“I think they (women) were inspired by the fight put up by Indian civilians when the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder took place in New Delhi. When they filed their legal application in Srinagar’s High Court, they were met with a question posed by a judge asking them why are they bothered to re-open an old and forgotten case,” Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist, in conversation with The Logical Indian (2020).
Thirty-one years down the lane of time, on the night of 23rd February in 1991, the quiet hamlets of Kunan and Poshpora in a remote area of Kashmir, Kupwara, witnessed the dread of military occupation at its zenith. The personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Forces (BSF) broke into the residency of the villagers on the pretext of a search operation for militants who had opened fire on the forces. Men from the twin villages were forced out of their houses, interrogated, and tortured, while women and children remained inside. Overnight, the two villages were turned into the sites of mass rape and brutal torture by the Indian Armed Forces.
International Human Rights Organization reports that Indian army men belonging to the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the 68 Mountain Division entered settlements at Kunan and Poshpora in Kupwara on the night of February 23-24, 1991, and gang-raped a minimum of 23 and a maximum of 100 women of all ages and in all conditions. (1992)
The incident soon rose from the night and turned into an open day discussion on various fronts. The claims of the village people, as witnesses and as victims, faced repudiation by the Government of India. The Press Council of India appointed a committee to investigate the incident. In grim opposition to the people of Kunan and Poshpora, the appointed committee stated the charges against the Indian army to be “a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as a part of a sustained and cleverly contrived strategy of psychological warfare and as an entry point for reinscribing Kashmir on the International Agenda as a Human Rights issue. The loose-ends and the contradictions in the story expose a tissue of lies by many persons at many levels”. (Human Rights Watch, 1991).
The Government of India turned down all the allegations following the investigation of the Press Council. A few months later, the case was closed.
In 2004, a victim again stepped forward, as a result of which, the State Human Rights Commission sought a reinvestigation of the case. In the following three years, more women joined the fight for a fair investigation, and in 2013, Srinagar High Court issued a notice to the Government. However, the court soon demoted the case and transferred it to Kupwara District Court, which ordered an investigation into the matter, months later.
It was the India-wide movement following the excruciating 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case that gave an impetus to the case of Kunan and Poshpora, however, the inherent bias of the Indian national media towards the disputed territory never cared enough for the truth to be unveiled in this case. The enactment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the delays on the part of (then) state governments only made the wait longer and the chances of justice thinner.
In 2015 the Indian Armed force asking for a stay order against the directed investigation of mass rapes filed a petition in Srinagar High Court. In 2016, they moved the Supreme Court of India to order the withdrawal of the case altogether.
Kashmir, with a history of impunity for such cases, has remained the greatest challenge for India, with India making the greatest claims of all time, now more than ever. The Kunan and Poshpora case has seen proportionate ignorance from the first crucial medical examinations to the halted investigations. Three decades later, the files of mass rape soak dust in three courts, with chances of justice going from thin to zero. If India talks of winning the hearts of Kashmir, why not start by abolishing this impunity and delivering justice that has been delayed till denial?
Taizeem Bilal is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maryam Hassan