Some months ago we ran a series of articles on cases where women reported sexual violence to the police. The indifference, the contempt, the violence and other amazing things that they encountered while reporting a crime. It was a difficult series and led to some unexpected events.
We were thinking of that series this morning while reading a press release from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. What does it mean to report sexual violence when you are living in a battlezone surrounded by armed forces?
On April 12 in the town of Handwara (69km from Srinagar), a 16-year-old schoolgirl was attacked by a soldier when she was using a public loo, according to most reports. Almost as soon as the news broke out in the town so did violent protests. The army is said to have shot and killed three young civilians including one recording the protests on his cellphone.
In the midst of all this tragedy what happened to the young girl who reported assault, you may wonder. Several mind-numbingly cruel things.
One, she, the victim, has been in police custody for the last three days. The family has not been allowed to meet her or speak to her.
Two, a video was recorded by the police/army with what appears to be the young victim exonerating the armed forces of sexual violence. This has been widely circulated, revealing her name and identity. Let’s repeat that. A 16-year-old schoolgirl attacked by a man in uniform, forced to see her town go up in flames when she spoke of the violence, is made by men in uniform to make a video saying that they didn’t do anything to her and that it was ‘local boys’ instead. A high-tech version of the victim-shaming that happened to Delta Meghwal two weeks ago in Rajasthan before her death under extremely suspicious circumstances.
Three. According to the press release, at 1am on April 14, the police summoned the victim’s father to the police station. Let’s stop at that sentence too. At 1am because no other time is appropriate for intimidating an already terrified family. Since that midnight summons the victim’s father and uncle who accompanied him are now missing too.
So yes, we’ve been thinking of what it means to talk about empowering women to report and talk about sexual violence. Our series showed us that it’s just barely possible to report rape if you are a remarkably thick-skinned, middle-class person who had been attacked by a preferably less affluent stranger in the daytime. Can sexual violence be reported and create upset in the hearts of our compatriots only if you are not living under AFSPA, if you are not a Dalit, if you weren’t attacked by an influential man (preferably also not your husband), if you are not an Adivasi and if you are not a schoolgirl walking home with your friend in your Kashmiri hometown?
Update: The latest press releases from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society state that their legal team was told by the police that they cannot meet (forget the victim) even the mother of the victim. They then tried to hold a press conference this morning (16 April) but “a police team led by DSP Fahad Tak laid siege around the JKCCS office and banned the press conference.”
This is also the second day of complete mobile internet blockade in Kashmir.