rights violations by the Army will be prosecuted; however, no charge can be instituted against an official in Kashmir, without the elusive sanction of the Central Government. The officer has the choice between a civilian or military court – the latter are known to give lighter sentences, making them the defendants’ inevitable choice. These sentences are never really given. Military trials are closed to the public, and the lack of transparency results in the perpetrators going unpunished. Additionally, the Indian government has never acknowledged the practice of these war crimes.
The psychological costs of the situation manifest in mental disorders. These are the repercussions of being raped, followed by social stigma without justice; of watching or having a loved one be a victim of sex crimes, torture, or murder; as well as constant, daily fear and uncertainty.
According to the act, Army personnel can arrest anyone they suspect without a warrant. Persons arrested must be handed over to the police within 24 hours, to ensure just procedure. However, according to legal scholar Ashok Agrwaal, the police are instructed not to act on complaints of human rights abuses against the military, and therefore refuse to register them.
The AFSPA only serves to create conflict in Kashmir. Its abuse and the impunity given to the abusers form a sanctioned system of terror, leaving physical and psychological scars on the populace.
All photos are original