Kashmir also had its #MeToo moment with several women speaking up against their tormentors
As the new dawn sets in the summer of 2012, the whole Kashmir gets immersed in the festivity of Eid. The happiness of the most awaited festival gleams on every eye except Fatima’s. Her eyes that once were spangling with the fervour of Eid, now gloomed with the brutal assault she encountered by her own uncle.
“I was in my room when my uncle came, and touched and grabbed me inappropriately as I cried and screamed in pain. The saddest part is I have always known my perpetrator. The mental scar of the incident turns fresh whenever I see him around,” recounts Fatima.
A survey done by the Rainn.org reveals that of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of the juvenile victims knew about the perpetrators. The rampant increase of assault cases depicts that females are not safe even in their own houses as one out of every three women faces sexual assault in her lifetime. According to the official figures, 213 rape cases were reported in Kashmir in 2015-16.
“In over two years, Kashmir Women’s Collective (KWC) has got 100 cases of sexual harassment. In most of the cases, victims demanded something as low as a mere apology from their perpetrators,” says Mantasha Binti Rashid of KWC.
Rashid told that most of the women are afraid to take a legal course to deal with the assault. “KWC ensures the confidentiality but the victims are not ready to take any legal action. And we go by what the victim wants in order to provide them with utmost comfort,” adds Rashid.
Mehran Khan of Elfa International opines that even the young and the educated class stigmatizes the already sensitive issue.
“In Kashmir, the structure of society is traditional. We haven’t had many cases reported against sexual assault. This happens largely because women are not ready to speak up,” says Khan.
“Our organisation is committed to work towards the welfare of the women. We, at Elfa, have started different campaigns to raise awareness about the rights of a woman in collaboration with the State government, traffic police, and the Women Commission,” he adds.
Recently, Elfa International launched a 15-day-long campaign in Kashmir which began from 25th November and ended on 10th December on Human Rights Day. The campaign was inspired by the United Nation’s campaign- ‘Orange the World’. Through this campaign, UN strived to bring the voices of the women to the forefront and give momentum to the global movements across the world to empower women.
“The campaign – Orange the World, was conducted by us at the Kashmir University and at various schools in Srinagar. The interactive and playful session helped the students especially girls to know about their rights and to use them as and when they need without being hesitant,” Says Farah Zaidi, 23, Women Coordinator, Elfa International.
Zaidi believes that Kashmir is on the cusp of a change that is going to shape the future of the women and girls in the Valley.
The glimpse of that change was noticed in October when women working in the Valley came up with their testimonies under the #MeToo campaign. Women raised their voice against sexual assault. The movement that revolutionized Kashmir and catapulted the women to stand against their culprits and talk out the issues related to sexual harassment.
The outcome of the movement was that the J&K became the first state in the country to have explicit law banning sexual exploitation of women by those in position of authority having a fiduciary relationship or a public servant.
J&K Law Department realized that there are not enough provisions to check the exploitation of the women by the people in power. On 15th December 2018, the government established two new bills- Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018; and Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The two fresh bills were reformed under the provisions of the Ranbir Penal Code, Evidence Act, and Prevention of Corruption Act.The bills were approved by the State Administrative Council (SAC) led by Governor Satya Pal Malik.
The SAC also reconstituted the five-member committee headed by Sarita Chauhan, IAS, was formed in July 2018.
However, the Committee only looks after the cases of sexual assault within the Civil Secretariat. “We provide our assistance to the cases that happen in the Civil Secretariat and the women working here. We do not entertain any case outside the Secretariat,” says Chauhan.
While the provisions are limited to the women working at the Secretariat, there are women like Fatima who are still waiting for justice. They are still living with the mental scar that runs deep within.