International Development and Gender-based Violence

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 26th November 2020.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:33 pm, 26th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate Anthony Mangnall on securing this very important debate. He talks very passionately about the issues for women, in particular, in regions of unrest and war.

On that note, I would like to talk about violence against women in occupied Kashmir by the Indian armed forces. We know that the rape of women becomes the weapon of choice in areas of conflict. I consider myself a daughter of Kashmir, because I spent my teenage years in Azad Kashmir in a village in Pakistan, where I had the luxury of being able to go to school without opening the front door and finding the military there with guns. I had the benefit and the freedom of going to school and going about my business without worrying about being cornered or subjected to rape, and without worrying about the women in the village being subjected to rape by the armed forces. That was a privilege that I enjoyed—that was in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

In occupied Kashmir, however, there are some instances where women still have not received justice, and I will highlight some of them. The first UN human rights report in 2008 called for an inquiry, and I hope the Minister will support that call. Calls for inquiries have often been dismissed as propaganda by the opposite side—whichever side that is. That is not acceptable, and it should not be acceptable to us that those inquiries have not happened.

Human Rights Watch has identified two main scenarios where women are being raped by Indian forces: first, during searches and cordon ops and, secondly, during reprisal attacks by Indian forces after military ambushes.

Nowadays, 23 February is commemorated as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day because on that date in 1991, up to 150 women and girls were raped en masse—the biggest mass rape that has ever happened anywhere in this world. Indian soldiers were told to go on a mass raping spree in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, and that is what happened. The women are still waiting for justice; not one perpetrator was held to account.

Recently, with the revocation of Article 370, Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said:

“These are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370”.

On 10 August 2019, Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, was quoted as saying:

“Some people are now saying that as Kashmir is open, brides will be brought from there. But jokes apart, if [the gender] ratio is improved, then there will be a right balance in society”.

Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata party’s Vikram Saini, a member of a legislative assembly, said:

“Muslim party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the white-skinned women of Kashmir”.

I went to Pakistan, to Azad Kashmir, and met lots of Kashmiri women. Many Kashmiri women have come here to make representations to this House, to members of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group and to others, and they have told us of the horrors that they have faced.

I wanted to talk about this today because I have lived in Kashmir; I have seen what it is like to have freedom, even in somewhere like Pakistan and even after having been subjected to a forced marriage myself. I absolutely understand what the hon. Member for Totnes was talking about, but I still had the freedom of not having someone putting a gun barrel against my back, taking me into a corner and raping me. I still had those privileges in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and I am looking forward to taking my daughter there to introduce her to those areas.

What of those women in Kashmir, who cannot leave? We struggle, as people here, with the curfews—