Konan Poshpora: Rhetoric can't cover hush-ups, denials

24 years after Konan Poshpora rapes, the Deputy Commissioner who first reported the allegations maintaining that the army personnel had behaved like "beasts" has come out of the closet to claim that he was intimidated and lured to hush up the case but resisted those threats, one of them allegedly coming from senior journalist B.G. Verghese who led the Commission created by Press Council of India to probe the allegations. Verghese, in a recent article in a national daily, has retaliated, rebutting the charges by S.M. Yasin (the deputy commissioner in question). Verghese writes, "The man fell short of his official responsibilities in February 1991, possibly for fear of militant reprisals that had become routine, but has now begun to roar like a lion!" and dared Yasin to approach a court of law. Verghese trashes Yasin’s report and stands by his own report ‘crisis and credibility’ which terms the Konan Poshpora story "totally unproven and completely untrue". Discarding Yasin’s report on Konanposhpora for being "merely anecdotal" and not based on "investigation", Verghese takes the high moral ground to proclaim that "PCI report is the most exhaustive and detailed report of the alleged Konan Poshpora incident made by anybody." There may as yet be no way to authenticate Yasin’s allegations but for a deeper probe. But it may be time to re-visit this "exhaustive" piece of PCI documentation. 

All of 17 pages, the report on Konan Poshpora, part of a larger study on role of media in conflicts and human rights excesses in Punjab and Kashmir titled ‘Crisis and Credibility’, documents the allegations, official version, sequence of events, district magistrate’s report, divisional commissioner’s inquiry, medical examination, the military version, the committee’s visit to Konanposhpora and the version of the cop who accompanied the 4th Raj Rif personnel that stand accused of the rapes with the added frills of a ‘propaganda cassette’ and army’s medical camp theory thrown in to suit a bias. 

Verghese report concludes that there is no evidence to establish the Konan Poshpora story of mass gang rapes, no conclusive medical examination and the story is full of contradictions and thus conveniently concurs was a complete farce, which he believes may have been done at the behest of militants to clear the heavily militancy affected area of Konan Poshpora. The medical examination was conducted three weeks after the incident but it pointed out rape of 3 women and 19 alleged molestations but the doctors conducting the medical examination advised further examination of the 32 women by a gynaecologist or lady assistant surgeon. Did Verghese question why there was delay in medical examination or why it was not followed up by further medical examination as suggested by medical experts? Who is it that stood to benefit by denying that chance of medical examination? He simply avers that a delayed examination proves nothing, that abrasions on chest and abdomen are common and may be kangri inflicted, his interpretations based not on medical observations but on an imagined diagnosis. 

One cannot hold anything against Verghese for hyping up the contradiction aspect. His commission visited Konan Poshpora three months after the incident by which time evidence was already buried and further layered with coats of rumours, confusing statements and contradictions regarding the chronology and sequence of events and number of women survivors. But Verghese does not elaborate much on these contradictions, much less try to resolve them. He simply lists his own opinions in face of the ‘conflicting versions’. "In the absence of any credible evidence it would appear to be an invention, a hurriedly contrived piece of dissimulation which finally broke down under theweight of its own contradictions," says the report and further avers, "It seems beyond belief that such a horrendous and traumatic event that understandably aroused anger should remain totally unreported for 10 days." What is the basis of such conclusions? He questions contradictory versions of women survivors and other witnesses about hearing shrieks and cries but rarely does dwell on the possibility of one experience and its response being dissimilar from another, rather than generalizing all versions together and calling them a blatant lie. 

The Verghese report gives much weight to the delays in lodging a complaint by the alleged victims and the signing of a no objection certificate. And, while he does talk at length about the threat perception from militants as a reason, he could not have been oblivious of the terror of the security forces in a heavily militarized zone where power dynamics have an altogether different connotation for the civilians, also for petty constables who signed the no objection certificate and later changed their story. The delays and contradictions, even the case of gradually swelling number of complainants may be difficult to grapple with but could have ‘n’ number of plausible reasons to explain rather than simply declaring it as an outcome of some terror or abetment of militant groups, which is what this report does, trashes every piece of evidence and testimony as suspect and jumps to a suitable equation: unprovable allegations + possible role of militants (no evidence) + contradictions + exaggerations = no rapes = farce + militant designs+shameless girls. 

Verghese’s ‘exhaustive’ magnum opus carries no testimonies of the women who made the complaints, at best very sketchy versions used with a juxtaposition of an interpretation that they cannot sound credible. Testimonies, without being gingered with bias and opinion, are an important part of any fact finding documentation, especially in cases of rapes. Verghese does not believe so. He dismisses district commissioner’s report for being ‘anecdotal’ and places no value on the testimonies of ordinary people. Rather much of this report is devoted to the purpose of discrediting whatever is selectively picked up as part of versions of ordinary civilians, as if the onus of proving their innocence is not on those accused of rapes but those leveling the rape allegations. Defending the troops and without questioning their official version of the story, the report states, "Would troops on a hazardous cordon and search mission in a village known to be harbouring militants nonchalantly spend the night carousing and raping?"

The report extensively tries to trash the sketchy testimonies offered by saying "the women were giggling" as if rape victims are generically modified to breathe and act in a particular way. According to PCI report, if they are shrieking and screaming, they are being melodramatic or lying, if they are laughing, they don’t deserve to be victims. Some quotes from the highly opinionated report reflecting a misogynist, even racist streak are notable. About a group of victims lined up to meet the PCI committee, the report says, "They seemed quite unashamed to be lined up in public." On one villager’s lament that there was no media publicity, it states, "The heavy accent on publicity says something." Now, what does it say Mr. Verghese, other than the sense of betrayal of the people? "Traditional village women are shy and would be ashamed to disclose details to their families and neighbours, let alone to others, such being the social stigma attached to rape." Is it being suggested that it is ‘improper’, if not a crime, for women to come out and make charges of ‘rape’? By doing so, the report de-legitimises all rape allegations that surface in traditional and conservative societies, especially in villages. Verghese dwells on the probability of one or two women being raped, which he says, may have sounded more credible. Then what is it that stopped him from concluding that this could be a probability? 

So was Konan Poshpora story a complete farce, as opined by this report, or was it totally authentic or slightly or massively exaggerated? Only an exhaustive and dispassionate probe can determine. The later this is done the more difficult it would be to ascertain the truth and the more it would lead to suspicions about the official desire to obfuscate truth. If Verghese in all his eagerness to brand S.M. Yasin a liar calls the PCI report an ‘exhaustive’ one, he needs a re-check. It is an unethical piece of documentation written from a racist, state-ist and sexist perspective to suit a certain pre-meditated motive of abject denial. Yasin, who only submitted a preliminary report, one week after the incident, had said that this necessitated a full inquiry. Verghese does not question why the government did not go ahead with a full detailedinvestigation, he instead demonises Yasin for making his contentions. An extensive probe on Konan Poshpora needs to include investigations in the multi-layered hush-ups, the Verghese report inclusive, in the case and the inability of the government and its agencies to probe the case. Verghese, like everybody else involved, must face the test of scrutiny. By calling his opinion as ‘investigation’, he cannot get away.