Culture of impunity

Starting from Konan Poshpora gang rapes, history of abuse in Valley shows a failed system of accountability.On the 27th anniversary of the Konan Poshpora gang rapes, allegedly committed by army personnel, the incident continuing to haunt the 40 survivors, makes it imperative to revisit the un-probed crimes of rape and other human rights violations committed in the last nearly three decades by men in uniform. The latter have been enjoying impunity for all crimes against humanity including sexual offences simply on the pretext of counter insurgency. Konan Poshpora incident did not only manifest the ugly pattern of gross human rights abuse but also laid down the foundation of blanket impunity accorded to the security forces. Whether it is violence against women, cases of disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings or cold blooded murders, the security forces since the days of Konan Poshpora have not been held accountable, reflecting a complete failure of the system that runs counter to the democratic spirit of the country.

Konan Poshpora gang rapes form a very important marker in this landscape and history of Kashmir conflict for several reasons. The scale of brutality and range of its victims continues to send shivers down the spines of anyone who hears about it. This was also the first incident highlighting the vulnerability of women caught in a militarized zone. Thirdly, it exposed the shoddy role of the police in even lodging the basic complaint or proceeding with an investigation or, revealing how all evidence is lost at the altar of such procedural delays, denial to act and insensitivity to understand the human trauma following sexual assault. Consequently, it revealed that the armed forces enjoy impunity not just in cases of torture, extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths and fake encounters but also raping women.

Konanposhpora rapes have also been remembered for the delayed response of the Indian media after Press Council of India belatedly, three months after the incident appointed a one man commission headed by senior journalist B.G. Verghese as a cover up. The panel announced the burial of the charges by stating that the charges were simply a figment of the imagination at the behest of some militant organizations, even though there was no evidence to that.

But what made it easy for the one man inquiry commission by senior journalist B.G. Verghese to come out with such a lopsided report is because there really was no documental evidence of the crimes committed, nor a scientific documentation of the statements and responses of the victims thereafter. When the incident happened, the village men complained to the officials but no action was taken. No formal complaint was lodged. It was on the basis of protests that three weeks after the incident, medical examination of the victims was conducted even though it is a known rule that much evidence is lost 72 hours after the rapes. It is in this context that the narratives of the victims are significant. Also, it is important to revise scientific protocols for police to be followed in rape investigations.

Even in other cases of human rights abuse, the absolute package of impunity that the security forces enjoy is exercised through official and political patronage, denial and fudging of evidence, manifesting the brazen manner in which this mechanism of protection comes from the top. Not only does the existence of blanket impunity defy any logic or democratic ethics and principles but it also feeds into the bitter memory of the public particularly youth inspiring them to pick up the gun. Due to its immense psychological impact, the increase graph of human rights violations with no workable mechanisms of justice has a direct correlation with the increase in militancy. Recent history is replete with thousands of examples of cases where justice is awaited though only a few cases, in which victims or campaigners for justice persistently pursued the incidents legally, have hogged the limelight. Notable among these are the Pathribal fake encounter killings, which were returned to the army court by the highest court of the country after 14 years. A year later, they led to acquittals without an explanation on how such a conclusion had been arrived at. In more recent times, the haunting memory of last year’s case of human shield Farooq Dar and the decoration of the accused army Major in the face of such serious charges. The recent Shopian killings and the shielding of the army personnel without even facing an enquiry and investigation is yet another example which is likely to push the Valley into greater turbulence. The only exception was the Macchil fake encounter killings where an army court indicted its own men but they remain untouched despite the civil courts upholding the verdict and conviction. These cases reveal the absence of a system of accountability within the armed forces through impunity that is ensured from the highest levels. Such brazen patterns of lack of accountability find a manifestation in street violence and increase in the gun culture. The minimal requirement for ensuring normalcy and calm in the Valley requires a fair dealing of its long list of human rights abuse. It is therefore important to press for re-investigation of all such crimes against humanity starting from Konan Poshpora days.

News Updated at : Friday, February 23, 2018