Protests continued in Indian-administered Kashmir for the 8th day over the rape and killing of two women late last month. Thousands of protestors, who blame the Indian security forces for the offences, defied restrictions and took to the streets. Police opened fire to break up a rally in Shopian, the hometown of the women in south Kashmir. At least 7 were reportedly wounded. Forensic reports released on Sunday confirmed that the women were raped, but authorities say they are still investigating the cause of death.
Muslim Khwateen Markaz, or Muslim Women's Organization Chairperson Zamrooda Habib, centre, shouts freedom slogans as she is detained by police officers during a protest in Srinagar
22-year-old Nilofar Jan and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asiya Jan went missing from their orchard on May 29. Their bodies were recovered from a stream the next day. Their family and local villagers allege the two were raped and murdered by the security forces. Parvez Imroz is a prominent advocate and rights activist:
"The military camps are located everywhere and there are some villages where people who work in the fields have to cross these camps to go to their fields, it is a paddy season right now. So the general perception is that the federal forces who are also working with the police forces there - are responsible."
Doubts over judicial probe
The Indian security forces have not responded to the allegations so far. The state government, on the other hand, first claimed the women had drowned. Bowing to public pressure, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah then ordered a judicial inquiry to probe the deaths. But Imroz doubts if the moves will produce results:
"They have appointed a statutory committee headed by a retired judge. But it is a recommendatory body. It cannot order punishment of the perpetrator. The second thing is, if it is confirmed that the federal army was responsible, the state has no powers to conduct an inquiry. The state cannot prosecute them unless the federal government gives them permission. And federal government seldom gives the permission. That’s why people don’t have faith in them."
Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan for over 60 years. The Indian side of the region has also been witnessing a separatist insurgency for nearly two decades that has claimed thousands of lives. Rights groups blame both the Indian security forces and the militants for violating human rights over the years. D. Suba Chandran from the Indian Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies says:
"The chief minister of the state did say he would pursue a policy of zero tolerance towards human rights violation. The fact is they do take place."
Special Powers Act
The Shopian case has also sparked a debate about the special powers the Indian army enjoys in such areas. Opposition leader in Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti has demanded that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which many say give troops sweeping powers, should be repealed. D. Suba Chandran says:
"As a confidence building measure I would prefer that this act is either completely removed, or if the state thinks there is a need for this act, that it should be closely monitored, making sure that there is absolutely no abuse of this power. I would also go a step further saying the urban areas should be completely demilitarised and the police can take care of them."
Tensions are running high in the Kashmir valley ever since the bodies of the two women were found. Angry people have been staging regular demonstrations across the region, bringing life to a standstill. Clashes with the police during the protests have so far left one person dead and more than 400 injured.
Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Grahame Lucas