SRINAGAR: Kunan Poshpora mass rape is often termed as the biggest tragedy that befell Kashmir in the last three decades. Mass rape by security forces as a war strategy is something which very few can justify. Kunan Poshspora incident occurred on February 23, 1991, when unit(s) of the Indian army launched a search and interrogation operation in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora, located in Kashmir’s remote Kupwara District.
It is reported that at least 100 women were allegedly gang raped by soldiers that night. However, human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch have said that the number of raped women could be as high as 150.
Although the Indian government′s investigations into the incident rejected the allegations as “baseless,” international human rights organizations have expressed serious doubts about the integrity of these investigations and the manner in which they were conducted, stating that the Indian government launched a “campaign to acquit the army of charges of human rights violations and discredit those who brought the charges.”
Following the district magistrate’s report, increased publicity about the incident led to strong denials from Indian military officials.
On March 17, Mufti Baha-ud-Din Farooqi, Chief Justice of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, led a fact-finding mission to Kunan Poshpora. Over the course of his investigation, he interviewed 53 women who claimed to have been raped by the soldiers, and tried to determine why a police investigation into the incident had never taken place. According to his report, villagers claimed that a police investigation into the event had never commenced because the officer assigned to the case, Assistant Superintendent Dilbaugh Singh, was on leave. Farooqi later stated that in his 43 years on the bench he “had never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one.” Just a few months later, in July, 1991, Dilbaugh Singh was transferred to another station without ever having started the investigation.
On March 18, divisional commissioner Wajahat Habibullah visited the village, and filed a confidential report, parts of which were later released to the public. He concluded: “While the veracity of the complaint is highly doubtful, it still needs to be determined why such complaint was made at all. The people of the village are simple folk and by the Army’s own admission have been generally helpful and even careful of security of the Army’s officers… Unlike Brig. Sharma I found many of the village women genuinely angry … It is recommended that the level of investigation be upgraded to that of a gazetted police officer.”
In response to criticism of the government’s handling of the investigation, the army requested the Press Council of India to investigate the incident. The investigative team visited Kunan Poshpora in June, more than three months after the alleged attacks. Upon interviewing a number of the alleged victims, the team claimed that contradictions in their testimony rendered their allegations of rape “baseless.” The team interviewed hospital officials who stated that one of the women who had been pregnant at the time of the incident had given birth to a child with a fractured arm just four days afterwards. She claimed that she had been kicked during the rapes; a pediatrician who visited the village as part of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Basic Rights Committee, confirmed her story. The Press Council team claimed that the fetus had been injured during delivery.Medical examinations conducted on 32 of the women between March 15 and 21, nearly one month after the incident, confirmed that the women had wounds on their chests and abdomens, and that the hymens of three of the unmarried women had been torn. The team claimed that “such a delayed medical examination proves nothing” and that the medical findings were typical among villagers.
Ultimately, the team concluded that the charges against the army were, “well-concocted bundle of fabricated lies” and “a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad…for reinscribing Kashmir on the international agenda as a human rights issue.
The Press Council’s dismissal of all the Kunan Poshpora allegation, and the manner in which it carried out its investigation was widely criticized. Human Rights Watch wrote:
While the results of the examinations by themselves could not prove the charges of rape, they raised serious questions about the army’s actions in Kunan Poshpora. Under the circumstances, the committee’s eagerness to dismiss any evidence that might contradict the government’s version of events is deeply disturbing. In the end, the committee has revealed itself to be far more concerned about countering domestic and international criticism than about uncovering the truth.
Asia Watch, in its 1991 report, stated:
“The alacrity with which military and government authorities in Kashmir discredited the allegations of rape and their failure to follow through with procedures that would provide critical evidence for any prosecution – in particular prompt medical examinations of the alleged rape victims — raise serious concerns about the integrity of the investigation…Given evidence of a possible cover-up, both the official and the Press Council investigation fall far short of the measures necessary to establish the facts in the incident and determine culpability.”
The United States Department of State, in its 1992 report on international human rights, rejected the Indian government’s conclusion, and determined that there was “credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit(s) engaged in mass rape in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora.”
The incident has had a devastating impact on the villages. A feature report published in The Indian Express on July 21, 2013 showed the victims and their families are being socially ostracised. Only two students have gone to university since the alleged massive rape; most choose to drop out after eight class than bear the “taunts and barbs directed at them when they go to the other villages” of Trehgam and Kupwara to continue their studies. The only government school in the two affected villages teaches up to standard eight.
Families unscathed by the incident even in the affected villages have banned all social contact with the victims’ families. Parents say it is difficult to marry off their children. At least one family has confessed to marrying off their 16-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old divorcee and father of three because “none of the young men in the village came forward” and “a search for prospective grooms outside the village was never an option after the incident.”