The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soft targets: Terror sneaks into the backyard

Chandigarh, Dec. 31: They are the worst sufferers. They have been killed by militants, butchered and maimed in crossfire, shot in public demonstrations, blown up in landmine explosions and raped every now and then. They are the women and children of Jammu and Kashmir.

The militants have perpetrated atrocities on women and children indiscriminately and wantonly. And the majority of women and children abducted, tortured, raped or killed are Muslims.

The pattern is consistent: kidnap a woman and kill her after outraging her modesty. Or, rape and kill her in her own house in the presence of her family members, and then kill them all. Or, just kill indiscriminately.

As far as the boys are concerned, kill them if they do not join the militants’ ranks. Or simply kill them.

Often, the excuse for such acts is suspicion about “loyalty to the cause” on the part of the victim or the family, or to strike terror or simply because of the refusal to toe the militants’ diktat or don a burqa.

The Kashmiri society has historically been based on Sufism, which gave relatively greater freedom to women. Talaq is looked down upon. The practice of four wives is unheard of. Rape was virtually unknown of. Now, incidents of rapes and murders are higher than what is reported.

The recent murders of women by militants notwithstanding, violence directed against them has taken a new form. In an incident in the Surankote area of Poonch, militants knocked on the door of Abdul Gani late at night. No male member was at home. The two women inside did not open the door. The militants broke open the door, lined up Latifa Bee and Khatija Bee and shot them. No reasons were given.

In another incident in Mahore, Udhampur, three militants entered Maisina Begum’s house and kidnapped her son, Majid, as a possible recruit. Maisina approached her brother, a member of the village defence committee. Armed, he chased the militants and freed the boy. The militants later came back and killed her.

Or, sample this. Place: Qamarwari in Srinagar. A young woman, Hassina Siddique, is shot dead by militants in her bedroom along with her husband during the night. Her fault: She reportedly quarrelled with a militant sympathiser earlier in the day.

“Though infiltration may have shown some overall decline to force the government to withdraw troops from the border, there has been greater terror and social violence,” a senior state intelligence officer warned on phone.

“Before the insurgency flared up in 1989, kidnapping, molestation or killing of women and children was rare in the Valley. That is why there was shock and disbelief in 1989 when Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then Union home minister and now Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was kidnapped. There is a new, disturbing trend of militants breaking into homes in villages and shooting women and children,” the officer added.

The security forces, too, have found themselves at the receiving end for rapes and murders of women and children. Investigations by human rights groups into allegations of gang rape by them have added to the problem.

In Kunaan Poshpora, a border village in Kupwara, 30 women and children were gang-raped by soldiers of the 5th Rajputana Rifles on the night of February 22, 1991. Since then the village has come to be known as Kashmir’s “raped village”. No marriage has taken place in the village since then. The victims have been deserted by their families. Although the culprits have been punished, there has been no healing touch for the victims. The social stigma associated with rape continues to haunt them.

The relative freedom for women in the Valley has also been threatened by the Hizbul Mujahideen and other militant outfits’ declaration that use of contraceptives and abortions were anti-Islamic. Women now go to untrained and unqualified paramedical personnel, leading to septicaemia and often death.

Inquiries revealed that militants were now directing their ire on women and children because of the false belief that they had become mukhbirs, or informers. Burqa-clad women who go with their sons to the security camps to get their husbands or children released now run the risk of being branded informers.

The entry of foreign mercenaries in Kashmir has also added to the growing list of women killed in remote areas. “Foreign mercenaries are not linked to the Kashmiri society and therefore not constrained by its values. There have been reports of ‘command marriages’ at gunpoint where foreign militants have sexually exploited local women,” the officer added.

“Terrorism has changed the life pattern of the Kashmiris. The entire concept of childhood has undergone a radical change. The children do not go to kindergarten, or learn nursery rhymes or play with toys. Instead, their memories of childhood consist of an atmosphere surcharged with fear, terror, violence, unrest, Kalashnikovs, blood on the streets and alleys and constant insecurity.”

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