It has finally taken 20 years for someone to actually sit up and take note of the mass gang rapes of Konanposhpora, by which time the victims have already suffered the physical and emotional trauma, faced an unnecessary stigma and have slipped into a state of absolute despair and disillusionment. The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission has made some strict observations regarding the case, directing the investigating agencies to reopen the case and probe it anew. Does that and will that translate into justice? In the face of an official mindset that seeks closure of all such cases, by anything from denial to fudging evidence, and the inability to make the voice of SHRC more audible, the answer would be an emphatic no.
The reasons are obvious. First, the SHRC is toothless body whose recommendations can and have always been disregarded with disdain and contempt in the official circles ever since its creation about more than a decade ago. Second, and more importantly, evidence in the Konanposhpora gang rapes has been so badly destroyed that more than two decades later, it becomes very difficult to sift fact from fiction. Cases of rapes and sexual assault need immediate documentation and collection of medical evidence besides crucial testimonies of victims which have not been officially recorded in detail, nor relied upon. For the victims, who have suffered immensely, both due to being wronged and the forced shame and stigma, seeking to start a cosmetic probe with them testifying again, would be an extremely painful experience, especially if there is no logical conclusion. The psychological impact of rapes is too immense to reopen wounds without ensuring a credible probe, which the SHRC is incompetent to assure. Can it ensure that testimonies of the women, which have been officially rubbished and scorned at in the past, will be deemed vital evidence in absence of any other evidence? Can it even ensure that those guilty of tampering of evidence or its non-collection are brought to book for deliberate and possibly pre-meditated dereliction of duty.
As for the government, it has always observed SHRC recommendations with contempt, or at best indifference. Not only in cases of rapes but also other human rights abuse, even normal crimes, people have little faith in investigating agencies which meet complaints with denial and laboured exercise of tampering evidence. The credibility of the government and its investigating agencies cannot be restored simply by a pro-active SHRC which operates within an arena in isolation, its role limited to making some noise and nothing beyond that. In that sense the slew of SHRC recommendations in recent past do not serve any purpose, whether it is in seeking a probe in the mass graves case, some odd cases of enforced disappearances or Konanposhpora rapes, other than making the victims and their campaigners for justice feel that their stand has been vindicated. The SHRC argues for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and states the practical difficulty of the cross border factor. This is not the only limitation of the suggested TRC, an idea that laughs in the face of the absurdity of continuum of repression and obfuscation of truth. Ideally, a credible commission for probing all cases of human rights violation including all rapes is what can restore some faith of the people.
Yet, a beginning can be made by beginning within the existing legal justice system, which if adequately and fairly operated has the capacity of dealing with the grievances of the people. Let the state government itself take the first move – stop the rant about TRC, AFSPA or any other form of lip sympathy – and get down to serious business of probing fairly last years’ killings and fake encounters first of all. Let it prove its genuineness first without expecting it to come with SHRC’s ‘soothing effect’ orchestra.