Guest post- Devika Mittal

With the Government’s ban on “India’s documentary”, made around the 16 December gang rape case known as the Nirbhaya case, the case is once again in the public sphere. The BBC documentary was scheduled for release on the International Women’s day. The documentary led to a controversy pertaining to the statement of one of the rapists who still blamed the victim. Another controversy attached with it has been the permission issue, the Government denies having given the permission to interview the rapists. In the light of these controversies, the Government decided to ban it. However, the people have resisted the ban. Since its release online, the documentary claims a viewership of about a million.

The documentary has also been a point of talk because of the controversial statements. Since its release, people have shared their views, debated on the statement, on how the statement may not be an unusual mentality. The mentality is embedded in the patriarchal society. It is recognized that this mentality is also shared by people’s ‘representatives’, the politicians and those who are supposed to defend us or impart justice. People have also been suggesting that the system needs to be improved, needs to be empowered to curb these incidents. While this is true, what is still required to recognize and highlight is that not just the mentality to justify rape, the inefficiency of the system but how the very system has also used rape as a weapon to control dissent or voice against the oppression of the State.

This is to point at the cases of rape and sexual violence in the conflict zones of India – the North-East states (except Sikkim), Jammu & Kashmir and Naxalite zones. To tackle the challenges in the conflict zones, the Indian State has adopted draconian laws which in the garb of restoring law and order have led to gross violation of human rights’. One such law is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Enforced in the North-East states (except Sikkim) and the state of Jammu & Kashmir, AFSPA gives the right to the armed forces to shoot at sight, torture, raid houses, arrest without warrant AFSPA also protects the army persons with legal impunity. These extra-ordinary and unrestrained powers to the armed forces have led to extra-judicial killings, fake encounters, extra-judicial disappearances, tortures and rapes.

This has been corroborated by the reports of the national and international human-rights’ commissions and organisations, Government’s own appointed committees and the Judiciary. The Justice J.S. Verma Committee that was set up to suggest amendments to laws relating to crimes against women, has recommended review of the continuance of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the context of extending legal protection to women in conflict areas. It also recommended that the security forces should not be able to take cover under the AFSPA in cases of rape and sexual assault and that cases of sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel should be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law.

Similarly, the laws used to control naxalism have also led to the violation of human rights. Innocent tribals are falsely implicated in cases, tortured, raped and killed. While there are thousands of cases of sexual violence, known and unknown, reported and unreported, here are some of the known cases that still await justice:

Thangjam Manorama from AFSPA-affected Manipur – On 10 July 2004, Thangjam Manorama, a Manipuri woman, was picked up from her home by the Indian paramilitary unit, 17th Assam Rifles on allegations of being associated with a militant group. The next morning, her bullet-ridden corpse was found in a field. There were bullet marks even in her private parts. An autopsy revealed semen marks on her skirt suggesting rape and murder. It has been 10 years now but justice is yet to be done.

Rape and Killing of Asiya and Nilofar Jan – On 29th May 2009, in Shopian (J&K), two women named Asiya (age 17) and Neelofar (age 22) went missing. Their dead bodies were found next morning. The people alleged it to be a case of rape and murder by security forces who were camped nearby.

Initially, no FIR was lodged and police told that postmortem report cleared injuries over private parts.  However, the people believed that police report about postmortem is fake and so they continued protests and forced J&K Government to form a judicial panel. Under judicial inquiry, the Forensic lab report established that they had been gang-raped. Apart from few suspension and transfers from police department, nothing has happened in this case.

Victims of the mass-rape of Kunan Posphora Village – During the intervening night of February 23 and 24 in 1991, the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district witnessed mass rape of over 40 women by the soldiers of the Army’s 4 Rajputana Rifles of 68 Brigade. The victims included young female children, pregnant women and even aged women. This incident has been acknowledged even by the Former Union External Minister, Salman Khurshid’s who said, “I am ashamed that it happened in my country. I am apologetic and appalled that it has happened in my country.” However, justice continues to evade them.

Sexual Harrasment of Soni Sori, an Adivasi Civil Rights’ Activist – Soni Sori, a 35-year-old Adivasi school teacher in Chhattisgarh, was alleged to be a Naxalite. While evidence shows that she was against them, she was framed by the Chhattisgarh police. She was sexually harassed by the police and was also given electric shocks. In the medical examination, small stones were found in her vagina and rectum. The main person who had supervised the torture was Ankit Garg, the Superintendent of Police. What did the state do? He was honored with the President’s Medal on the Republic Day.

As stated previously, sexual violence in the conflict zones are not an aberration. They are widespread. Yet, they do not evoke the same outrage that this particular incident in a non-conflict zone has received. The Government, the judiciary and even those people who are aware of this reality remain silent. Aren’t these the daughters of India too? Aren’t they women as well? This hypocrisy needs to be addressed. Respect and rights cannot be exclusive or the entitlement of only a particular section of women.