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Unleashed : A Morality Offensive
in Kashmir

Harinder Baweja goes to the Valley to find out how a sex scandal has become the latest weapon of Kashmiri ire

Spraying Fury: Protestors brave water cannon on Srinagar’s streets
Photos Dar Yasin
 
Trapped in the web are senior politicians, bureaucrats and police officers, viewed from the Kashmir street not just as symbols of authority but as symbols of ‘oppression’. Yasmeena has become a powerful factor. A potent weapon. The Class VIII dropout is the latest assault rifle with which agitated Kashmiris are firing their latest morality offensive
She is all of fifteen. Her almond-shaped eyes mirror contrasting emotions. Childlike innocence and stolen youth. Fear and intoxication. Vulnerability and a sense of deep shame. The smooth-as-marble-complexioned girl is called Yasmeena. But she’s not just a name, not just another Kashmiri girl with quintessential good looks, with that peaches and cream skin against which the lock of hair commands a second look.

She — Yasmeena — is the key that has unlocked unprecedented outrage and brought agitated locals back on the streets and returning the masked-in-normalcy Valley to a boil. Young Yasmeena’s 30-second appearance on a porn CD has lit a fuse that has dangerous ramifications, made more dangerous because the CD is no ordinary prostitution racket; it is an intricate web that includes the high and the mighty. Trapped in the web are senior politicians, bureaucrats and police officers, viewed from the Kashmir street not just as symbols of authority but as symbols of ‘oppression’.

On the street then, Yasmeena has become a powerful factor. A potent weapon. The Class viii dropout is the latest assault rifle with which agitated Kashmiris are firing their latest morality offensive.

Sex in Srinagar city has led to a morality war; a war as potent as the insurgency itself. Speak to anyone, the neighbourhood shopkeeper, the housewife — rural or urban, college students — male and female and they will all tell you the details. Yasmeena was drugged, Yasmeena was lured with the prospect of a job, Yasmeena is a minor who has been sexploited, Yasmeena was tormented not just by Sabeena alias Champa Bai, who was running a successful sex ring but also by the powerful clients. Clients in khaki, clients with Cabinet rank.

Visit the tin-and-plastic makeshift structure that was home to Yasmeena, her two younger sisters and a brother and it won’t be difficult to guess that she came from a very poor family. Her mason father barely brought home Rs 1,500 a month and he was content to have Sabeena, a distant relative, chip in with Yasmeena’s upbringing.

That was the centrepiece of Sabeena’s strategy. She had seen Yasmeena two years ago at a family wedding, complimented her features, offered her some money and told her she could help find her a government job.

Being a relation helped. What helped even more was the fact that Yasmeena stayed barely a few minutes away from Sabeena’s four-storeyed mansion in Habbakadal, a neighbourhood sprawled along the banks of the Jhelum in downtown Srinagar. Sabeena, a divorcee, would request Yasmeena’s father to let her spend nights with her.

On one such visit — angry Kashmiris will tell you — Sabeena laced Yasmeena’s tea with intoxicants and took her to her favourite part of the house — the basement which, investigations show, was where the minor girls were forced into sex in front of video cameras. The recordings came in handy. Yasmeena and the other victims were forced to service clients for fear of exposure. “Sabeena used to force me to sleep with various men, threatening to expose the film if I dared to tell the truth to anyone,” Yasmeena, who is now addicted to Corex cough syrup, told the police.

Morality Warriors: A protest march, one of many in recent weeks
AP Photo
Yasmeena’s statement to the police helped establish uncomfortable facts. That close to 45 young girls were being similarly supplied to the very people who should have busted the racket at its first whiff. Ask Professor Pervez Imroz, who heads the Coalition for Civil Society, if Kashmir is shocked because it finds its women caught in shame and scandal and is therefore raising a voice against the use of Internet connections and mobiles and he erupts with the intensity of an improvised explosive device. “Journalists from New Delhi don’t understand. Don’t paint us as obscurantists. Kashmiris are not against modernism and this is not merely a morality issue. It is a war crime.”

Imroz’s sentiment echoes in all corners of the Valley and the sentiment is dangerous because the public outrage has exploded various myths. Yes, the Kashmiris are tired of violence but that does not mean they are willing to embrace New Delhi. The militants are not surrendering and retiring. They are only waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Ask any senior police or intelligence officer and their analysis is the same — Kashmir appeared to be limping towards normalcy but it is at a crossroads once again and it took only a few hours to reach that fork.

In the last two weeks since the sex scandal hit the headlines, life has successfully been paralysed in the Valley like it hasn’t been for years. Hartal and bandh calls that often went unheeded because Kashmiris had reached a stage when they didn’t want to postpone day-to-day life, met with an enthusiastic response this time. Unlike previous occasions when only Srinagar city reluctantly stayed half-shut, this time, the hartal calls received unprecedented support in the neighbouring districts of Baramulla and Anantnag. Residents, who preferred to stay indoors, were now out on the streets, willing to brave teargas shells and water cannons.

May 27 , 2006
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Related Stories


Unleashed: a morality offensive in Kashmir
Harinder Baweja goes to the Valley to find out how a sex scandal has become the latest weapon of Kashmiri ire
‘I can sacrifice my sons but not my chastity’
Dukhtaran-e-Millat, or Daughters of Islam, is a women’s separatist group headed by 43-year-old Asiya Andrabi who is covered in black from head to toe. Her hands too are hidden under a pair of black gloves and few know that she is a graduate in biochemistry and bacteriology. Way back in the 80s, she had fought with her brother because he didn’t let her leave the Valley to pursue a doctorate. His reasoning: Indians are anti-Kashmiri. Two decades later, Asiya is firmly of the same opinion and is now spearheading a campaign cautioning the youth, girls in particular that, ‘India is trying to suppress them morally’. Excerpts from an interview with Harinder Baweja

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