Almost 3 Decades On, The Scars Of Kunan Poshpora Are Still Raw

Kashmir has seen an n number of conflicts throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and the worst part of it remains confined to the fact that Kashmiri women have been victimised and sexually violated. We have read, in newspapers, of different incidents of rape across the country. However, if we seek reports of the incidents of rapes done to the women of Kashmir, one is bound to remain traumatised for days after learning the statistical data.

That’s not all, the irony is that most cases are not even reported as it is said that it is mostly perpetrated by the Indian Army, who also are subject to impunity under the repressive Armed Force (Special Action) Act (AFSPA) if found guilty of sexually violating women or children. It is by virtue of such an act that incidents of sexual violation of Kashmiri women have been used as a weapon of war. For the last two decades, Kashmiri women have been distressed because of this and the barbarous act of rape have psychologically left them devastated.

On the intervening night of February 23-24, 1991, according to the statements from the villagers and newspaper reports, over 40 women and children were gang-raped in Kunan-Poshpora.

On this day, that is February 23, in the year 1991, Kunan Poshpora, two villages, located in Kupwara, perhaps experienced the worst kind of gang rape incidents in the pages of Indian history. The reason why I mentioned ‘perhaps‘ in the last sentence is because of my anxiety as a social being who has a weird interest in gathering information about the conflict in Kashmir, and parallelly, observing how Kashmir was under a blockade for approximately 200 days in the present-day situation since the abrogation of Article 370.

God forbid we do not have to read any report on sexual violence against Kashmiri women once the government decides to take the blockade away, and our silence towards the system hits back as a bullet of our own guilt in the near future.

On the intervening night of February 23-24, 1991, according to the statements from the villagers and newspaper reports, over 40 women and children were gang-raped in Kunan-Poshpora. Their scars are still raw and they continue to endure the burnt of the incident even after more than two decades.

The villagers mentioned that when the troops came, there were around 150 of them from the Panzgam camp. According to reports, the troops were all drunk, barged in, and raped the women while brutally torturing the men who tried resisting. One of the elderly men broke down in tears while describing how he saw his own wife being raped by four men first, and as the four went away, another four jumped onto her, but he was all helpless. All the men were helpless, or they would have been shot at.

Kunan-Poshpora hasn’t healed yet, meanwhile, Modi’s government is taking pride in having abrogated Article 370.

The soldiers went berserk, many reports say. The villagers had to watch their own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters being raped in front of them and were left out in torn clothes. After the troops left, they remarked that they failed to react out of trauma and the women were in pain but were all quiet.

People from nearby villages came in vehicles and nursed the womenfolk. The women were so brutally raped that most of them had to have their uterus operated on. Few died and the others who survived remarked they were breathing but not alive. The kids had to face massive ridicule after the incident. They were not granted admission in any schools because their mothers were raped by soldiers.

The innocent villagers of Kunan-Poshpora had to face such consequences under the accusation of allegedly hiding militants in their homes. What bothers me as a human being is that even if they did, how could such a cruel act justify the allegations? Some twenty-seven years passed by, however, the Indian Government is yet to provide proper investigative reports into what happened in Kunan Poshpora.

The victims, till date, are seeking justice. They expected the judiciary to punish the guilty. The Human Rights Commission called for each woman to receive ₹2 lakhs as compensation, which clearly wouldn’t bring back their dignity. However, the gesture still remains greeted, as the government did next-to-nothing, not even launch a proper investigation.

It is shameful, for every Indian citizen, to keep shut for decades after what happened in Kunan-Poshpora.

Kunan-Poshpora hasn’t healed yet, meanwhile, Modi’s government is taking pride in having abrogated Article 370 on August 5th, 2019, unconstitutionally, and we are again failing the Kashmiris by keeping shut and by not protesting.

I sincerely hope, the result of this defensive silence is not forcing many women to resort to operating their uterus and keeping the children away from living a normal life, that they are being spared the ridicule and misery, and the innocent men, whose mental health is least considered and talked about, and are by default taken for granted as terrorists simply because they were born as Kashmiris- I have not enough might in penning down their miseries. What psychological oppression they go through is beyond description.

I can go on editing this post and keep on writing for the rest of the night trying to make the reader understand how conflicted Kashmir is and how oppressed the women are there. However, I choose to stop tonight with the high hopes that Indians, and everyone who recognises themself a human being, will speak up for the atrocities that are caused in Kashmir as a result of political conflict, which is breaching the basic human rights of our Kashmiri fellow beings.

I hope there will be more rallies and petitions filed to take down the draconian and state-sponsored, absolutely repressive laws like AFSPA.

Finally, concluding this write-up, crossing my heart and hoping people will be kind to the Kashmiris they meet in their day-to-day lives in the first place.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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