To do justice by Asifa would be to recognize that in her tragedy lies the story of thousands of women and girls in Kashmir who have experienced the same crimes fueled by the same ideologies.
[CW/TW: mention of r/pe or sexual assault, and murder.]
By Manaal Farooqi
When news of an abduction, rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in India broke loose earlier this month, the response was polarizing within the nation and amongst its diaspora. Asifa Bano was sexually assaulted for days then murdered by several men, also happened to be a Muslim Kashmiri in Indian occupied Kashmir.
The Hindu men who tortured and murdered Asifa were found and arrested, but have received sympathies and demonstrations for their release from Hindu nationalists across the country. The men allegedly committed the crime to drive away Asifa’s family and community, the nomadic Bakarwal tribe members.
The injustice has been framed as isolated from the overall occupation and atrocities that have been committed in the past decades in Kashmir, but the history of violence, sexual assault and more in the region has been an intrinsic part of this cycle of violence.
Hindu nationalism has been on the rise since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014, which is the political extension of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who are committed to creating a Hindu nationalist state. While these changes in government and policies have swept the nation since 2014, these issues have affected the people of Kashmir for far longer.
Indian occupied Kashmir has dealt with clashes and insurgencies since 1965, at times with the help of the Pakistani state as well. In current times, the insurgency continues on a different scale with alternative tactics since 2017 — dubbed as the “year of the student uprising”— including mass protests and rallies.
This particular generation has been raised in occupation for their entire lives and with the BJP in power they are experiencing the national shift with a deeper sense of estrangement from the state. With comments from both the BJP and Modi asking Kashmiri youth to choose between “tourism and terrorism”, the already established lack of faith in the state and government has deepened.
With 90% of those in Indian occupied Kashmir in favor of independence of the state, protests, insurgencies and rallies calling for Azadi, or freedom, have been a trend for decades.
Human rights abuses by military personnel without any penalty for the officers in question are commonplace in Kashmir, like when an “officer strapped a civilian atop a military vehicle as a human shield against stone-throwing protesters in Kashmir.” As of 2015 alone, there have been 1,080 extrajudicial killings, 272 enforced disappearances in the region, along with the 60,000 people who have been killed in the past two decades. Kashmir was also the place of the world’s first mass blinding in 2016, with 6,000 who were injured, including more than 1,100 with permanent eye damage with the use of metal pellets.
One of the most nefarious tactics of occupation within the occupied territory has been the mass sexual assault that have been carried out for decades. A United Nations report documented from 1992 that Indian security forces allegedly gang raped 882 women along with Médecins Sans Frontières’ findings that “11.6 percent of interviewees said they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989″ and that “one in seven had witnessed rape.”
Sexual assault is used as institutionally protected means of punishment and terror to inflict on local populations. In particular rape was used against those who were seen as militant sympathizers. With these tactics normalized by military forces, and furthermore legitimized by the policies of the current government, then it should be no surprise that Kashmiri Muslim bodies are not respected nor valued in the state, let alone by those who are aligned with the BJP.
In a region where violence has been used as a tool of oppression for decades against a majority Muslim population and in present-day India where a Hindu nationalist party is spewing inequity in its policies and practices, the death of Asifa is horrendous, but not an anomaly, as many in Indian media are reporting. When there are demonstrations and sympathies for the perpetrators of this horrendous act it proves once again that the lives of Kashmiris have historically proven to not matter to the state or its military.
Violence against women and girls doesn’t exist on its own, especially within occupied territory — it is a tool of oppression and occupation, especially in the region, which in this case was fueled by Hindu nationalism which has been a focus of the state’s mandate. With mass rape, extrajudicial killings, mass blindings and disappearances, the murder of Asifa should not be seen as an outlier within Kashmir but as a consequence of occupation and the decades of violence continuously occurring.
To do justice by Asifa would be to recognize that in her tragedy lies the story of thousands of women and girls in Kashmir who have experienced the same crimes fueled by the same ideologies. In recognizing that her death is connected to the occupation of Kashmir would be to recognize that decades of violence and devaluation of Kashmiri Muslims’ lives has played a role in this tragedy.
The support and defense of the men who murdered Asifa proves as a litmus test for India today and proves that decades of occupation and the emergence of Hindu nationalism has led to a consequence as atrocious as this. While outcry over Asifa’s murder is happening in India, the sheer ability to divorce this from the violence that has taken place in Indian occupied Kashmir has proven that the narrative is still skewed in favor of occupation in Indian media today. One has to wonder where the outcry was when reports of Indian military forces using mass sexual assault first came out and how one can separate Asifa’s Kashmiri identity from her so easily.
In Asifa’s death there is a moment to recognize the human rights injustices that have occured for decades which haven’t been addressed in India, nor in the international community. Justice for Asifa is intrinsically tied to Azadi (freedom) for Kashmir, until then, both Kashmir and Asifa await justice.
Author Bio: Manaal is a writer and community organizer in Toronto. She primarily writes about issues pertaining to violence against women, Islamophobia, South Asia and race. Twitter: @ManaalFarooqi