Kashmir: Incorporating CEDAW into AFSPA

14 Jul, 2019    ·   5599

Anam Mumtaz argues for the integration of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women into AFSPA based on a statistical analysis of crimes against women in the valley

The imposition of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 appears to have resulted in a drop in crimes against women. However, in any conflict-affected society, women tend to be much more vulnerable, and Kashmir is no different. Unbridled powers naturally lead to greater abuse. There is much to be gained by the Indian state in incorporating the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) into AFSPA, not just to bring about better conditions for women, but also improve security in the state.

The statistics from 1985 to 1990 show crime rates against women hovering at around 19,000 incidents per year. In 1989, when the insurgency started, a sudden spike to 21,442 is noticed, while the imposition of AFSPA in 1990 sees a drop to 15,047. Sporadic data for the 1990s shows that 1992 and 1994 saw a decline to 976 and 901 reported cases respectively, rising to 1,210 in 1996. The next data set starts in 2000, where one sees a gradual and consistent rise from 1,634 cases in 2000 to 3,360 in 2015, or a 106 per cent increase.

The initial rapid drop in cases could be attributed to the lack of reporting given the adversarial nature of relations between the organs of the state, specially law enforcement. However this is problematic because when violence against women goes unreported and underground, it tends to increase exponentially because the fear of reporting reduces. On the other hand, it is equally possible that due to the omnipresence of security forces, there was an actual reduction in the rate of crimes against women. The steady rise in cases since 2000 also has positive and negative implications. If one is to assume that the drop witnessed post 1990 was a reporting issue, then it follows that trust in the state has increased and crimes are being reported more actively. Conversely, if one assumes that the presence of security forces brought about an actual reduction in the rate of crimes against women post 1990, then the increase in crimes post  2000 means the deterrent effect of a heavy security presence is gradually eroding.

Assuming that crime against women dropped drastically under AFSPA, then there is an equally drastic increase in crimes against women despite AFSPA. Equally unclear is what percentage of reported crimes is actually committed by the security forces. This clearly merits investigation, and the binding nature of CEDAW mandates that steps be taken unilaterally by the government. Under AFSPA, security personnel possess significantly enhanced powers and enjoy relative impunity in their operations. For example Section 6 of the AFSPA specifies that no personnel shall be arrested or charged for crimes, in exercising the powers conferred by AFSPA, without central government authorisation. The security forces operating under AFSPA have been responsible for various instances of sexual violence against women over the years. The incidents in Kunan-Poshpora (1991), Zero Bridge (2003), Shopian (2009) and Zachaldara (2014) are but a few examples. While this may not be a pattern, there are avenues of strengthening the protection of women in line with its obligations under CEDAW without diluting AFSPA (which seems an impossibility at the moment).

To be fair there are several hurdles to the effective implementation of CEDAW in Kashmir. These include a low female literacy rate (58 per cent compared to the national average of 65 per cent), the amount of time taken to investigate cases, lack of awareness of fundamental rights, etc. However, simple measures can be taken by the army to prevent the abuse of AFSPA as a preventive measure and avoiding unrest due to such abuses. This is beneficial not just for the security forces themselves as it maintains discipline, but is also an excellent counter-insurgency measure as a powerful tool in dispelling misinformation regarding the security forces and the abuse of women.

Some of the steps that can be taken include the setting of prosecutable standards and procedures for troops when dealing with women. Acknowledging that counter-insurgency situations can be highly stressful, this would be an additional training burden but would go a long way not just in protecting women in such situations, but also protecting security forces from false accusations or political scapegoating. However standards and procedures alone are not enough without verification, and in this case verification could be in the form of body cameras for troops to ensure compliance with the norms of conduct laid down with respect to women.

Conflict societies like Kashmir tend to be highly tense zones where women, an already vulnerable section, are left even more vulnerable to abuse. While the statistics with regards to the abuse of women and its correlation with AFSPA are prone to multiple interpretations, what is undeniable is that there is room for improvement. Case studies from Tanzania, Netherlands, Bangladesh and Uganda have shown significant positive effects when CEDAW is actively implemented. Such improvements serve not only the interests of women in Kashmir but also the state. As such, the incorporation of CEDAW obligations into AFSPA could be a win-win for all involved.


Anam Mumtaz is a Research Intern with the Centre for Internal and Regional Security (IReS), IPCS.