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Women’s Bodies, Identity, and Conflict-related Sexual Violence in Kashmir

Moving from Impunity to Accountability

In the aftermath of the Balkan Wars and the Rwandan genocide, international legal policy on sexual violence in conflicts saw a major shift towards stronger international accountability mechanisms. The establishment of criminal tribunals and the development of the conflict-related sexual violence paradigm were some of the institutional and policy changes that occurred as a result, with both acknowledging that women are targeted in conflicts not only because of their gender, but also due to their ethnic identity. The applicability of the conflict-related sexual violence paradigm to the Kashmir case is explored, thereby underscoring the bigger questions regarding the state’s responsiveness towards such human rights abuse, and its commitment towards ending impunity for sexual violence in conflicts.

Kashmir is one of the most militarised conflict sites in the world, with more than half a million troops populating its streets and borders (Kashmir Times 2013). The heavy presence of troops and a legal apparatus that provides them immunity signifies that “militarisation” and “militarism” pervade the state’s response to conflict in the region. Militarisation in its plain sense can mean “expansion of the relative size of some integral part, scope or mission of the armed forces”—visible either in military spending, or through the number of soldiers on the streets (Bowman 2002: 19).1 Militarism, on the other hand, is a system of thinking where military “institutions and ways” are valued more than “civilian life”—where life includes its inextricable signifiers, like dignity, freedom, and health (Lutz 2002: 723). This hierarchical valuation in Kashmir’s case, for instance, is most visible in the operation of immunity laws and the resultant impunity accorded to the armed forces for the smooth functioning of ostensible counter-insurgency operations and the maintenance of law and order (Rediff 2011). Though war is the ultimate manifestation of militarism, militarisation is a wider process that permeates “institutions, values and practices” of the state (Sjoberg 2013: 96). The deeply penetrating and far-reaching effects of militarisation and militarism, on even the everyday lives of civilians, include processes by which “military practices extend into the civilian arena” (Peterson and Runyan 1999: 258), for example, military-sponsored civilian activities like educational tours.2 A conceptual extension of this analysis of militarism helps locate its pervasiveness in militarised societies such as Kashmir, where the distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, and war and peace, soon begin to dissolve into each other, making rights a natural casualty.3

The association between militarisation and denial of rights, thus, has remained an enduring feature of conflicts across time. As Richard Falk (1977: 231) points out, where state power is maintained through military control, a regime insensitive to human rights compliance is a natural outcome. The processes of militarisation and conflict at the same time are not gender-neutral phenomena, in that they inherently rely on heteronormative ideas of masculinity and femininity. The conventional, culturally constructed view of this position is that men, the “just warriors,” make war, and women, as “beautiful souls,” provide “succor and compassion” (Elshtain 1987: 4) and promote peace. This, however, is challenged by studies which indicate that be it peace, political conflict, or war-making, these cannot run without women’s participation and support (Gonzalez and Kampwirth 2001). Relatedly, the memory archives of 20th-century conflicts also make it amply clear that the experiences of men and women in conflicts are gendered in nature. In other words, women experience conflicts differently as compared to men. Sexual violence against women, for instance, has been a common, if not unavoidable feature of conflicts (Chinkin 1994), including in Kashmir. Even though men too are subject to sexual violence in conflicts, the rationale for men being the targets of such violence may differ from that used for women. Cynthia Cockburn (2013: 434) explains this difference in the following words:

A woman who is raped in war is raped as a woman, a despised category. A man who is raped is assaulted as a man, to reduce him to the status of a mere woman, and thus destroy his masculine self-respect. (emphasis added)

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Updated On : 8th Dec, 2018

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