Martyrs, metaphors or wasted lives? Story from Shopian, Kashmir

June 15, 2009

Two young girls were found dead in a Kashmir stream. Outrage and grief have quickly become both political crisis and political opportunity.


Once upon a time, there were two sisters who grew up on an apple orchard in Shopian, Kashmir. An idyllic life did not follow this fairy-tale beginning but even so its end came brutally and unexpectedly. One day, May 30, 2009 to be precise, their bodies were found floating in a shallow stream. They were dead. One sister was pregnant.

How did they die? The answer was not pretty: they had both been raped. Forensic evidence suggests that at least one of them was killed. It is alleged that the perpetrators were Indian army soldiers and the judicial commission appointed to investigate has been questioning soldiers and police.

Yusuf Jameel, A Violent Crime Resurrects Kashmir’s Call for Freedom, Time, June 10, 2009.

It is almost a year since the United Nations Security Council voted to adopt resolution 1820 on Women and peace and security. The Bosnian war put rape on the international agenda although sexual violence is not a new instrument in the struggle for power. The rape and murder of the sisters in Shopian once more raises the question: Why does violence against women, especially sexual violence, become one of the languages in which battles over identity, state and power are fought?

UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rape: Weapon of War.
UN Security Council Resolution on Women and peace and security, June 18, 2008.
Two nuns, two Indias and the politics of identity, The PSW Weblog, November 3, 2008.

Rape is an act perpetrated by individuals on other individuals. In every situation however, rape is an exercise or expression of power, and in conflict situations, control over the body of a person or persons from the ‘opposite’ side is tantamount to claims of conquest and subjugation. As feminists put it, the personal is political, and this tragedy is fast acquiring political and security overtones.

Initially slow to respond, both state and central governments in India seem to have understood this in this instance and are hastening to make that clear. But as analyst after analyst asks whether the groundswell in protest against the rapes will become a new groundswell for ‘azadi’ (freedom), we can see that already high politics has overtaken the human rights-human security discourse which would place these and countless other individual women at its centre.

Praveen Swami, Politicians preying on south Kashmir tragedy, Hindu, June 14, 2009.

A sampling of what is being written about this:

Dr. Javed Iqbal, Shopian Tragedy : Questions sans Answers!, Kashmir Times/Kashmir Watch, June 12, 2009
Sanjay Kak, ‘Men in uniform are Kashmir’s problem, not solution,’ Times of India, June 14, 2009.
Arifa Gani, Shopian incident adds to insecurities of Kashmiri women, Kashmir Times/Kashmir Watch, June 14, 2009
Sameer Arshad, Hype, hope and horror, Times of India, June 14, 2009.

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