‘Braid Chopping’ Attacks on Women in Kashmir

Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch 
Reporter, Asia 

SRINAGAR, Kashmir – Women in Kashmir are facing an attack of a new type- ‘braid chopping.’   Masked perpetuators attack women and then proceeded to cut their hair.  These types of attacks have happened both public spheres as well as private homes.  Within the past 2 month over 200 women reported such abuses.

A women with her chopped hair. Photo Courtesy of Farooq Khan.

The attackers spray some type of chemical in the women’s faces before chopping their victim’s hair off.  Many women are knocked unconscious in the process.  The chopped hair is not stolen by the attackers.

Attacks such as these have also been reported in other Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana.  Even New Delhi, the capital, has seen similar cases.

Women reported the events to the police.  The region’s police say that these incidents are being treated as a crime.  There is a $9,000 reward for information on the culprits.

However, they believe that the police are not following up in an appropriate manner.  The police response impedes women’s empowerment.  Despite there being a high reward for information, many local police do not take the complaints seriously.  They accuse of the women of hallucinating or having a history of mental illness.  This response breaks down a woman’s credibility as well as not reassuring her of her safety.

Women have begun to gather in the streets to protest.  One such demonstration ended in stones thrown at the Indian Police.  Vigilante groups have also formed in some villages as a response mechanism.  There is a real fear of being accused of being a ‘braid-chopper.’

These attacks cause fear to grow among the female population in Kashmir.  Women are afraid to go out in public or be left alone. The fear caused by the attacks takes away the women’s peace  of mind and independence.

Additionally, the attacks degrade the women.  Kashmir is a typically conservative Muslim territory.  Women tend to not cut their hair and keep it covered as doing otherwise is dishonorable.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – ‘Braid-chopping sparks fear and unrest in Kashmir – 12 October 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Braid Chopping in Kashmir sparks mass panic and mob violence – 11 October 2017

USA Today – Mysterious ‘braid-choppers’ are drugging women and cutting off their hair in India – 17 October 2017

Indian Supreme Court Rules Sex with Minor Bride as Rape

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – On Wednesday, October 11th, the Indian Supreme court ruled that any sexual relationship between a man and his wife between the age of 15 and 18 is a crime. The country’s highest court changed the rape law and declared that sex with an underage wife is an illegal act. According to the Indian Supreme court, the committed offense must be reported by the wife within a year.
There are over 26 million child brides in India. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.

Under the current law, the legal age of consent and marriage is 18. In the rural parts of the country, child marriages are not uncommon. Currently, there are more than 26 million child brides in India according to the United Nation’s children agency. Based on the agency’s report, between 2008 and 2014, more than 47% of the girls were married before their 18th birthday. Furthermore, an estimated 18 percent of the girls were married by the age of 15.  It is reported that most of the girls were from poor families with little education.

Previous Indian governments have defended the law as they believed the country’s poor social and economic conditions have made child marriage an unfortunate reality. Moreover, early marriage has been a part of the Indian culture though the “guana” ceremony.

Many activists around the country praised the recent decision as a “positive step in the right direction.” A member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association recently stated that “we strongly feel that this decision of the Supreme Court will work in impacting child marriages.”

Although activists still believe that the Indian Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to enforce, many agree that it will have long-lasting consequences.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Sex with underage wife is rape, Indian supreme court rules – 11 October, 2017

BBC – India Supreme Court rules sex with child bride is rape – 11 October, 2017

Al Jazeera – Indian court rules sex with minor wife is rape – 12 October, 2017

Deadly Stamped Kills 22 in India

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – A deadly stampeded occurred on September 29th around 10:30 a.m. local time in India. The incident happened on a footbridge at Prabhadevi train station which is located in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai. More than 20 deaths and 35 injuries have been reported.
Relatives of victims wait outside the King Edward Memorial Hospital. Photo courtesy of CNN.

The crowd on the footbridge grew larger as people tried to take cover during a rain shower. It is reported that a person may have slipped which lead to the initial blockage. Many television viewers witnessed many bodies jammed together against a railing. Some of the victims even jumped from the bridge.

The injured were taken to the King Edward Memorial Hospital for treatment. The doctors at the hospital asked for blood donations.

The bridge is believed to be constructed during the British colonial times. For a while, the bridge has been described as a safety hazard according to a local lawmaker.

Piyush Goel, who is currently serving as the country’s railways minister expressed his condolences. The Indian rail network carries around 23 million passengers daily and connects 8,000 stations across the country. Moreover, suburban trains carry an estimated 8 million travelers daily.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a $17-billion high-speed train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Since then, he has received criticisms for not addressing the overcrowding issues for the country’s local trains. Later that day, Prime Minister Modi expressed his “deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives due to the stampede in Mumbai.”

In an analysis done by a data journalism website, around nine people die every day on Mumbai’s local train tracks.

For more information, please see:

LA Times – At least 22 killed in stampede at Mumbai rail station – 29 September, 2017

Chicago Tribune – Stampede on pedestrian bridge between Mumbai railway stations leaves at least 22 dead – 29 September, 2017

CNN – Mumbai stampede kills 22, injures 35 at train station – 29 September, 2017

40 Million People Affected by Historic Flood in South Asia

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – Since August, millions of people in South Asia have been impacted by the region’s worst flood in 40 years. It is reported that around 40 million people are affected by the massive flood.
The flood leaves over 1,000 deaths in South Asia. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Over 1,400 have died so far and tens of thousands are living in tents all across the region. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states in India, the Terai region in Nepal, and Kurigram and Chimari districts in Bangladesh have been hit the worst.

In Bangladesh alone, over 8 million people are affected. It also reported that over 13,000 people are currently suffering from diarrhea and respiratory infections after the flood. According to the Secretary General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, diarrhea, malaria and dengue are on the rise in some parts of the country.

In Nepal, around 1.7 million people are affected with 26,844 cases of illness around the country. Although no epidemic has been reported, many health officials are taking extreme caution and monitoring the situation closely.

With the danger of mosquito and waterborne diseases, the risks are said to be greater for children and women. In India, around 17 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance.

Because the floods were so extreme, many families have been struggling to find proper burial grounds due to the lack of dry land.

Recently, the Scottish government donated from the government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund. The money is to provide any immediate and life saving aid in the region.

Reuters – Thousands hit by malaria, dengue as South Asia’s worst floods in a decade recede – 6 September, 2017

ABC – South Asia floods: Estimated 40 million across India, Bangladesh, Nepal affected – 8 September, 2017

BBC – South Asia floods: Scottish government donates £300,000 from emergency fund – 9 September, 2017

Violence Erupts in India after Guru is Sentenced to 20 years for Rape

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – On Friday, August 18th, India’s spiritual guru was sentenced to 20 years in prison. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation announced that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of raping two of his followers. Two women accused Singh of rape at the headquarter of his sect. In India, the minimum sentence for rape is seven years.
Singh’s followers are protesting their leader’s 20 year prison sentence in northern India. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Singh, leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, has an immense following in Haryana and Punjab states. He is an influential figure in the country as thousands consider him as a cult icon. Also known as “the guru of bling,” he is the star of five films and many popular music videos. He currently has 3.75 million Twitter followers and claims to have 60 million worldwide followers. On his website, Singh’s work is described as a “social humanitarianism and selfless services to others.”

On the day of his sentencing, thousands of troops were deployed to control Singh’s supporters. Since the conviction, 30 people were killed and 200 were injured when clashes occurred across northern India. Many followers came out to the streets and smashed cars, torched buses and attacked police officers. An army officer stated that the troops were deployed because “the police couldn’t control the situation.”

His followers mostly sit at the bottom of the social hierarchy in India. They have relied on Singh and his sect for basic needs, such as food, medicine, and a sense of equality.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded the Indian people on his monthly address that India was the home of “Gandhi and Lord Buddha.” He went on to condemn the violence.

Singh is also facing murder charges in connection with the death of a reporter.

NYT – Violent Protests in India Turn Deadly After Guru’s Rape Conviction – 25 August, 2017

The Guardian – Indian states in lockdown for guru’s rape sentencing after deadly protests – 27 August, 2017

CNN – Indian guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh sentenced to 20 years for rape – 28 August, 2017

NPR – After ‘Guru Of Bling’ Sentencing, Indian State Stays On Alert For Violence – 28 August, 2017

Supreme Court of India Modifies Anti-Dowry Law

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NEW DELHI, India – The Supreme Court of India stated that the anti-dowry law is being misused in the country. Until dowry harassment charges can be verified, the court has ordered the authorities to stop arresting the accused.

Many have been protesting against the tough anti-dowry law. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Under the dowry system in India, the bride’s family transfers property or money to her husband as a condition of the marriage.

The practice of dowry, a long tradition in the Indian culture, has been banned since 1961. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 implemented a tough anti-dowry law in the country. The law allows for immediate arrest of the accused but many have argued that it allows for women to file false cases. The original intent of the law was to help women, but many critics of the law stated that it is being used as “a weapon by disgruntled wives.” Although not many are convicted under this law, thousands of people are arrest every year.

To combat these issues, on July 27th, 2017, the Supreme Court of India ordered the states to establish family welfare committee to address dowry related problems. The court further established that all complaints received by the authorities must be given to the family welfare committee for its review. It is noted that no action can be taken against the husband and the in-laws until a full report is released.

In 2015, the Indian government’s data estimated that around 7,634 women were killed due to dowry-related issues. The centuries-old tradition of dowry continues to be an issue in India. Many anti-dowry proponents have argued that the tradition leaves women vulnerable to material issues which sometimes leads to violence and event death.

For more information, please see: 

BBC – India top court orders changes in anti-dowry law to stop misuse – 28 July, 2017

India Times – SC Stops Misuse Of Anti-Dowry Law By Women, No Arrest Can Be Make Until Charges Are Verified – 28 July, 2017

The Times of India – No arrest in dowry cases till charges are verified, says Supreme Court – 28 July, 2017

One Police Officer; Seven Militants Killed in Kashmir Clashes

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India — Gunfights and clashes left seven militants and one police officer dead in Kashmir. Clashes have been steady in the region since a popular militant commander died during the summer.

Injured Protesters Following Clashes with Indian Forces in the Summer (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Indian security forces reported they had shot and killed three militants in Poonch, a district near the Indian border with Pakistan. Three of the militants were killed when they allegedly tried to storm the government secretariat in Poonch. The gun battle lasted all day which led to the death of a police officer along with the 3 militants. Another police officer and a civilian were wounded in the battle.

Another four militants were shot and killed as they attempted to cross the border into Pakistan in Kupwara. An Indian army official said a second wave of militants tried to cross the border, but they were apprehended without violence. No civilians were hurt during the skirmishes in Kupwara.

On Sunday, there were also large scale protests occurring in Karimabad village of Pulwama district. The protesters had come out to prevent the Indian soldiers from fighting militants. Protesters threw stones and blocked roads while security forces fired pellet rounds and tear gas. Over 150 protesters were injured in Karimabad village with 18 of them being transported to a hospital.

During the summer, a popular militant commander, Buhran Wani, died in a gunfight with Indian forces. Since then, there have been protests and clashes throughout Kashmir. Since Wani was killed, more than 70 protesters have died in clashes with Indian forces and thousands more have been injured. Just a couple of days earlier from these events, two more protesters died after engaging security forces.

Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since both gained independence from Great Britain in 1947. Both countries claim the territory to be under their sovereign control. The disputed majority Muslim territory has caused two wars between India and Pakistan: one in 1947 and another in 1965. A large insurgency within Kashmir has been fighting for independence from India since 1989 which has left thousands of people dead.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Kashmir unrest: Two more protesters killed in clashes — 10 September 2016

BBC — ‘Militants’ killed in Kashmir clashes — 12 September 2016

BBC — Kashmir clashes over militant Burhan Wani leave 30 dead — 11 July 2016

Reuters — Skirmishes in Indian Kashmir leave police officer, seven militants dead — 11 September 2016

Tribune India — 150 protesters injured in Pulwama clashes — 12 September 2016