Disclaimer: The following piece is not aimed to create hatred or instigate someone. It is based on secondary research, as well as on the narrations of the people, which I had witnessed when I visited Kashmir in December 2012.
In the region of Kupwara, there lies two villages-Kunan and Poshpora. They are so close that people no longer call them by their individual names. Everyone knows this two-in-one village as Kunan Poshpora.
Many of the individuals may be aware of this village, for its infamous reason, but some do need to know about its tale.
On February 23th, 1991, for the people of this village, the night didn’t end.
It was a cold night, when men from the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles, a regiment of the Indian Army, surrounded Kunan Poshpora for a ‘cordon and search operation’. Such operations – also known as ‘crackdowns’ – were a common occurrence in the 1990’s in Kashmir.
The procedure followed was wrenching of men out of their homes, and most operations took place in the night, beginning around 10 or 11 pm and lasting till the morning.
In the text of the 2011 judgment on ‘Complaints regarding Kunan Poshpora atrocities lodged by victims and inhabitants of the Village V/s J&K State and Others,’ passed by the J&K State Human Rights Commission (JKSHRC) there came a number of findings.
“Analyzing the statements of all the witnesses/victims it transpires that at about 10 to 11 pm in the night, security personnel cordoned the village. The men folk of the village were ordered to come out and were confined in a Kothar [store houses]. Then small groups of security forces comprising of 2/4/5/6 personnel made their forced entry into the houses. They consumed/had consumed liquor and then gagged the mouths of the victims and committed forced gang rape against their will and consent. The personnel from the security forces had actually turned into beasts and had lost their sense of reasoning as even minor girls of 8 years of age of some of the victims were also ravished. Actually Security forces had come with the intent to ravish the chastity of all the women folk of village Kunan Poshpora and had not cordoned the village to flesh out any militant(s) (sic). The security forces did not even took notice of the presence of minor children who were only crying and witnessing their gory and shameful act (sic). The indecent incident continued approximately till 3/4 AM in the night. There was a police man namely Abdul Gani from the village who tried to raise SOS alarm for help from the loudspeaker of the local mosque, but later on he too was killed by the army personnel so that all the evidence against them is whipped off (sic). After regaining consciousness in early morning the victims found their all clothes were torned out (sic).The victims have been suffering from various mental and physical disorder and trauma since they were subjected to forced rape.”
The story of a woman named Bakhti, was widely quoted, 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.”
The then Divisional Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah led a team comprising of a Colonel from Army HQ, a commandant of the Border Security Force, the Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara district and the Superintendent of Police, Kupwara. After gathering statements from 41 women, he decided that there was sufficient cause for a more detailed enquiry and suggested as much in his report to the Governor. He said- “While the veracity of the complaint is highly doubtful, it still needs to be determined why such complaint was made at all. The people of the village are simple folk and by the Army’s own admission have been generally helpful and even careful of security of the Army’s officers. Unlike Brig. Sharma I found many of the village women genuinely angry. It is recommended that the level of investigation be upgraded to that of a gazetted police officer.”
Woman is regarded as sacred only till her chastity is safe. Once she has met the air of unsacred and illegitimate atmosphere, none is ready to give her space in society, not even the people who share blood relations with her.
Later, the government asked the Press Council of India to look into the claims. BG Verghese, a former editor of the Hindustan Times and The Indian Express, and K. Vikram Rao, also a senior journalist, visited Kashmir twice: once towards the end of May, and once in June, for a total of 9 days. There was a third member, Hind Samachar editor Jamnadas Akhtar, who, because of his old age, couldn’t make the journey. They said-
“The Kunan rape story on close examination turns out to be a massive hoax, orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as part of a sustained and cleverly contrived strategy of psychological warfare and as an entry point for re-inscribing Kashmir on the international agenda as a human rights issue. The loose ends and contradictions in the story expose a tissue of lies by many persons at many levels.”
During my conversation with my driver in Kashmir, Ariz, he told how sudden curfews were imposed and the families would be uncertain whether their son would return home, after buying milk for their grandson. The point I want to make is that, it is true that counter offensive by the Indian forces have diluted the level of militancy, but at the same time they are losing the trust in the local population. Every local person I met during my stay had a word against the military and the police. First of all, such ill-practices of rape should be treated with stringent actions against the culprits and secondly, the police and forces should try and get involved with the locals, as it would help them in gaining their trust, and contribute more towards normalcy in the disputed area.
Yes. This incident is still afresh in the minds of the people of Kashmir. And probably, it will always be.