I certainly did not know how to react when I read Salman Khurshid’s reaction on the Kunan and Poshpora rape case where he was rueful about the fact that the case had happened in his country that he couldn’t do anything about it, or in a finer meaning, that he simply knew yet chose not to do anything about it to save his power status.
In the meeting he had absurdly yet diligently asked the participants to read about the history and struggle of the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and stated giving his example about what forgiveness is, what struggle is and what building hope out of despair is. The minister said that it ‘was plain human nature to learn to move forward for which conditions need to be laid’.
After reading this, I was occupied by the thoughts that whether I should appreciate this person for at least being partially honest unlike other institutions who have continuously covered the truth relentlessly or should I resent him because the meaning behind his honest and straightforward words was- ‘It happened, we learned, now move on’. The battle is full of hurdles and justice has been delayed but ‘moving on’ can never be a solution and be accepted. We have had enough atrocities of the worst and unimaginable kind in once what was regarded to be ‘Paradise on Earth’ turning it into a ‘Burning Inferno’. Instead, I believe we should pause to consider the case again and again and will do so until justice is served in our pseudo-democratic country where justice is fast for the potent and opulent. I wish he had given us more than just hope instead of just casting examples to look for hope in a country where hope has been looked upon for the past 66 years.
The battle starts with a firm determination but with the flow of time we find ourselves in a web, a vicious circle where one won’t be given a choice to win but only to withdraw and where the days and years will pass until we become immune to our pain. The haunting memories are still there but hope falters. That’s the story of hundreds of innocent people of Kashmir, who are victims of atrocities done by the Indian army. These innocent people still have the faith and strength to look up to justice from the judiciary or government who have themselves given the ‘license to offence’ to the military via Armed Forces Special Powers Act / Public Safety Act and where the truth has been suffocated under the heavy sheet of hypocrisy prevalent in our system. One of the most heinous crimes perhaps for me is the Kunan-Poshpora rape case where women numbering anywhere between 53 to 100 were raped by the very men who had been appointed by the central government to protect them.
On the night of 23/24 February 1991, Army personnel of 4 Rajputana Rifles entered Kunan Poshpora village with the mission to cordon off and to find grenades. Instead, they caught all the men of the village, interrogated them and severely tortured them physically and emotionally to the extent of barbarism while the women of the village were raped irrespective of their age, at gun point. One of them had even delivered a child a few days ago. All were raped in front of their small children who looked on crying in horror while their mother was raped by beasts. On March 19th, a UK based newspaper ‘The Independent’ carried a report titled, ‘Indian villages tell of mass rape by soldiers’, based on narratives the reporters had heard in Kunan Poshpora. Among them was the story of a woman who was assaulted by six soldiers. “One by one, they raped me, while my five year old son was forced to watch, weeping beside the bed,” she told the paper. Almost all the women of the village were raped. The next morning when the men were released, they were shocked to see that their daughters, mothers, sisters and female acquaintances had been raped by the men in uniform. The whole village froze on that morning of 24th February, not because it was cold but due to the nature of the heinous crime which infected villagers with dead silence yet loud mourning. They wandered like madmen, crying on top of their voice still shaken up by the jolt to think of anything about their next step. How are people supposed to react when they are stripped off their dignity, that they have nurtured for years leaving them haunted with their own bleeding flesh?
On 25/26 February, villagers sent letter to DC of Kupawara and police authorities regarding the rape and torture. After receiving the letter dated 25/26 February and protest on the part of villagers of Kunan and Poshpora, DC Kupawara visited the village for enquiries and informed the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir and other authorities, including the local police via a letter dated 7th march, 1991, regarding the incident. Upon receiving this letter, the Trehgam Police Station registered FIR under section 376, 452 and 342 RPC. It is to be noted here that the incident took place on 23/24 February 1991 but the FIR was registered some days later. The delay obviously happened because of the long course of ‘sending and receiving letters’ and the investigation followed by it. Moreover, the army personnel did leave the village but had surrounded the village for 3-4 days for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, this delay in filing the FIR was taken as an advantage by director of prosecution who said the delay was absurd as the police station was just a few kilometers away from the village. If the incident had happened then they could have registered the FIR the very next day and called all the accusations absurd and far fetched stories done by people who sympathize with militants. Before moving forward, it is necessary to read the investigation report of DC Kupawara, based on which the FIR was registered.
In his response report, the DC Kupwara wrote to the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir under the subject- Atrocities committed by the Army Personnel in the Kunan and Poshpora Village of Kupawara district, Dated- 7th March, 1991. In this he wrote that after receiving the letter dated 5th March 1991 he carried out the necessary procedure and was shown evidence of the barbarism (torn clothes and the rooms). Moreover, the presence of alcohol bottles showed that the heinous crime had been carried out under the influence of alcohol. In order to justify their motives, the army forcefully procured a No Objection Certificate from locals. The nature of the crime and its magnitude as per the Kupwara DC had bought him to a level of shame to put the atrocity in descriptive words on the paper. However, he recommended a team to be formed and carry out the investigation and bring the culprits forward.
After receiving this letter, Wajahat Habibullah (the then Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir), visited the villages along with ‘Lt. Col. Naeem Farooqi, Shri Tyagi Commdt 76 BSF’ on 18th March 1991 to look into the allegation but with a clear intention to do away with the charges and this can be seen in the analysis of the report as submitted by him which had the following conclusion:
1- The number of alleged victims has been continuously fluctuating.
2- It is intriguing that despite such major incident having taken place no one reported of crime the next day.
3- The jawans are not allowed to carry liquor during operations so villagers have planted alcohol bottles.
4- When almost every house in the village was allegedly a victim, it is inconceivable that there could have been no alarm raised and the men were ignorant till after the army had left.
5- It seems like they have acted under militant pressure as the people of the village are simple folk.
The second blow to hopes of the people of these twin villages came when a three member team as setup by the Press Council of India (on the indirect behest of the army) and headed by B.G. Varghese was formed and included K.Vikram Rao and Jamnadas Akhtar to investigate the allegations from Kunan and Poshpora. The controversial and baseless report as submitted by the Press Council of India termed the charges as fraud and a hoax which was bred by those who highly sympathize with the militants and their sympathizers and by those who stood against the nation of India. They further went out to state that the allegation were a part a psychological warfare that was being adopted to malign the image of the Indian army and to bring forward yet again the Kashmir issue in front of the world but as a human right issue.
In the book ‘Crisis and Credibility’, as published by the Press Council of India, they dismissed all the allegations against Armed forces made till date very sophistically yet absurdly. In their words -Â “The last two incidents (Dudhi Killing and Kunan Poshpora) have given rise to the gravest charges of all. Hence, it would perhaps be best to dispose of them first.”Â This statement gives clear impression that the book has been written with the prime aim of clearing away all the allegations and shielding the Armed Forces with their illogical and absurd justifications. They did not shy away while claiming that the medical report was rubbish. In their words- ‘Abrasions on chest and abdomen’ are likely to be common among village folk in Kashmir as they hug ‘kangris’ or earthern pots and live coals to ward off the winter chill. As for torn hymen, this could be a result of natural factors, injury, pre-marital sex, or rape.”
A general argument, in the defense of the armed forces and to save them, in context to the incident given is that why was the incident reported ‘ten days’ later as the village is ‘not that remote’, and if it was a question of shame for the rape victims, then how come the women talked about it ‘tirelessly’ and brought the matter in the front. It is surprising how three veteran journalists simply questioned the very chastity and dignity of women which was snatched by force adding more gash into their wounds.
Consequently on 23rd September 1991, the Director Prosecution informed that the case was ‘un-fit’ for launching criminal prosecution. Therefore on October 21, 1991 the case was ‘’closed as untraced’’ by the police.
In 2004, the State Human Right Commission (recommending body) (SHRC) after hearing grievances from two people (one victim and one another) and later by others, recommended that the case be re-investigated. However, the DGP brushed aside the charges that were again brought forward. However, after pursuance from the SHRC, the DGP did admit to interrogation and torture and rape after consumption of liquor. Post this, the SHRC held the the Rajputana Rifle and the 68 Mountain Brigade accountable to the crime and ordered a re-probe and re-investigation to be headed by a Special Investigation Team [SIT] which was to be headed by an officer not below the rank of SSP but in a specific time period. However, the rigidity and stubbornness of the J&K government prevailed over the order and no action was taken. This went to such a great extent that not even an action report was filed.
This comes in complete contrast not only to the Section 19 (5) of the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights but also to the Rights as defined under the fundamental rights of citizen in the Indian constitution as India does in all accord regard Jammu and Kashmir a part of the country and time and again has said that the ‘democratic’ voting done symbolizes that the citizens have accepted India as their nation. This also defies the preamble quoting and goes against the ethos as well as the ethics of the human right charter and finally against the humanity and it’s very moral and ethics.
The case was again re-opened in March 2013 when 50 women filed a Public Interest Litigation [PIL] in the court demanding justice. The shrewdness of the pillars of justice and the mechanisms involved to attain it yet again came forward when the J&K police filed a closure report immediately in the same month with the Kupwara Court of Sub-judge, Judicial Magistrate. Consequently, the PIL that had been filled was disposed of by the High court on the grounds that the judicial magistrate of Kupwara was capable enough to handle the investigation.
This filing of the PIL was not only countered as mentioned above but to do away with it, the advocate general of the J&K government talked of a certain unclear ‘High Level Committee’ of the government which was to meet on the 8th of May, 2013 and that also the case no longer held grounds as a closure report had been filed with the Kupwara court as well. Moreover, it was also stated that no compensation had been paid. This was also a contributory factor for the High court to dispose the PIL.
This act of the state and its institution met with a protest petition on the 10th of June, 2013 requesting the court to order further investigation under Section 173 (8) CrPC headed by a SIT as the police investigation was incomplete and affected by mala fides. However, the Chief Prosecuting Officer [CPO] filed a counter petition (unclear) stating that it was on the grounds of monetary compensation. Following was the terminology used in the petition:
“Under the garb of said recommendation of SHRC, the de-facto complaints are being advised to prefer protest petition, so that the recommendation of SHRC could be made applicable to others also….That after a gap of 22 years, the de-facto complaints have awakened from the sleep and have smartly tried to get this Hon’ble court convinced, that they were having no knowledge and have recently known about the closure report…”
However, on 18th June 2013, the Judicial Magistrate reprimanded the police for its laxity to file a closure report in 1991 and why hadn’t the police disclosed the identity of the 125 perpetrators in spite of the fact that the court had acknowledged of the rape and a SIT team was to head investigation by a personal not below the rank of SSP. Consequently on the 2nd July 2013, Abdul Jabbar, SSP Kupwara was appointed as the lead officer.
The incidents of 3rd July 2013 (keeping the victims waiting for five hours) and that of 30th July 2013 (summoning of victims who were no longer alive) show the seriousness of the police in its attempt to carry out the investigation with the duty assigned to it with utmost trust by a court of high stature. Consequently, an extension was appealed by the police for six months to carry out investigation. Another reason stated by them was that the unit (68 Mountain brigade) involved was no longer under the Brigade command of the area and time was required. The Judicial Magistrate, without consultation of the petitioners, granted a three month extension which shows the stature of the common problem riddled man.
The irony comes to the fact that the letter to the army took about two months of time and the so called high level committee meeting scheduled on 14th May 2013 also had shown no advancement which yet again shows the relation between the state and the affected and the seriousness the state has for its subjects.
Even after twenty two years of the incident, B.G. Varghese and K.V. Rao, who mastered the craft of treachery in the report ‘Crisis and Credibility’ still believe that the allegations were ‘bogus’ and ‘over-blown’ and that the Army could not be ‘blackmailed’. They made the following statement:
“The militant’s idea was to put the Army in a position of public shame and make people feel that the Army was a dangerous element itself making the Army reluctant to go into areas. They (rape victims) are victims not because they were raped but portrayed as having been raped. They were promoted as rape victims, and the sentence of social stigma was passed onto them.”(B.G. Varghese) (Interview to The Hindu)
“Molestation may have happened. But charges of rape were definitely not true.” It was “bad luck” for 4 RR, which became a victim of “powerful Pakistani propaganda”. (K.V. Rao)
Why has the army enjoyed so much of impunity? What is it that has really failed our system and the state to charge the army and reprimand it into the court if we are to be considered for one moment a ‘secular-democratic nation’ where the government is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’
While writing this, an incident kept disturbing me again and again where justice was given to the brave rape victim (16th December 2012) who unfortunately lost her life but her life did not go in vain and she did come out as an inspiration and hope when all her culprits (except one due to being juvenile) were sentenced to death. In the concerned incident, the entire nation stood together and voiced their support for the demand of justice for the girl. The honorable media covered and debated and aired everything possible to the extent that the defendant lawyer had to tell the judge that the decision had to be taken on intellect ground and not on emotional grounds by taking the media as an influential mode.
Where is the media now? Why have they failed to cover the incident in the same manner on grounds of humanity and as per the ethos and grounds on which the media should function? Why have the people, especially those residing outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir and working on human rights, have consistently failed to bring into light this rape incident? Why has there been a total black out created over the Indian state and its masses about such mass brutality and torture? Why has the government chosen to remain ignorant about the human rights violations that are taking place in Kashmir? Perhaps the truth is too costly to be told. Perhaps power is mighty and justice blind.