goes to the Valley to find out how a sex scandal has become the latest
weapon of Kashmiri ire
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.
Fury: Protestors brave water cannon on Srinagar’s
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
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.
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.”
Warriors: A protest march, one of many in recent weeks
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.