Since 1991 victims have been fighting a lonely battle for justice
It was 23rd February, 1991 when Indian army launched a search operation in the villages of Kunan Poshpora, located in remote area of district Kupwara. On that horrific night of February 23-24, the 4th Rajput Rifles of the 68th brigade conducted a cordon and search operation in the village. The forces allegedly gang raped a large number of village women overnight. The villagers alleged that up to 100 women were gang raped without any consideration of their age, married, unmarried, pregnancy, sick etc. means in every condition at every age ranged from 13 to 80 years.
However, Human Rights organisations including Human Rights Watch have reported that the number of raped women could be as high as 100 women.
How can a victim forget that horrific night when she lost everything— her chastity, dignity and self respect?
This shameful act happened when Indian army personal cordoned the village and ordered all men out of homes. They barged into homes, females cried for help, help but to no avail. That night seemed too long and unending for the villagers in general and for victims in particular, as they were raped brutally. For many days the Indian Army continued the cordon around the village.
Many women were raped, many cried and others were shell shocked. Successive regimes of the government left no stone unturned to hush up the case by changing actual facts and proofs.
Since 1991, no one mainstream politician came to their help. They have been fighting a battle for justice lonely.
Although the Indian government's investigation into the incident rejected the allegations as baseless while as International Human Rights Organizations have expressed serious doubts about the integrity of these investigations and the manner in which they were conducted, stating that the Indian government launched a “campaign to acquit the army of charges of human rights violations and discredit those who brought the charges”.
On March 18, Wajahat Habibullah, the then Divisional Commissioner visited the village, and filed a confidential report, parts of which were later released to the public.
Outraged over the government's handling of the situation of gang-raping a minimum of 23 and a maximum of 100 women of all ages and in all conditions, Wajahat Habibullah immediately resigned, and asked for early retirement from the Indian Administrative Service.
In response to criticism of the government's handling of the investigation, the army requested the Press Council of India to investigate the incident.
The investigative team led by a senior journalist, B G Verghese, visited Kunan Poshpora in June, more than three months after the alleged rapes took place. Upon interviewing a number of the alleged victims, the team claimed that contradictions in their testimony rendered their allegations of rape ‘baseless’.
Ultimately, the team concluded that the charges against the army were, “well-concocted bundle of fabricated lies” and “a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathisers and mentors in Kashmir and cleared the soldiers of all charges.”
On the other side, the State Human Rights Commission had recommended a compensation of Rs two lakh each to 34 victims and action against the officials who had closed the case in 1991.
If allegations of rape proved baseless, then why SHRC recommended compensation to victims? This means there is something hidden that never was never made public.
On one side, Indian civil society led protests against rape and murder outside state like Nirbhaya in 2012 in New Delhi and on other side they maintained a criminal silence over rape of women in Kunan Poshpora and double rape and murder case of Asiya and Neelofar of Shopian.
After Nirbhaya in 2012, One Million March—a signatory campaign soon started throughout India with main aim to hang the culprits of Nirbhaya. Is this silence only because these are the daughters of Kashmir? Kashmiris are the main victims between India and Pakistan. From Lakhanpur to Aman Setu, every Muslim family became victim in one way or the other way.
Recently, 30 Kashmiri girls from different educational institutes of Kashmir went on an all India educational and cultural tour under the Army’s Operation Sadhbhavana. It was painful for all Kashmiris in general and for their parents in particular whom they have permitted a license for dancing to their daughters with Army that went viral on social media.
As per reports over one lakh Kashmiris were killed, nearly 10,000 were subjected to enforced disappearances, modesty of more than 6000 women outraged, near about 25,000 youth have been booked under PSA, 38,000 houses have been destroyed and 38 persons have been awarded life sentence. Hundreds of cases have not been registered.
The United States Department of State, in its 1992 report on international human rights, rejected the Indian government’s conclusion, and determined that there was “credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass rape in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora.”
To make a document on Kunan Poshpora mass rape incident of Kupwara in 1991, five young Kashmiri women have worked relentlessly for three years to make a comprehensively document one of the worst crimes against humanity committed by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir.
The book “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” authored by Natsaha Manzoor, Munaza Rashid, Samreen Mushtaq, (all are social activists) Ifra Bhat (student) and Essar Batool (lawyer) published by Zubaan Publications, is set to be released today on February 23, 2016 in Srinagar on 25th anniversary of Kunan Poshpora mass rape incident.
The book touches all segments of the case from crime to justice. I salute these five authors of the soil for their bravery, courageous and motivation in penning down such a comprehensive book. After twenty two years, in 2013, a group of 50 women, including these five authors, filed a fresh petition in the high court of JK seeking re-opening of the Kunan Poshpora mass rape case.
To stand with the victims and feel their pain as a Muslim brotherhood and on humanitarian grounds the best way to give them honour, dignity, equality and respect to our victims is that all the Hurriyat leaders, activists and high profile Muslims should choose the life partners for their kiths and kins from Kunan Poshpora and should recite these Nikah under the print and electronic media, to make it an inspiration for others as well.
Let we all stand with them and fight a battle of justice for them. I hope they will all get justice, dignity and honour because rape is a rape irrespective of the place where it is committed.
Author can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org