Kunan Poshpora case exemplifies that impunity goes beyond AFSPA

Culture of impunity 
 
   

The claims of Lt general Hooda that Armed Forces Special Powers Act will not be used to protect any armed personnel in the Chattergam killings do not sound promising, looking at the history of cases in which AFSPA has been used to give protective cover of impunity to the security personnel accused of gross violations of human rights. The manner in which the Kunan Poshpora mass rape case has progressed with central government, army and Jammu and Kashmir government trying their best to obfuscate facts, 23 years on, shows that AFSPA is only one of the tools employed in this well entrenched wheel of pattern of impunity that seeks to shield the culprits in uniform. Truth has been a casualty and justice has been denied in many cases like Kunan Poshpora even without taking shelter under AFSPA. The court proceedings reveal the deliberate lethargy of the state’s agencies in seriously probing the issue. Rather all out attempts have been made to defend the 9 officers accused of having perpetrated the crime.

The latest court proceedings have brought to fore the contradictory versions of the state’s counsels on the issue of compensation to the survivors, revealing that while even monetary compensation is being in a way denied through this confusion, an all out attempt is being made to pedal the theory that the case is not about justice but about financial claims. This is shameful as it betrays scant regard for justice and also is an attempt to make invisible the terrible plight of the women in the extremely militarised state of Jammu and Kashmir, facing the brunt of violence not only indirectly but also as survivors of sexual violence and rapes. 

From the infamous gang rapes of Kunan Poshpora in 1990 to Shopian’s spine chilling double rapes and murders and the equally shocking cover-up by official investigating agencies, two decades of insurgency and counter insurgency period in Jammu and Kashmir are littered with cases that exemplify the victimization and vulnerability of women in a militarised conflict. While many of these cases are never reported, where complaints are lodged they are never probed and justice in each case is denied. The manner in which official data on rapes in conflict is collated illustrates the callousness, deliberate or conditioned by an inherent prejudice. Statistics compiled by Crime Branch of police states 936 women were killed by militants since 1990. 125 of these were abducted and killed. Another 132 women were abducted and freed and many of these were also raped, though no numbers are as yet compiled. However, the cases of rapes by security forces are not even acknowledged. A top police officer some years ago maintained, there are only 20 cases of rapes registered since 1990 against security forces in which 4 cases were proved and 14 security-men were punished. Former DGP Kuldeep Khoda in 2009, after the Shopian rapes and murders, further reduced this number to 10. A UN publication, however puts the number of rapes by security forces at 882 in 1992 alone. 

Despite massive allegations, with serious evidence pointing out to the same in many of the cases against the security forces, very few cases were ever investigated. In a negligible number of cases, prosecution takes place. In none of them justice has been delivered. In some cases where government has ordered inquiries mostly under judicial magistrates, or where security forces order their own court of inquiries, the findings and punishments are not made public, leaving victims to believe that such abuse is committed with impunity. The security forces are just not held accountable, and in many instances cases are not even registered against them. AFSPA or no AFSPA, rapes have been duly legitimized in each of the rape cases, where men in uniform are perpetrators, through use of devices like hushing up cases at medical examination level, tampering evidence, delaying the basic documentation of the case, denial to lodge FIRs, holding departmental enquiries to pin the guilty, ending up in inadequate punishment like suspensions or transfers and dismissing allegations as a political ploy. Kunan Poshora, it seems, is just one spoke in this large wheel of sexual violence and impunity.