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Communalising Sexual Violence

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In response to a question in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly, the government stated on 16 January 2018 that there were 297 reported cases of rape in 2017, in contrast to 189 in 2016, as per media reports.

The recent case of the rape and murder of a minor girl, in the second week of January in Rasana village, Kathua district of Jammu region, reveals the vulnerability of communities living in highly militarised border areas. Members of the Gujjar–Bakarwal community, a predominantly Muslim minority community in the Jammu region, have had a long history of persecution, exploitation, violence and displacement at the hands of the state forces due to their nomadic lifestyle, and knowledge of the local terrain. Increased militarisation and high incidences of sexual violence have particularly affected the lives of the Gujjar–Bakarwal women, who must try to earn a living in these precarious and violent conditions.  The “exceptional” circumstances of border life, including denial of access to their villages and grazing grounds, landmines and frequent shelling, mean that an issue like sexual violence fades into the background.

The role of the police and the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of the legislative assembly in particular has raised serious suspicions of the state’s intention in shielding perpetrators and polarising communities. According to local activists on the ground, the filing of the police complaint was deliberately delayed by the station house officer (SHO), and the investigations conducted thereafter were cursory and repeatedly transferred from one team to another. Copies of the first information report and the medical examination report have not been provided to the family. Despite the local community having a strong inkling of the identity of the perpetrators, after the child’s body was recovered, a single individual, a 15-year-old boy was arrested as the sole culprit. The case also exposes a long-standing pattern of communalising issues that take place in Jammu, by local and Jammu politicians, particularly from the BJP. ­Local activists told JKCCS that the majority Hindu community, which was initially supportive of the agitation for justice, has now been “persuaded” to withdraw their support. In a familiar move, police also arrested local activist Talib Hussain, who was vocal in voicing the community’s misgivings, and have threatened to apply the preventive detention provisions of the Public Safety Act.

The case requires greater attention and follow-up to prevent communalisation and impunity for perpetrators. JKCCS appeals to women’s groups and civil societies in Jammu and elsewhere to come out in support of the local Gujjar–Bakarwal community’s struggle for justice, and closely monitor developments in the case to prevent miscarriage of justice, and intimidation of witnesses. The authorities should ensure that there is a fair and time-bound investigation in this case and greater transparency and disclosure of information to the public to settle local concerns of a cover-up.

Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society

Updated On : 9th Feb, 2018

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