M A I N   N E W S

Jammu & Kashmir
Alignment with women’s causes – Zero
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Pulwama, November 14
During the poll time in the valley, Khellan Pulwama’s heart is cold. The tiny South Kashmir village is yet to reconcile to the tragic death of Rumi Jaan, a 15-year-old, who left home some days ago, but never returned alive.

Rumi died escaping a rape bid after she jumped off a moving vehicle in Bijbehara, the PDP stronghold. The minor had been abducted while on her way back from the market where she had halted to buy pesticides for the farms.

Back home in the snow-capped village, her father Mohammad Rajad Sheikh is unsure if justice will be done. “It was not Rumi’s time to die”, he says, his blood-shot eyes lost in vacuums. The locals also talk of the dangerous trends of the abductions in the area, of rape and other forms of sexual violence, which women across the valley are increasingly facing. It is another matter that their voices never get heard in the valley’s politically loaded rhetoric, where everything except the “K” issue appears out of place.

It is no different this time, when the vision documents and manifestos of mainstream political parties talk of everything except the concerns of women, who are the hardest hit by conflict.

A recent survey by Medecins Sans Frontiers, a local NGO, revealed many gloomy facts, a third of the respondents in a sample of 510 said they suffered severe psychological stress; more than one in 10 had faced sexual violence since the conflict began; one in seven had witnessed rape; two-thirds had heard of one.

The situation is now worsening, with reports of sexual violence routinely surfacing in the cities as well, and perpetrators going free. Professor Saeeda Afsana of Kashmir University says, “Until few years ago hearing of rape in Kashmir was unthinkable. Now even its occurrence is commonplace. I feel very insecure because I never see the perpetrators being punished. Most of the accused in the infamous sex scandal are out on bail. What can you expect?”

The trouble here is that political parties in the valley never quite align themselves with women’s issues. No party’s roadmap for 2008 elections talks of half-widows, who are still waiting for their missing husbands. “The most vulnerable are the next of kin of those killed in militancy. Majority of the girls whose names surfaced in the sex scandal came from poor families and ended up being exploited”, says Khurram Tarvez of the J&K Coalition of Civil Societies.

Sadly, there’s huge rise in crimes against women in cities. Until lately, the problem was plaguing the rural parts of Kashmir, but not any more. The rape of a minor in Rajbagh, the city heart, recently shocked Srinagar. The girl was abducted by her cousin and assaulted in an abandoned house near the locality; she died.

Such cases only proved that people have no fear of the law. “Some might attribute the trend to metro syndrome now impacting Kashmir. But, let’s not forget that trickle down effects take years to change society, whereas women in Kashmir are facing greater exploitation with each passing day. No one wants to protect them, least of all our politicians”, says Afsana, who has no interest in elections.



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