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Millennium Post

Rape in the Name of Nation

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a powerful State in possession of a massive military must be in search of conflict zones. Otherwise, the very purpose of having a massive military and spending huge sums of national revenue on defense expenditures will not be justified. India, fortunately, is blessed in this regard. Large swathes of the Indian territory are in so-called ‘crisis situations’ – ‘infested with insurgency’ or ‘ridden with Maoists and infiltrating terrorists’ – so that our government’s justifications of a perpetual state of national security emergency are always met with a dignified acceptance on the part of the general populace.

However, when the ubiquitous security paranoia, and the ‘spotless’ image of the defense personnel, get contaminated with allegations of sexual violence against women perpetrated by the so called protectors of the nation, the reaction that emanates from the State, and the one that comes from about 50 per cent of its citizenry, i.e., the women, could not be more different from each other. So, when impunities are granted to soldiers committing rape or other forms of sexual violence on women in the North-Eastern states of India, in Jammu and Kashmir, or in Chattisgarh, under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958, it is only natural that women, as well as the section of the intelligentsia that does not thrive on oiling the wheels of the governmental machinery, will find it unacceptable and reprehensible, and will continue to oppose it as an instance of severe human rights violation.

The exclusion of the recommendation by the Justice Verma Committee report – to cancel the leverages enjoyed by the members of the security forces when they commit a sexual crime against women in the conflict zones and to undertake their criminal trials under civilian law – by the Sexual Assault Ordiance drafted by the Union Cabinet and signed by the President of India is, therefore, a step that is both extremely regressive and stupendously in-keeping with the contemporary crisis of democracy that we witness now. What the central government has effectively condoned and legitimised is the continual and wide-scale use of rape and sexual violence as instruments of war and techniques of ‘counterinsurgency’ under the pretext of maintaining peace or law and order.

First, on the nature of this brand of regression. By continuing to exempt the security personnel from being indicted by civilian law for committing a sexual crime against a woman, particularly rape, under AFSPA 1958, the State, and the military, have proved once again that the behaviour of the armed forces are above and beyond the conduct of the ordinary citizen, or the civilian. Under AFSPA, one needs prior sanction from the Central Government to try a security personnel for any act done in the exercise of the powers given in the Act, i.e., the Act provides blanket immunity to security personnel for their actions in the areas where the Act applies. In most cases of allegations of sexual violence, the army institutes its own enquiry and tries the person under the martial law, and sanction to prosecute under the general criminal law, that is applicable to civilians, is not given. The moot point of the Verma committee report vis-a-vis AFSPA was to remove that prior sanction clause, so that any army personnel, who is accused of sexual assault offences, could be tried under the general criminal law. The idea behind the suggestion was since no offence of sexual aasault/rape can possibly be committed in the course of duty, there is actually no need to seek prior sanction from the government.

However, what we ritually see is that regular crackdowns, search operations, curfew patrols, military encounters include as well as obfuscate the regimented and sanctioned use of sexual violence against women, as a practice that clearly has an ideological nod from the top brass. In fact, the argument goes that rape in conflict zones by military personnel of alleged female insurgents or accomplices occur so as to teach them a suitably gendered lesson, which is to say that their bodies and bodily integrity could be legitimately violated if they pose a threat to the sovereignty and security of the nation. Rape, therefore, is not only okay but perfectly ordained if waged in the name of the nation and/or national security.

Second, why is this a crisis of democracy? The AFSPA forms the kernel of the Indian Government’s relationship with the vast array of regions that it treats as constituting threats to its integrity and sovereignty. The Northeastern states,  Jammu and Kashmir, Chattisgarh, all fall under the tag of such ‘crisis-ridden’ states. It is through the distorting lens of AFSPA that the centre views its dealings with these states. It speaks to them through the barrel of a gun, by continuing to ever-increasingly alienate, militarise, brutalise the residents and legitimise violence in these regions. This obnoxious centre vs. periphery equation makes every resident of these regions a suspect. While men are routinely picked up for interrogation and subjected to torture, or just killed off, women, in turn, are habitually subjected to a gendered form of violence, that is rape and genital mutilation. Brutality of crimes against women in conflict areas, such as Kashmir, Manipur or Chattisgarh, therefore, must be read in the context of this standardised use of rape and sexual violence as stategies of containment, as techniques of ‘breaking the insurgents’ as much as ‘breaking into’ their bodies.

It is out of this seething anger born of longstanding and systematic repression that in July 2004, 12 Manipuri women disrobed themselves in public holding the banner that said ‘Indian Army Rape Us’, in order to protest against the heinous rape and muder of Thangjam Manorama on 11 July of that year. Despite adequate proofs from the Justice P Upendra report that blamed the security forces for the deplorable incident, the perpetrators of the crime have not been brought to book. Since 1990, when AFSPA was extended to Jammu and Kashmir, incidences of sexual violence against women by the security foces have drastically shot up. Evidences were tampered with in the infamous Shopian double rape and murder case of 2009, when two girls, Nilofar and Asiya Jaan were raped and murdered by members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) of Kashmir. In 2011, Soni Sori, supposedly a Naxal sympathiser, accused the Chattisgarh police of raping and sexually torturing her at the Dantewada police station. To say that these rape charges were all concocted would be tantamount to saying that conflict zones are full of deceitful (and suicidal) women who fabricate rape and sexual assault charges as techniques of insurgency. Preposterous as it might sound, this is exactly the line of thought that is shared by the State and the armed forces in these matters.

Husbands who rape, politicians who rape, security personnel who rape – they all are the appendages of an establishment that fuses a caste and class-ridden patriarchy with a diluted form of all-pervasive martial law, in effect denying the women-citizens of their sexual freedom and democratic rights to freely exist anywhere within the Indian territory. However, thanks to the decision makers in the government, the dream of achieving lasting structural change has once again suffered a huge setback.

The author is an assistant editor at Millennium Post
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