By Ikram Ullah
Kashmir needs no introduction to the people on watch for the Human Rights violations in the conflicts around the world. They must have heard, researched and reported on the killings, desaparecidos, unmarked graves, fake encounters, custodial killings, illegitimate arrests, rapes and the worst of crimes against humanity that turn people immune to the emotions or inculcate in them the ability to control their emotions when common people breakdown, the same way most doctors turn immune to emotions for the patients. But go the village called Kunan Poshpora, located in the Kupwara district of Northern part of Kashmir and you will see men with a stone heart breaking down like a child slapped in face after they hear tragedy that befell the inhabitants of this remote village. A tragedy that transcends the words “worst of crimes against humanity” and would rather need a new definition for there is no comparison of the incident.
It was 11 pm during the intervening night of 23-24 February when a battalion of 4th Rajputana Rifles of 68 Brigade C/o 56 APO of the Indian Army did the acts so diabolical that it would shake the conscience of any barbarian, let alone the civilized citizenry of the world. Famous as it was in Kashmir those days, they cordoned off the Village, and some psychopathic or lunatic condition made them go berserk, breaking the windows and banging the doors, they barged into the houses of the villagers. What followed would go down into the history books as a blotch on the face of Indian democracy in particular and on civilizations in general. As the victims recollect it, all the male population of this small village was beaten up and made to assemble at gun point in a separate house. The women left alone in their houses were gang raped by 4 to 6 soldiers each at gun point until the morning of 24th February. In this assault 53 women were raped in a single night with youngest victim as young as 13 and the eldest, an 80 year old woman. The night’s devils did not even spare a pregnant lady who gave birth to a baby with a fractured arm, 3 days after the incident. The doctors reporting that the baby had suffered blows and the woman claiming that she was kicked while they raped her. The morning of February 24 broke the sky on the head of its male population when they were released after dour torture. Face to face as they came to the realities of the last night when they reached home, their women folk numb as dead meat, brutally beaten off their strength and chastity. Harrowing tales of brutality and sadism, of a daughter and mother raped in front of each other by the savages. Somebody’s sister, mother , wife all raped and the world of their own torn apart for generations to recount.
After the incident the villagers went to the Police Station Trehgam and lodged an FIR against the Army under the sections 376, 452 and 342. Till now 22 years have passed and not even one offender has been booked, leave alone punished. There was no immediate investigation done after the FIR was lodged as the Assistant Superintendent Dilbaugh Singh happened to be on leave. In July, Dilbaugh Singh was transferred and the investigation never started. The villagers reportedly then went to the then District Magistrate SM Yaseen on March 5 who visited the village on March 7 for his investigation. In his report, he says that “the soldiers behaved like beasts and raped 53 women irrespective of their age, marital status, pregnancy……. there was a hue and cry in the whole village”. On March 18
With the world Human Rights Watch Groups getting an ear of the incident and the criticism from all corners, the Army asked the Press Council of India to investigate. The team reached this village in June, 3 months after the incident and after interviewing the victims claimed that their testimonies were contradictory and rendered their allegations as “baseless”. They even impugned the report of the doctors that claimed the fracture in the arm of the baby was due to blows to the baby and termed it down as injury caused during the delivery. Medical examinations of nearly 32 women done in the month of March revealed abrasions on their chests, bruises and wounds on their bodies, it also revealed broken hymens of 3 teenage girls. The Press Council of India turned the report down saying that “such a delayed medical examination proves nothing” and that “such medical findings are common among the villagers”. In their final report, they claimed that there had nothing happened in Kunan Poshpora on that particular night and all the allegations are nothing but a “well-concocted bundle of lies” and” a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and their mentors in Kashmir and abroad….for re-inscribing Kashmir on International agenda as a Human Rights issue”. The case closed with the committee suggesting that there is no police inquiry required into the incident.
However, many international Human Rights groups came to the village and investigated, filing reports that refuted the Indian Government stance. In 1992, United States Department of State, in its report on International Human Rights denounced the Government of India report and established that “there was credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass rape in Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora”.
The tragedy of that night did not end with the morning of the next day. The rape in all societies, no matter how modern, has societal stigma attached to it. The women of that village are looked down upon even today. Their daughters are left unmarried, even the children that were born the following year of that incident were suspected to be the results of the rape. The families are broken and the whole village population has secluded itself from the rest of the world. They have seen no light at the end of the so called tunnel, travelling through its dark for 22 years. In 2011, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC, a Government of India body), after the recommendations by the panel commission chairman Justice (retd) Syed Bashiruddin Ahmad and Justice (retd) Javaid Kawoosa, established the need to re-investigate the case. The SHRC asked the Government to prosecute the then director (prosecution) for closing the case and ordered a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to each of the victim. More than a year has passed since the case has been re-opened but the investigation committee has yet to prosecute anyone.
Rape not only disintegrates the psyche of the victim, it perforates the hearts and leaves the victim in an abyss of despise for the rest of their lives. An example of this is this Village when you enter it even today, the murmuring soft cries and sighs of its victims surround the air with each dawn and every dusk.
At a time when we are discussing the Rights of women in Liberal societies and measures that could be taken to contain the crimes against women we need to focus on the victims of this tragedy. The nationalist young Indians who came protesting against the brutal rape of a 23 year old woman in New Delhi last year demanding severe punishment to the culprits should look into the mirror and ask themselves of the hypocrisy they have been exercising when the culprits of this heinous crime are their Soldiers. The deafening silence that the Indian General public maintains on the Kunan Poshpora stands antithetical to their effort for the concept of “rape-free” India. Unless justice is demanded for the victims of the past rapes and the Nationalistic sentiment is sidelined for a more honourable sentiment of Humanity, the cries for a “Rape-free-India” will sound hollow.