The continuous atrocities by the state has brought our society to a stage where we can discuss rape and other forms of sexual violence in our daily conversations: Ifrah Butt

Ifrah Butt is one of the co-authors of the book Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora, which was released last year on the eve of Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day. Wande Magazine produces here the interview which was conducted shortly after the release of the book. In view of the ban imposed by state authorities on the public event and press conference marking the anniversary of Kunan Poshpora on February 23, the interview brings out the necessity of talking openly about rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated against Kashmiri men and women

Wande Magazine: What was it that got you into taking up this case?

Ifrah Butt: There were a number of reasons for taking up this case but most importantly was the fact that although there were many women of Kunan Poshpora who had survived this incident but there was absolutely no acknowledgement from the state that this incident happened – infact a total impunity prevailed over the case.

For me personally, I got interested in Kunan Poshpora while working on cases of sexual violence committed by state forces in Kashmir at JKCCS (Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society). While looking and sifting through the case, the authorities in the concluding remarks had termed the case as ‘closed and untraced.’ That phrase ‘closed and untraced’ was a trigger for me to start questioning that why such an incident, a mass rape of over thirty-seven women of two villages could be termed as ‘closed and untraced’ in such a way? How can a case be untraced? It means that no proper investigation was done and something is missing. These were some of the facts that made me think that this case should be reinvestigated.

WM: Being a student of IR, how do you look at rape and sexual violence being used as a weapon of repression to create fear in the population—and that in the context of Kashmir?

IB: Rape as a war weapon has been used in so many places, in Sri Lanka, in Bangladesh – particularly in south Asian countries. In Bosnia and Rwanda too rape has been used a weapon of war to instil fear in the population. Its purpose is to demoralize the community. It works on the principle that if you can’t hit the men (insurgents) directly, you know you have to attack their women.

In a society like ours, women are seen as the backbone of the social fabric – she is also seen as carrying the honour of the society. So if you hit her, you are attacking and demoralizing the whole community, the whole people. In our society, women carry the honour of family and the honour of community and if she is raped, or attacked by the State forces the purpose is to break our men. This is how it works in a patriarchal society like ours, the state uses rape as a tactic when it’s unable to attack or harm its enemies directly.

When rape is used as a weapon of war in a society like ours, the women suffer doubly. First they suffer at the hands of the state when they are raped by armed forces and then they are victimised in the larger society. This is what happens.

We should also realize that when the State attacks and rapes our women, it’s because it sees women as also contributing towards the resistance struggle. We can’t blame women for it. We can’t shame them for this. The society has to be extra cautious in responding to a situation like this.

WM: Covering this case and interacting with the women survivors must have been hard for you. Tell us about that experience?

IB: I met the women of Kunan Poshpora for the first time in May 2013, before that I had never met a rape survivor. It was also the first time that we visited Kunan and Poshpora. It was very hard for me to talk to these women, who were old and we being young – in a society like ours we are not usually comfortable in talking about rape with our elders – and talking to someone who is a stranger and asking them these questions is very difficult; you have to build trust slowly with them even when they are not opening up easily.

But when we went to the villages, the men folk there allowed us to talk to the women. They expressed their trust in us and knowing that we had already filed a PIL in the case, they gradually opened up.

After this initial difficultly, interacting with the women became easy. They are warm hearted women and they called us their daughters. They narrated, with difficulty, how their grandchildren have now started to question them about what happened on that night.

The conversations with them showed that a lot has changed in our society; we didn’t talk of rape in our daily conversations before. And now we do. Because of the continuous atrocities by the state, we as a society have come to a stage where we discuss rape and other sexual violence in our daily conversations.

I also feel now that we can’t stop at Kunan Poshpora. What we have done (bringing out this book) is not enough. We can’t stop here. Kashmir is not just about Kunan and Poshpora. When we look at the recent history of Kashmir, there are so many other places where such incidents have taken place. I really hope that this book encourages other people to take up those incidents and show a mirror to the state and hold it accountable for its actions.

WM: How has this experience impacted upon you at the personal level?

IB: I think the most obvious impact on me was that before the writing of the book; I was quite reluctant to talk about rape. I would feel shy. I used to think if I talk about rape openly, what is the person who I will be discussing with think about me? I was ashamed. But this experience has changed me. I no longer see why we should be ashamed or shy in talking about rape. It’s the perpetrator who should be ashamed.

I remember what one woman from Kunan said. She told me that when a militant is martyred in Kashmir, people pay respect to the martyr and say that he died for a just cause. But when a woman is raped for the same cause, why isn’t the society responding in the same way? Why is she neglected, victimized and looked down upon?



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