Kunan Poshpora incident
|Human rights abuses
in Jammu and Kashmir
The Kunan Poshspora incident occurred on February 23, 1991, when units of the Indian army launched a search and interrogation operation in the village of Kunan Poshpora, located in Kashmir's remote Kupwara District. At least 53 women were allegedly gang raped by soldiers that night. However, Human Rights organizations including Human Rights Watch have reported that the number of raped women could be as high as 100.
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 fifty-three 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.
In early 2014, an Indian official broke his silence after 23 years. Breaking his silence, then Kupwara deputy commissioner Kupwara S M Yasin said that he had been threatened and offered promotions to change his report on the alleged mass rapes in Konan Poshpora in February 1991. Yasin was the first government official to visit the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, near Kupwara, and note down the testimonies of the alleged victims. In his report sent to the then divisional commissioner, Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah, Yasin had written that the Armymen “behaved like beasts” and that he feels “ashamed to put in black and white the kind of atrocities and their magnitude that were brought to my notice”. Within 15 days of filing of the report, he was transferred to the Muslim Auqaf Trust as a special officer. “An Army major who was stationed in Kupwara and was a good friend of mine approached me and said, ‘You are on the hit list of the Army, please take care’,” Yasin said, speaking on the 24th anniversary of the alleged incident, which is marked as ‘Women’s Resistance Day’. “They tried everything to put pressure on me and alter the findings of the report, but my conscience didn’t allow me,” the former deputy commissioner said. “I was offered every kind of incentive in terms of political offers, promotion from KAS (Kashmir Administrative Service) to IAS, money.” Calling the Konan Poshpora incident the “biggest blot on the democratic face” of India, Yasin said: “The major also told me that the government through its own investigations had come to know that soldiers of the Army had in fact committed mass rapes.”
At the event to mark the event, Yasin added that the State had used “every tactic and every organ including media” to prove that the Army was innocent and that the women were lying. “After the mass rape, G C Saxena, who was the governor of J&K, called a meeting. That morning, I heard the news on Radio Kashmir, according to which Wajahat Habibullah in his investigation report had said that the Konan Poshpora mass rape allegations were false. At the meeting, when I asked Habibullah about it, he said, ‘I am yet to file my report. How can they say this?’.”
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 4 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.
In stark contrast of the purported allegations of abuses, these investigations concluded the allegations themselves are "grossly exaggerated or invented".
"The Kunan rape story on close investigation turns out to be a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as a part of 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".—Investigation Committee
The Press Council's dismissal of all the Kunan Poshpora allegation, and the manner in which it carried out its investigation were 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 "was credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass rape in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora."
Following the release of the Press Council's report, Indian authorities dismissed all of the allegations of mass rape as groundless. No further investigations were conducted. In October 2011 The State Human Rights Commission asked the government to reinvestigate the mass rape case and compensate the victims. They also called for proceedings to be taken against the then Director Of Prosecutions who had sought closure of the mass rape case and not investigation. Meanwhile, social stigma generated out of this incident has resulted in women of this area facing difficulties in getting married even today.
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."
Environment of fear
The villagers from the two villages formed Kunanposhpora Coordination Committee (KCC) in 2007 to seek justice for the victims. The KCC head, a 70-year-old man Ghulam Ahmad Dar, told The Indian Express in July 2013, "If a reporter of a human rights group comes to our village, they are followed by policemen and Intelligence Bureau officials." The newspaper reported the villagers live in a constant wary because of policemen and intelligence officials' visits who often come in plain clothes.
- Manoj Joshi (January 1999). The lost rebellion. Penguin Books. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-14-027846-0. "It also exposes hitherto unknown facets of the US position on Kashmir and investigates sensitive issues like the alleged mass rape at Kunan Poshpora, the infamous alley deaths and the abduction of four foreigners by the mysterious Al Faran militant outfit."
- Abdul Majid Mattu (2002). Kashmir issue: a historical perspective. Ali Mohammad & Sons. "On February 23, 1991, at least 23 and perhaps as many as 100 women were reported to have been raped in the village of Kunan Poshpora by soldiers of the Fourth Raj Rifles, who were posted in Kupwara."
- Abdication of Responsibility: The Commonwealth and Human Rights. Human Rights Watch. 1991. pp. 13–20. ISBN 978-1-56432-047-6.
- James Goldston; Patricia Gossman (1991). Kashmir Under Siege: Human Rights in India. Human Rights Watch. pp. 88–91. ISBN 978-0-300-05614-3.
- International Human Rights Organisation (1992). Indo-US shadow over Punjab. International Human Rights Organisation."...reports that Indian armymen belonging to the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the 68 Mountain Division entered a settlement at Kunan Poshpora in Kupwara district on the night of February 23–24, 1991 and gangraped a minimum of 23 and a maximum of 100 women of all ages and in all conditions."
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- Crossette, Barbara (1 February 1992). "State Department Cites China and Other Nations for Human-Rights Abuses". The New York Times. p. 6.
- Ganai, Naseer (21 Oct 2011). "Human rights panel asks Jammu and Kashmir govt to reopen army mass rape case". India Today. Living Media India Limited.
- Butalia, Urvashi (25 Dec 2012). "Let’s Ask How We Contribute To Rape". The Hindu.
- Bashaarat Masood; Rifat Mohidin (2013-07-21). "The Silence of a Night". The Indian Express. pp. 10, 11.