“When a militant gets killed, thousands of people come out to mourn his death. He is remembered and glorified as a martyr. Our sacrifice is bigger but we have been treated as lepers. We are ridiculed and condemned.” This statement from a rape survivor from Kunan Poshpora moved me and many others in a local hotel last Saturday, where they addressed the press and the civil society.
She is right. The society has not treated the survivors the way they should have been treated. Instead they have been persecuted and humiliated. Their children were denied admission in a school in a nearby village. After 22 years, it is difficult to get a suitable match for the girls from the haunted hamlet.
I have been saying that Kashmiris are great people because they have offered resistance to external aggression. I do not intend to change my statement. We continue to be great but we are strange as well. We have been condemning the rapists for the past twenty-three years. We have been demanding stern punishment for them. We urge people to boycott them. But, we have also been condemning the victims/survivors. We have virtually boycotted the victims by denying admission to their children in our schools; by refusing to marry girls from the area. I am confused.
While the survivor made the above statement, I saw noted columnist Abdul Majeed Zarger in tears. I was not that fortunate, rather prudent. Her (survivor’s) concluding words, however, offered a bit of solace. She sought support from the people of Kashmir in the struggle for justice. Here is a chance to make amends, I thought. But before joining the struggle of the brave people of Kunan Poshpora, I have to prepare myself. I have to stop treating them as lepers. I have to accept the greatness of the survivors because they have struggled valiantly and got the case re-opened after twenty-three years. This reflects their determination. They stand for justice and not for compensation.
I have to stop finding fault with the survivors. They were mauled physically and psychology on that dreadful night. A deer does not offer itself to be mauled by a beast. It runs for its life but the beast overcomes it and eats it or leaves it maimed. The beasts were on prowl on that chilly February night in Kunan Poshpora. How can I blame the women who were raped? Had they any role to play in what happened that night?
I disagree with people who say a woman loses her chastity after being raped. For me the Kunan Poshpora survivors are chaste as a woman can be. The tears that have rolled down their cheeks are holier than the blood of hundred thousand martyrs who have laid down their lives for our tomorrow.
I heard some one saying that the Indian civil society must apologize for the Kunan Poshpora tragedy in the same fashion as Pakistan civil society apologized to the people of Bangladesh for the crimes committed by their army during the 1971 war. Whether Indian civil society apologizes or not, we have to apologize for our indifference and insensitivity and for causing psychological injury to the people of Kunan Poshpora.
“We have suffered. We do not want this to happen to any woman in Kashmir”, these words from another survivor shook me. While we have ignored them for two decades, they are fighting to make us safe! The four living martyrs who addressed the people shook me. I was reminded of two verses from a poem by my friend. The poem was written in 1992 following molestation of women by the troopers in a South Kashmir village.
“The more you beat the more I slam
Ocean of endurance the woman I am.” (Suraya)
People have to join hands and support the struggle that the survivors and their relatives have launched and sustained for two decades on their own. They do not need money. They want us besides them. These living martyrs are no longer talking about their victimhood. They are talking about struggle and justice. They do not need sympathies but a few words of encouragement can make the difference. In fact the good work has already started.
Fifty women are out to support the survivors. They shall be monitoring the investigation when it starts. They are ready to accompany the survivors and the witnesses to court and investigating officers. Twenty-three years ago, the survivors were alone. Now they have support of all the people of Kashmir.
Five years ago noted anthropologist, Dr Angna P Chatterjee told me to use survivor instead of victim. From now on, I will not use survivor either. I shall call them living martyrs.