Konanposhpora rapes Monetary compensation is no substitute for justice

The government’s announcement to pay compensation to the victims of Konanposhpora gang rapes of 1991 in no way puts a closure on the case, nor can it put a lid on the long pending demand of unraveling the truth and the course of legal justice which has so far completely been denied, reflecting the well entrenched pattern of impunity that protects accused men in uniform from prosecution and being tried fairly for their brutal acts against humanity. 23 years after the heinous and shocking crimes, the Konanposhpora gang rape victims re-launched their campaign for justice a year ago. However, as has been the norm in the last two and a half decades, the government has failed to respond with the only reaction coming in fits and starts through replies that turn out to be evasive and contribute to obfuscating the truth, not removing the layers of mist. Last week, the government agreed to pay compensation to the victims. But monetary relief is only a small component of the mechanism of justice that is due to them. The larger part comprises of fair and impartial probe and truth telling which is unknown in the history of Kashmir conflict, especially where the finger of suspicion points to security force personnel as is the case of Konanposhpora gang rapes. However, barring the cosmetic response to the case by the state human rights commission, anyway a toothless body, there have been no serious attempts to address the demands for justice. That can happen only by re-investigation of the Konan Poshpora gang rapes case, which forms 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. Additionally, 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 in cases of rape. Konanposhpora rapes are also significant 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. It is also important to note that it became easy for the one man inquiry commission by senior journalist B.G. Verghese to come out with such a lopsided report because there really was no documental evidence of the crimes committed, nor a scientific documentation of the statements and responses of the victims thereafter. The manner in which Konanposhpora rapes were handled are instructive of not just the patterns of impunity enjoyed by the armed forces but also the casual manner in which rape cases are dealt with, enabling a system where tampering and not collection of evidence is the norm. The way forward therefore is in not just investigating the case as well as all other previous accusations of rapes, by the security forces or anybody else, but also devising a foolproof system where collection of evidence, medical examination and recording of statements at the preliminary stage is done at the very instance of the lodging of rape complaints.