Islamabad, June 19 (KMS): It’s a double-edged sword for women in Indian Occupied  Kashmir (IOK) – to live in a conflict zone and also experience a constant threat of sexual violence.

As the world marks United Nation’s International Day for Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict today (Friday), the women in IOK continue to face the horrors of rape, sexual abuse and molestation at the hands of Indian security forces.

Even amid the COVID-19 lockdown, 16 rape cases and 64 incidents of molestations were reported from Jammu and Kashmir Territory.

The Kashmir conflict has been characterized by large scale incidents of sexual violence by Indian security forces, who use rape as a method of retaliation against Kashmiri women, said Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based advocacy group.

Recent reports by UN and other agencies indicate that Indian forces in Kashmir often target women to demoralize its people who are demanding an end to the Indian occupation. The reports point out that “the frequent rape of Kashmiri women by Indian state security forces routinely goes unpunished.”

According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the world stands with the survivors of sexual violence and vows to listen to them and act on their experiences and decisions.

Five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed June 19 as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The goal in commemorating this day is to raise awareness of the need to end conflict-related sexual violence, to honor the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world, and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to – and lost their lives by – seeking the eradication of these crimes.

In July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented human rights violations by Indian security forces including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, unlawful custodial deaths, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment and torture, “including rape and sexual violence.”

The report also highlighted how the extraordinary powers granted to Indian security forces by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990 “has been wielded arbitrarily and led to near total impunity from prosecution.”

India’s renewed cordon and search operations are proving a nightmare for Kashmir’s women. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives the Indian Army a free hand to commit excesses with impunity and the complaints against these excesses are thus ignored.

The Human Rights Watch reports have recorded an increasing trend of rape in remote and poor villages in IOJK at the hands of Indian security forces, where women are less likely to report the incident.

In the cases where the incidents are reported, Indian army officers accused of raping Kashmiri women are acquitted through the manipulation of laws and by usually citing reasons such as victims sustaining injuries after falling in the cross-fire between security forces and “militants”, doubtful testimony of the prosecutor or by challenging the victim’s character, hence her testimony.

The harassment has not been limited to the Valley alone. The revocation of Article 370 by India on
August 5 last year that illegally annexed Jammu and Kashmir, also raised challenges for civilians, particularly women. Soon after the step, social media in India was abuzz with posts of men showing their excitement about getting the ‘fair-colored Kashmiri brides’.

On the International Day of Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the world needs to heed attention towards the constant plight of Kashmiri women. It is time to recognize their right to an environment free from sexual abuse, rape and torture.

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