From Kunan Pushpora to Kathua

Rape is a horrendous crime, severely punishable by the laws of all communities and societies. Jammu and Kashmir has not had a history of this condemnable crime, but in the last many years an increasing number of incidents have been reported, making it a grave concern.

In the last almost three decades now, the most condemned and talked about incidents of rape has been the mass rapes in twin villages Kunan and Poshpora.

On May 18, 1990 armed forces were alleged of raping a woman (bride) and her relative in south Kashmir. On February 23, 1991, armed forces during crackdown were accused of having raped scores of women and tortured their men in the two villages Kunan and Poshpora of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. For years, this heinous case remained etched on the memory of the people of the state. Victims still could be seen protesting and demanding justice. The horror and pain inflicted on the victims is unimaginable.

The rape and murder of Asiya and Neelofar was also disregarded by police and the government of that time (led by Omar Abdullah). Again questions were raised on the justice in rape cases where the accused were armed forces.

Justice has been elusive over all these years, as armed forces have continued to enjoy the immunity provided by Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The controversial law lets forces personnel enter any premise any time without a search warrant, and use lethal force, if deemed necessary against anyone. But the biggest advantage for forces personnel remains that they cannot be tried by any civilian court. Their own courts have never punished them.

A study in 2005 by Medicines Sans Frontiers concluded that the rate of sexual violence against Kashmiri women was one of the highest among the world’s conflict zones, with 11.6 percent of respondents, out of a total 510 people in their survey, reporting personal experience of sexual abuse.

In India at Unnao, Surat, Manipur, Delhi – the long list of brutal gang rape cases has enraged millions of people. Last time, something like it shook people’s conscience was in 2012, when a young woman was brutally gang raped in a moving bus in Delhi.

The sad part is nothing has changed, even after so many promises made by the lawmakers. The Kathua rape victim was just 8 years old, Surat victim was just 11, Manipur girl who was raped and then set on fire was 11 years old.

The horror that Kathua rape and murder invoked sends chills down the spine even today. Innocent girl was brutally raped for days after being sedated, was tortured and finally killed. The nomadic girl had gone missing on January 10, 2018 and her body was recovered from the Rasana forest on January 17. According to the investigation, it came out that the innocent Bakherwal girl was raped and killed to make the nomads move out of the area, to make them leave Kathua.

In Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran etc., rape is rarest of rare incidents to be reported because there exists a Sharia Law which enforces fast trail of cases and accused is stoned to death within 24 hours. The punishment is very harsh and is a reason to restrict the people from such types of heinous acts. In democratic countries, rape accusers are security officers and even contest elections and move freely without any fear because judiciary acquits them with full dignity.

India had launched fast-track courts and a tougher rape law that included the death penalty after the gruesome Delhi gang rape case, but crime statistics indicate the situation has got worse, not better, since then. Statistics show that since 2012, reported rape cases climbed 60 percent to around 40,000 in 2016, with child rape accounting for about 40 percent. The conviction rate of people arrested for rape remains stuck at around 25 percent. The backlog of rape cases pending trial stood at more than 133,000 by the end of 2016, up from about 100,000 in 2012, National Crime Records Bureau data showed. In each year during that period, about 85 percent of the total rape cases being heard remained pending.

The Indian judicial system must improve the “timeliness and efficiency” of the legal process related to rape, and cut the length of time between reporting and court proceedings, so that rape victims are not faced with years of additional trauma and uncertainty. Outdated laws are not the only barriers preventing women from seeking justice for rape. Widespread prejudice, victim blaming, credibility questioning, negative stereotypes and myths, often among the people responsible for enabling victims’ access to justice, must also be addressed.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir in particular and India in general needs an immediate overhaul of judicial system. There has to be a fast track trial system where accused could be booked in least possible time. The rape cases must be tried irrespective of age of the victim or accuser and in all circumstances accused must be convicted with no less than death sentence.