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No outrage for 150 Kashmiri women raped by Indian soldiers in 1991

Gurpreet Singh
EVER since more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Pulwama on February 14 this year, the Indian mainstream has gone mad with more hawkish nationalists calling for revenge and war.
The incident took place in Indian-administered Kashmir, where an armed insurgency for independence has been going on for years. The Indian government generally blames neighbouring Pakistan for supporting the movement in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, which they claim wants to annex the territory through an uprising.
The lone bomber involved was a Kashmiri Muslim, and the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group Jaish-E-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the incident. Since then, supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party and others have started a nationwide campaign against Pakistan and Kashmiri people. Calls are being made for “Blood for Blood”, while Kashmiris settled in other states of India have come under well-orchestrated attacks by angry mobs.
The anger also spilled over outside India in countries with sizable populations of the Indian Diaspora. Candle-light vigils and prayers were organized for the slain soldiers, and donations for the bereaved families started pouring in from celebrities.
Though it is sad that so many families lost their loved ones in a single stroke, the hysteria caused by this tragedy suppressed the wails of those Kashmiri women who lost their honour on a single night at the hands of Indian forces 28 years ago.
Soldiers gang raped 150 Kashmiri women in 1991
On February 23, 1991 the Indian army cracked down on two Kashmiri villages, Konan and Poshpora, and allegedly tortured 200 men and gang raped 150 women. Because of shame and fear of reprisal many women did not come forward. Close to 40 women dared to step forward to fight for justice, and years have passed, but there is no justice and closure. This is partly because the Indian army continues to enjoy immunity under repressive laws that give protection to the Indian forces in conflict zones.
The anniversary of the incident came and passed without much coverage in the media.
In an environment of hyper nationalism, any discussion that brings the role of Indian forces under critical questioning is more likely to be discouraged by the political leadership and media pundits. That seems to have happened in this case.
Repression by custodians of peace
Undoubtedly, we should all deplore the killings of soldiers who mostly came from poor and less privileged families, but are we ready to question the repression of people by the custodians of peace and security?
Konan Poshpora is not the only instance of state barbarity or sexual violence by the Indian forces. There have been many other instances all over India, of how in the name of maintaining peace or protecting the so called national interest, political activists have been murdered through extra-judicial means, and custodial rapes have been used as a weapon to punish communities fighting for their rights, including the right to self-determination as in the case of Kashmir.
Those who are spewing so much hatred and calling for revenge against Pakistan or Kashmiris because of the killings of more than 40 soldiers, need to take a moment to remember shameful episodes such as Konan Poshpora, and see how repression has caused more misery and violence rather than bringing permanent peace. If we cannot treat our own people with respect, we have no right to confront our enemies, both perceived and real, for merely taking advantage of a disorder created by us.
For the record, the lone attacker involved in Pulwama was also detained and humiliated by the Indian forces for no fault of his own, according to his family. He was returning home when he was picked up during a protest and forced to rub his nose on the ground.
Those talking of revenge are forgetting that such harsh punitive measures have turned many into separatists and extremists. In the end, ordinary soldiers coming from poor families suffer, not those who incite passions for their narrow political ends.
Konan Poshpora is a reminder, not only that everything served to the citizens as a recipe for peace by the ruling classes can be accepted at face value, but we cannot let them decide in our name what is good for the nation. Rather than mimicking them, we need to make them accountable for the crisis in Kashmir, and ask them to resolve the problem through dialogue and justice to the victims of the Konan Poshpora mass-rape and other excesses committed in the name of unity and integration.
[Countercurrents.org, India February 26, 2019]
[Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi—a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.]

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