Home Politics Forgotten Agony: Kunan Poshpora And The Battle For Justice

Forgotten Agony: Kunan Poshpora And The Battle For Justice

As we reflect on the 33rd anniversary of Kunan Poshpora, let it serve as a solemn reminder of the ongoing quest for justice and the moral obligation to confront past failures. The time for action is now, lest we allow history to repeat itself and subject future generations to similar atrocities at the hands of the same perpetrators. Such acts are both inhuman and disgraceful.

49
0

History

The tragic history of Kunan Poshpora is defined by a horrific event that occurred on February 23, 1991, in the Kunan and Poshpora villages of the Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir, India. This event involved widespread mass rape and sexual violence, primarily targeting Muslim women.

The Indian army conducted a military operation in response to reports of militants in the area. During this operation, soldiers detained the male residents of the villages outside, while systematically perpetrating acts of rape and assault against women and girls within their homes. The exact number of victims remains a contentious issue, with estimates ranging from dozens to potentially over a hundred.

Atrocities Unveiled

During an interview conducted by Human Rights Activists, women bravely shared their harrowing experiences, their faces wet with tears and their hearts weighed down by the gravity of their stories. Yet, amidst their pain, they cling to hope for justice from the judicial system.

A young woman in her twenties recounted the terrifying ordeal, describing how soldiers stormed into their homes, shattering windows and breaking down doors, subjecting them to verbal abuse and physical assault. Another woman shared her traumatic experience of being left alone at night after soldiers took away her husband, only to endure rape by six men until the early hours of the morning.

A villager described the chaos that ensued, expressing a sense of helplessness as they were seized and assaulted in their own homes, lamenting, “Who can we turn to with all of this? This is the oppression of the tyrants.”

In one particularly tragic account, a pregnant woman endured rape just three days before giving birth, resulting in her child being born without arms. The pervasive acts of rape and sexual violence inflicted upon hundreds of young girls and women have left indelible scars of suffering and trauma beyond comprehension for any compassionate individual.1

Voice of the Survivors

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Natasha Rather and Ifrah Butt, authors of the book ‘Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?,’2 shed light on how the widespread occurrence of rape brought great shame to the entire Kashmiri community and led to a sense of hopelessness among the people. This resulted in women resorting to covering themselves up and staying indoors more frequently to protect themselves. However, with men being killed or taken away, many women had no choice but to step up and work to support their families, leading to an increase in the number of half-widows with missing husbands. Despite progress since the 2000s, with more women entering various fields and starting their own businesses, the heavy presence of armed forces in the region continues to instill fear in Kashmiri women, causing them to avoid places where soldiers are commonly seen, such as parks or streets with army checkpoints. The incident gained significant attention when local villagers bravely shared their accounts. 3

Despite widespread demands for justice and investigations, the government and military refused to acknowledge their failures and faced criticism for overlooking the Kunan Poshpora incident, which was a significant catastrophe. Chief Justice Faroqi of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir openly criticized the government’s inadequate investigation on March 17th and was subsequently transferred, silencing his dissenting voice.4 The following day, Divisional Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah raised doubts about the validity of the complaints and recommended further investigation. Subsequently, the Press Council of India appointed an investigative team to look into the matter.

Judiciary Failure

In light of the findings of the Press Council’s report,5 which confirmed the allegations of mass rape in the Kunan Poshpora case, government authorities dismissed them as unfounded, leading to the case being declared inconclusive.

This denial of justice by the judiciary, particularly when the interests of those in power are not aligned with the pursuit of justice, was evident in the Kunan Poshpora case. Despite over 100 women being subjected to gang rape, villagers sought justice from Jammu and Kashmir’s State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). Although the SHRC confirmed the allegations, the state government’s response received little attention. In 2013, fifty Kashmiri women reopened the case in the Srinagar High Court, but it was later transferred to the district court. The high court ruled in favor of compensating the victims, but the Indian Army sought a stay order against the investigation. Multiple petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, but no final judgment was reached, leaving the case pending and perpetrators free to continue their crimes.

The three-decade-long struggle of the survivors from Kunan and Poshpora is part of the ongoing larger struggle in Jammu and Kashmir against the institutionalized and structural violence of the Indian state in the region, writes Maktoob.5

In 2014, the Union of India filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court challenging the interim orders of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, which directed compensation for victims and a reinvestigation of the Kunan Poshpora case. However, the judiciary stayed both the reinvestigation and the compensation payments. Even the State Human Rights Commission’s recommendation for reinvestigation and compensation was stayed by the High Court. Currently, there are five petitions related to the Kunan Poshpora case pending before the High Court and Supreme Court since 2014, three of which were filed by the Indian army. This prolonged legal battle has denied justice to the victims, with six survivors or witnesses passing away in the process, underscoring the continued impunity for perpetrators.

Quest for Justice

It seems improbable that the victims of Kunan Poshpora will ever see justice in their lifetimes, as the investigation has been halted, and obtaining sanction from the Indian Defence Ministry remains unresolved. Even though there has been extensive coverage by over 300 human rights organizations and journalists worldwide, justice continues to elude the victims.

TM Shah, in his book “Ethnography of Social Trauma in Jammu and Kashmir,” recounts the horrifying experience of a 60-year-old widow named Fauzia. Soldiers barged into her house, threatening her father at gunpoint and tying up the younger men. They demanded food and then selected the most beautiful daughter, taking her to another room where she was raped throughout the night in front of her parents and brothers. While the men were separated outside, the women were subjected to molestation and rape inside. Fauzia described feeling compelled to obey the soldiers’ demands out of fear for the safety of their male family members, as the soldiers threatened violence or death if they resisted.

Every day, the women of Kashmir continue to fight against the occupation of their land and their bodies. In every Kashmiri home, there’s a story of sacrifices made for freedom. Since 2014, Kashmiri women have observed February 23 as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day to remember what happened in Kunan Poshpora and other incidents of rape and murder of Kashmiri women. Rape is still used as a weapon of fear in conflict areas worldwide, leaving communities feeling ashamed.

However, remembering that terrible night from decades ago is challenging for the survivors as they have to focus on surviving the challenges of today. Forgetting is not an option. Indian society often only talks about issues briefly before moving on to the next big news. But the women of Kashmir want Kunan-Poshpora to be remembered in history books.

In late November 2021, human rights activist Khurram Parvez, based in Srinagar, was arrested by the NIA. Parvez is renowned for his work with the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which has meticulously documented cases of sexual violence by the armed forces, enforced disappearances, and torture in Kashmir.

When questioned about why victims seek recourse through the courts, Parvez explains that their decision to pursue justice from the state responsible for atrocities like Kunan Poshpora is both strategic and practical. Despite facing criticism for resorting to the courts, they view it as the only viable option for documenting these cases and constructing a collective memory. They are cautious of potential government denials of such events and grasp the significance of institutionalizing memory through legal proceedings.

Drawing on past experiences of government misinformation, they stress the necessity of documenting atrocities through court processes and RTIs. Furthermore, they acknowledge the potential for international intervention but understand that exhausting local remedies is a prerequisite. Ultimately, they aspire for justice through the courts but recognize that even failed cases can contribute to a broader narrative of institutionalized injustice in Jammu and Kashmir.6

What now?

As 2024 dawns, marking 33 years since the reprehensible act of rape committed by army personnel in Kunan Poshpora, the survivors, both women and men, continue to endure their suffering in silence, their pleas for justice frequently ignored. The question arises: how many more such incidents must transpire before society acknowledges and confronts the failures of the judiciary within the largest democracy?

Over the years, the wounds inflicted upon the victims of Kunan Poshpora remain raw and unattended. Their trauma, both physical and psychological, persists, casting a long shadow over their lives. However, the broader society, encompassing both those closely linked and those more distant, seems to have disregarded the plight of the victims, choosing not to address the uncomfortable truths of state-endorsed violence and the impunity afforded to its perpetrators. Despite their willingness to advocate for anything suffered by cats and dogs, human beings from a community are overlooked and sidelined. While individuals from within the community are often urged to remain silent in order to protect themselves.

The pressing question of how many more such incidents must occur to spark meaningful action and accountability weighs heavily on our collective conscience. Each instance of injustice acts as a painful reminder of systemic failures and the urgent need for reform through resistance. However, the path to justice is rife with challenges, including bureaucratic obstacles, political resistance, the desensitization of the masses, and societal apathy.

It is incumbent upon society as a whole to break the cycle of silence and complicity surrounding cases like Kunan Poshpora. 

As we reflect on the 33rd anniversary of Kunan Poshpora, let it serve as a solemn reminder of the ongoing quest for justice and the moral obligation to confront past failures. The time for action is now, lest we allow history to repeat itself and subject future generations to similar atrocities at the hands of the same perpetrators. Such acts are both inhuman and disgraceful.

References:

  1.  Story of Kunan Poshpora by TRT World available at https://youtu.be/wI-HoFZmPoI?si=cmkcSyY56NWoX0VD
  2. Do you remember Kunan Poshpora? https://archive.org/details/do-you-remember-kunan-poshpora 
  3. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2016/12/24/kashmir-a-look-at-the-kunan-poshpora-rapes 
  4. https://legalresearchandanalysis.com/buried-incident-of-kunan-and-poshpora/ 
  5. https://maktoobmedia.com/india/kunan-poshpora-largest-recorded-incident-of-sexual-assault-in-south-asian-history-2/ 
  6. https://caravanmagazine.in/gender/kashmir-khurram-parvez-kunan-poshpora-memory-thirty-one-years

LEAVE A REPLY