“I was in my teens when I was raped by the Indian state.” My friend breaks down before he is about to narrate his ordeal to me. He was confiding in me. It was pretty difficult to persuade him to do so. Boys who suffer in such a manner never come out in the open about their stories.
In Kashmir, sexual violence has long been used as a weapon of war and is directed towards women as well as numerous young boys who are sexually abused in police stations and elsewhere. Boys never reveal such incidents for the fear of losing mardaangi (manhood) which stems from the oppressive patriarchal structure and also being ostracized for having undergone something “unmanly”. My friend was one of them.
“The ‘political private’ organ of that mercenary pierced my tender body. He did not tear me up. He broke my senses. It felt as if he inserted a rifle into my heart. The Indian state had succeeded in distorting my physique.” He began wiping off his tears while recounting the horror he was subjected to. It is never easy to stay unnerved while hearing tragedies. It has become a cliche now in the valley to bear witness to the tales of oppression.
“I was young to comprehend things the way I do now. Though I distinguished ‘my own’ and ‘their own’. I knew olive green uniform was the superlative degree of khaki one. I took them as the dreaded villains of our childhood stories who added technology to their arsenal. That was kiddish but that is how I perceived them. It is the truth.”
Like other children of conflict, he too had experienced and understood crackdowns, cordons, encounters, parades, card checking etc. He had seen members of his family being subjected to torture. He knew the oppression was uniform throughout the valley and knew no discrimination as long as a Kashmiri was being killed, raped, tortured or disappeared.
But he could not resist what was done to him that day. Firstly because the fear of living under the shadow of guns had scared him ever since he grew up. And secondly, he had never anticipated that Indian state could steep down to such lows. “ProbabIy I never saw it coming. I never knew what the Indian state was upto,” he says. “I mean, is torture and interrogation not enough to eliminate us?”
He was aghast with himself for not remembering smaller instances of abuse and learning from them. “I should have reminded myself of the crackdown when, before many years from this incident, an army man had taken me to a side from the parading ground and started touching my chest. But I could not.” He continuously kept lamenting his inability to react.
He was harassed so much that he began following their orders. He was then asked to tread an empty alley, where they followed him. “He took me behind a building and…” He is unable to continue speaking as he is busy shedding tears. I cannot console him. He has been holding this secret for a good six years before he broke it out to me. “I could not even tell my parents or friends or anyone.”
My friend regathers himself. “I kept to myself in an emotionally difficult phase of my life. One of the reasons was that I did not want a pitiful or sympathetic feeling from my listeners which is usually associated with ‘victimhood’. I wanted it to become my strength. Victimhood entraps a person and snatches the ability to act, which I never wanted. I did not want people to look at me and say ‘haye bechara’.”
For my friend, there have been recurring thoughts of this experience. “Their symbols never allow me the luxury to forget and move on. I spot my perpetrator every day. On roads. In schools. In bunkers. Dressed in dark uniforms wielding automatic weapons. I denounce them, and their employers, each day. I resist their control over me, and my people, every single day.” He vows never to forget it.
Around the same time, as my friend was subjected to this horror, more stories of sexual abuse in prisons and elsewhere by armed forces were reported. And the trend has gained momentum since. There are many many boys like this friend of mine who might have gone through such painful events. And for the risk of losing social acceptability, they are not able to come forward and open out.
“Any crime in Kashmir committed by forces, shielded by the impunity-providing laws, manifests the will of this ensemble that forms the Indian state,” clarifies my friend.
There is AFSPA, synonymous with blanket impunity, provided by the state to its military for crimes committed by them. So, thousands of rapes and other sexual harassment has found no prosecution. Thus, it suffices to say that Indian state is directly involved in shielding it’s men whenever they resort to violence of any form. These things are intertwined and can never be seen in segregation.
We, as a nation, have witnessed immeasurable amount of pain and suffering. The signs of pain inflicted upon us can never be separated from our existence. “We prefer not to bandage our wounds. We choose to live with our scars. They are not signs of our humiliation but unabated rebellion.” My friend sounds bold and pledges to not get bogged down in a pit of shame or solitude.
Such tales have become a cliche now and every often stories are reported. One wonders if it is the constant news of oppression that sustains Kashmir’s struggle for the right to self-determination. How can the stacked up libraries of oppression be ignored and still expect Kashmiris to bear more oppression? Do we need to remind the world every other day the hell we live in? Our existence should suffice.
“The Indian state can ensure development, erase unemployment and pump more money to falsely sensitise us but how can money or job veil our scars,” he says, determined not to let his, and fellow people’s sacrifices go in vain. “These tactics,” he feels, “are aimed at breaking us down so that nothing in us is capable to act.” Even though tears roll down, his eyes exhibit a staunch belief in resistance and justice.
I ask him why did he decide to unravel his inner secrets after six years. “Nothing is personal in this world. Everything is political. And in a land, where even personal chats and calls are snooped on by the state, how can rape be a personal happening?” he replies.
There are ample similar stories which don’t make it to the public domain for reasons mentioned earlier. So, “this story is political and reflects collective injury not a personal, single case of sexual assault,” he further adds.
He concludes on an optimistic note. “If not us, our children, or their children; or any future generation of Kashmiris will be able to live in a free and unoccupied valley.”
This article first appeared in Youth Ki Awaaz.