Source AP ©

Women in Kashmir to carry daggers to ward off assault

An Islamic women's separatist group in Indian-controlled Kashmir is fed up with sexual attacks by Indian soldiers. It would begin training Muslim women in martial arts and called on them to carry daggers.

The group, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, or the Daughters of the Community, charges that the Indian military systematically uses rape and sexual molestation to cower the local population, alleging that at least 3,000 Kashmiri women have been sexually assaulted since 1990.

The military denies the strategic use of sexual abuse, although it acknowledges that a problem exists and says 76 security forces personnel have been arrested for rape or sexual assault since 2000, and at least 10 have been convicted.

Aasiyeh Andrabi, the head of Dukhtaran, said women must learn to protect themselves and "a knife is enough to deter an attack on a woman's chastity."

She added that the group would soon start a martial arts club to train women and young girls in self-defense.

It is the second time Dukhtaran has called on women to carry knives. In 1993, the group distributed nearly 5,000 daggers to women in Kashmir.

The Islamic group generally campaigns against perceived acts of immorality in Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

It stages annual anti-Valentines Day protests, burning cards and posters and has raided several hotels believed to be used by prostitutes or unmarried couples.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir where most people favor independence from Hindu-majority India, or a merger with Muslim Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

India has an estimated 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir, fighting nearly a dozen rebel groups since 1989. In many areas, the region has the feel of an occupied country, with soldiers in full combat gear patrolling streets and frisking civilians.

More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

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