Issues and Challenges

Tragedy in Kashmir: How the Conflict in IIOJK Impacts Women’s Education

Recurrent images of a smoldering Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu Kashmir (IIOJK) in the media are prevalent. The darkness that the fire embodies is accompanied by heart wrenching images of men, women and children bleeding crimson, their stony eyes singing a decades old lament. They are the ones whose eyes evince victory in death but during their life they live in a constant threat of death and misery of their loved ones. The men, women, and children in IIOJK have all suffered from the conflict. However, being more vulnerable to abuse and violence at the hands of Indian forces, women have suffered more, which has led to their exclusion from education and hence limited their social mobility. Unfortunately, this is also furthered by lack of legal accountability of the Indian forces in the conflict zone, which forces women to be responsible for their own safety. IIOJK being a place of constant battle, its women’s access to education stands impeded as a result of the attacks on schools that have reportedly killed students, dearth of educational infrastructure, an atmosphere of constant fear as well as frequent curfews. According to a report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), rates of female literacy in the region have been falling since the early 1990s, and have reached alarmingly low levels in recent years.

IIOJK is home to recurring catastrophes in personal lives, where families lose their loved ones to death every day, soldiers enter homes in the middle of the night and take away men and boys on trumped up charges taking advantage of draconian laws that India has devised to keep IIOJK in shackles. Unfortunately, that is not all, IIOJK is also home to infinite stories of women losing their power over their own bodies. Sexual misconduct against women in IIOJK has had a severe impact on their ability to access education. The constant fear of harassment, abuse and violence that prevails has forced women to drop out of school leading to an increased number of women avoiding extreme vulnerability to abuse by deciding to stay back at home. These incidents not only strip away their autonomy and dignity, but also limit their opportunities, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality.

According to a report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), rates of sexual violence have increased in the region since August 2019. This includes cases of rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of gender-based violence at the hands of military and paramilitary forces deployed in the region by India. The increased vulnerability in the face of constant threats of death hinders women’s access to education. The report also highlights the lack of economic and social mobility, which results from the ongoing conflict and human rights violations that have the inevitable result of women and girls being unable to attend school. The fear of sexual violence, particularly when traveling to and from schools, has led many girls to drop out of school. 
Women’s fears are intensified because the cases of abduction, rape and sexual misconduct that often go unpunished due to the lack of accountability within the legal system. The legal system in IIOJK is not equipped to deal with the issue of sexual violence against women and girls. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 (AFSPA) grants immunity to members of the Indian security forces from prosecution, making it almost impossible to hold them accountable for their actions or be punished for the crimes. This empowers the Indian forces and makes women more vulnerable to abuse, leading them to finding refuge in their houses instead of state institutions. 
Women who come forward to report the incidents of abuse and violence are often met with intimidation and harassment, causing many to choose to remain silent. It is essential that the Indian government take responsibility for its actions and hold those who commit these crimes accountable. This can only be achieved by conducting independent investigations and bringing the perpetrators to justice, thus ensuring the safety and rights of women and girls in IIOJK, and allowing them the freedom and security to pursue their live in a normal manner that includes seeking education and employment.
To add to women’s miseries, the region has seen a large number of men being arrested or taken away by security forces, leaving behind families with no means of support. This has put a significant burden on women, who are now left to take care of their families and provide for them financially. This has forced many women to drop out of school and focus on earning a livelihood as well as to limit expenses by cutting down on education. The lack of mobility and the disappearance of male figures also has a significant impact on the mental and emotional wellbeing of women in IIOJK. The constant fear and uncertainty have led to increased stress and anxiety, which has made it difficult for women to focus on their education.
Student bodies and teachers are often targeted for their political demands. The Indian forces frequently assault educational institutes on such pretexts. There have been several reported cases of the use of pellet guns in educational institutions causing serious injuries and deaths of both students and faculty. In such an environment, who would want to go to school? Neither would the parents risk their children’s safety. 

The attacks on student bodies and the teachers is not the only issue. Those who want to attend school despite knowing that it is equivalent to going to one’s own funeral are hindered by damaged schools. Many schools and educational institutions in Kashmir have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict, or are being used as military bases. A report by Amnesty International also states that schools in Jammu and Kashmir have been used as military bases, and many have been damaged or destroyed in the course of military operations. Furthermore, a report by the JKCCS states that schools have been used as centers for torture, interrogation, and as camps for temporary detention. The report also highlights how the destruction of schools has resulted in a lack of access to education for children in the region, particularly for those living in rural areas.
According to a report by the OHCHR, entitled: “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from 2016 to 2018 and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan,” schools in IIOJK have been systematically destroyed by the Indian security forces since the 1990s. The report states: “Numerous schools have been occupied by security forces, used as barracks or firing ranges, or destroyed during military operations.” This is bound to cause the displacement of students and teachers, leading to a disruption in education for many children in the region. The report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir highlights the stark contrast between the policies and practices in IIOJK and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. In IIOJK, the report highlights a number of human rights concerns, including restrictions on freedom of expression, arbitrary detention, and the use of excessive force by security forces. Furthermore, the report notes that there has been a crackdown on civil society organizations and human rights activists in the region. Another report published by the Institute of Development Studies in partnership with Oxford Policy Management and Jammu and Kashmir Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development (JKIMPA), highlighted the same issue, where lack of infrastructure and transport facilities in IIOJK coupled with unpropitious social attitudes, restrict the access to education for the girl child. 
The whole situation is heartbreaking. It is unfortunate that our sisters in IIOJK are being targeted and are hindered in their social and economic mobility and uplift. Yet, this is the reality of the women of IIOJK, and for the most part, most of it remains unheard.

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