Soura in Kashmir’s Srinagar has been the epicenter of mass protests against the Indian government and the Indian army for over 45 days now. The area has witnessed reports of mass detentions of men, with many also being targets of pellet injuries. Following the people’s efforts to restrain the army’s movement in the region, women are now becoming the targets of harassment and abuse by the security forces. They are being used as tools to teach a lesson to the community so as to ensure that the protests are kept in check and all voices of dissent are silenced. Women of the region have stated that the army has been carrying out raids post midnight arresting and detaining male family members from across the state. “We don’t know when our fathers will be back or if they will be back at all, and now we are being targeted too,” said Yusra, a teenager.
On September 15, 20-year-old Shabnam along with two other women from her family were picked up by the police and detained for over twelve hours in the local police station. She was on her way to fetch medicines for her ailing daughter. Speaking to NewsClick, she explained, “I had gone out at 10 in the morning to fetch medicine for my sick daughter, when the SHO [Police’s station house officer] grabbed me from the back and beat me up. My legs were badly bruised. My sister-in-law was also picked up alongside another teenager from my family. While my sister-in-law suffered a grave hand injury, the young girl was also threatened and abused. I want to ask the police what is my fault? The fact that I want medicines for my daughter?”
The women were released by the police around half past midnight on the same day. The local residents are alleging that the women were picked up without any substantial charges, “We want a case to be registered against the superintendent of the police. How could he could pick up the women and beat them up in the absence of female police officers? The women were not even put in the separate cell for women, they were kept inside the general cell with men and beaten up in the army police station in Soura,” said a resident Usma Wani.
Healthcare needs of women have taken a major hit post the clampdown in the state. “Soura has been completely cut off from the rest of the city. A pregnant woman was in severe labor pain and had to deliver a child, however, the police forces did not let her leave the region. The situation was so bad that she had to be brought to her mother’s house for the delivery. She’s still suffering due to the absence of essential medical care with no chemists open in the region,” said another resident Beebi Khatoon explaining the healthcare crisis in the region.
The women also said that due to the closure of medical stores, they have not been able to arrange sanitary napkins. “We are facing a crisis like never before. We have to arrange napkins from amongst the community as none of us can go out to buy them and when one does venture out they become targets of the forces,” Wani said.
Wani, who is still in her teens, is also bearing the brunt for raising her voice against the forces. She was also thrown out of her school for mobilizing the young women to lead protests in Soura. “I had to move schools because I was in the spotlight for encouraging women to come out of their homes. This did not go down well with my school administration who threatened me to change my school and I finally had to give in and move to another one to continue my education.”
The women in the region have also reported instances of mass teasing and hurling of abuses by the security forces. “When any women from the community step out of the house, abuses are hurled at them by the men from the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] forces. My girls are called ‘Dhikkads’ or sluts. It is impossible for them to move out of the house. If the forces have their way with us, we wouldn’t be able to stay even inside our houses. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said that he wants to hug the Kashmiris, the truth is he wants to kill our daughters and our men,” said Beeba Khatoon, who was protesting outside the mosque in Soura. Yusra added, “When we move around the town to fetch the smallest of the things, the army hurls abuses and threatens us. We have to cover our ears every time hoping that we can somehow avoid hearing their voices. This is absolute torture. Is this the cost that we need to pay to bring home milk and other basic things?”
Soura has witnessed a series of protests over the last few weeks. This Friday’s (September 20) protest witnessed a gathering of over two hundred people following the prayers. In the first week of September, the region was shaken up with the security forces clamping down on the protesters with pellet gun firing which led to the injuries of over 40 people.