27th anniversary of Kunan Poshpora mass rape, justice continues to elude the victims
Srinagar: More than two decades on, justice continues to elude the victims of Kunan-Poshpora mass rape in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, the twin villages in the border district wherein over 40 women were allegedly raped by the Army’s 4-Rajputana Rifles of 68 Brigade, during the intervening night of February 23-24 in 1991. Following massive public outcry against the incident, police lodged an FIR No. 10/1991 against the Army at Trehgam police station. Five of the victims have reportedly died waiting for justice and many others are living in a pathetic condition.
Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International India, on February 23 marking its 27th anniversary, sought impartial investigation into the alleged rape incident. Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India, said in an e-mailed statement, “For 27 years, lack of accountability for the crimes committed in Kunan and Poshpora has been a festering injustice and a chilling example of the impunity that surrounds human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. Attempts at seeking justice and compensation for the survivors have been blocked by the state government, the central government and the Army.”
Basu emphasized that authorities must ensure a thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the allegations and demanded all suspects to be prosecuted in a civilian court. “Previous investigations into the allegations have been ineffective. The Jammu and Kashmir police declared that the case was untraceable and stopped investigations in October 1991. To date, nobody has been charged or prosecuted in connection to the case,” added Basu’s statement.
The State Human Rights Commission in October 2011 had directed the state government to compensate victims and re-investigate the allegations. After two years (June 2013), Kupwara district court directed police to investigate allegations within three months. “When the investigations proved ineffective, five survivors filed a petition in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in October 2013. The state government, central government and the Army have since filed multiple petitions in different courts, sometimes simultaneously, and secured temporary orders suspending investigations and the provision of compensation,” added the statement.
Furthermore, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, addressing the congregational prayers at the historic Jama Masjid here on February 23, said that it has been 27 years when “the most reprehensible crime against humanity, mass rape, was used as a war weapon by the soldiers against the women and girls in Kunan village in order to punish and intimidate people for demanding their political right to self-determination.” In the dead of the night, the soldiers entered the village, forced the men out of their homes and committed this most heinous crime, said Hurriyat (M) chairman, adding, “As usual, no justice was ever done and the perpetrators went scot free.”
Mirwaiz, however, termed these women as “brave hearts of Kashmir” and emphasized that people of Kashmir will always remember and honour their sacrifice. According to him, rape as an instrument of terror and intimidation of communities continues to be used in the state as is seen in the recent case of the eight-year-old Asifa Bano from Hira Nagar-Kathua in Jammu region. “Irrespective of the religion of the victim, all should have condemned it in one voice and asked for severest punishment for the accused like in the case of Delhi rape victim Nirbhaya. But, surprisingly, Hindu Ekta Manch supported by communal forces has been formed in support of those who have committed the crime and are threatening the Gujjar community to which the innocent child belonged,” said Mirwaiz, while appealing to people to stand with humanity and justice and questioned the silence of Indian civil society, activists, writers and all those who claim to be defenders of human rights.
Meanwhile, the Joint Separatist Leadership, whcih includes chairmen of both factions of Hurriyat Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, in a statement here on February 23 reiterated the demand for an impartial investigation into the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape. “This heart-wrenching incident is a living proof of state terrorism and fascism of India in Kashmir and it can be assumed how grave war crimes are committed by security forces in the state.” The Joint Separatist Leadership appealed to UN Secretary-General to initiate an investigation into the case and other incidents in the state by UN War Crime Tribunal. “Despite clear proof, evidence and reports from local authorities, New Delhi did not take any notice and instead encouraged rape as a weapon of war,” added the statement.