THE BIG COVER UP ON KUNAN POSHPORA


 

Mon Feb 24, 2014

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NEW DELHI:The rape of women in Kunan and Poshpora villages in the Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir is a 23 old saga of complicity, duplicity, and a massive cover up in which powerful institutions like the Army, the media, and the state and central governments were involved. The victims quest for justice has been deliberately blocked, with the perpetrators of the terrible crime getting completely away as a result.

It has taken then Kupwara Deputy Commissioner SM Yasin 23 years to summon the courage and break his silence on the alleged rape of women by soldiers in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora. Yasin now said that he was threatened and cajoled with offers of promotions to change his report on the alleged mass rapes in the two villages of Jammu and Kashmir in February 1991.

In his report to the then divisional commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, Yasin had written that the Army men “behaved like beasts”. Habibullah had led a team comprising a colonel from Army Headquarters, a commandant of the Border Security Force, Yasin and the Superintendent of Police, Kupwara and recorded the statement of 41 women in Kunan and Poshpora. The team had said there was sufficient cause for a more detailed enquiry to the government. The recommendations were deleted in the report published by the state government but Habibullah had remained powerless to see that his recommendations for a thorough high level probe were complied with.

The Press Council of India had sent a team led by senior journalist BG Verghese and K.Vikram Rao to the Valley. This had given “a clean chit to the soldiers.” The team was taken to the affected villages by the Army that had used the “national security” argument to bury the facts and with these the fate of the women who had been raped through the night by the soldiers.

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A police investigation ordered into the incident at the local level was also never carried out because the Assistant Superintendent Dilbaugh Singh assigned to the case was transferred before he could even start the proceeding.

This report is based on the findings of a fact finding team that visited Kunan and Poshpora last June. Others members included political leaders Mohammad Salim and Bhalchandra Kango, former DG, BSF EN Rammohan, former IAS officer Harsh Mander, National Integration Council member John Dayal, All India Democratic Women’s Association assistant secretary Sehba Farooqi and journalist Seema Mustafa.

The team was unanimous in its findings. The two villages came into the news in February 1991 when some soldiers were reportedly killed in a militant ambush. The villages before that had never had a problem with the military, but the situation changed dramatically on the night of February 23-24 1991 when an unspecified number of soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles cordoned off the twin villages and carried out what the Army described as a ‘search operation.’ All the men were asked to come out of their homes and taken away to another location, where the survivors told the visiting team about the torture they were made to undergo to disclose the whereabouts of the terrorists involved in the ambush. The third degree torture included the famous “roller treatment” and electric shocks on their scalps and genitals. Many of them have been left permanently scarred.

On the same night the soldiers went into the homes—there was no electricity in the villages then—and raped and abused the women through the night. The victims of this mass rape ranged from 13 to 80 years. The numbers have not been certified as later only the married women filed complaints and allowed medical examinations to be carried out. The unmarried girls, said to be over 40 in numbers, did not come forward for fear of the social stigma.
The women broke into loud sobs when asked to share some of the details of their lives after the incident. The villages came to carry the rape stigma with no one willing to marry the girls. Young boys said that even today they found it difficult to study in local schools as they were constantly taunted by the other students. The army kept the villages surrounded for two days so no word of the incident could get out. The men who returned the next day found their homes destroyed and their women in trauma. Life seems to have remained at a standstill for the women of Kunan and Poshpora for over two decades, as they still await justice.

Yasin’s report was document by this fact finding team wherein he also identified the soldiers as being from the 4th Rajputana Rifles. He said that they rampaged through the village from 11pm till 9am the next morning, a fact certified by the villagers in their accounts to this team. A month later , on March 17, 1991 a team led by the Chief Justice Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi interviewed 53 women to determine the facts of the case. Farooqi later said that he had never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one. Habibullah followed with his team to suggest a deeper probe into the incident.

Despite all this nothing was done, and the BG Verghese report closing the case gave the necessary fig leaf to the Army to ensure the case was closed and no forward movement registered. In October 2011 the state HUman Rights Commission reopened the case, interviewed the victims, announced a compensation of Rs two lakhs and recommended the formation of a special investigation team.

The fact finding team organised by the Centre for Policy Analysis last year observed, “a section of the media taking a cue from the security forces and the state government has, for two decades sought to project the Kunan-Poshpora crime as a conspiracy by militant groups to stigmatise the Indian armed forces. The state government, despite many of its officials and judge calling for further investigations has remained in a state of denial over the years. No Chief Minister has ever visited the twin villages.”