Srinagar: A top government officer, who had briefly probed the infamous ‘mass rape’ by the Army soldiers in twin hamlets of Kunan-Poshpora in Kupwara district in 1991, on Sunday broke his 23-year silence on the incident which many believe changed Kashmir forever, saying when he refused to give clean chit to the culprits and close the case, he was threatened and transferred from one place to another.
Syed Mohammad Yasin, who was Deputy Commissioner Kupwara at the time of the incident, recalled his visit to the twin villages after receiving information from village chowkidar about the mass rape.
“I was shocked to see the plight of the women. The victims, including old and young, were weeping and crying. They narrated their ordeal. I must say I felt ashamed while recording their statements. A woman told me that she was kept under jackboots by the soldiers while her daughter and daughter-in-law were being raped before her eyes. A pregnant woman was not spared either; she gave birth to a deformed baby four days after the incident,” Yasin said.
“I collected bloodstained clothes of victims and empty wine bottles from the village and handed them over to the police for investigations. The men too were interrogated so that they don’t take up the issue or disclose the tragic events to the masses,” Yasin said while addressing a gathering at a hotel here on the ‘Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day’ organized by J&K Coalition of Civil Society, the support group for ‘Justice for Kunan-Poshpora Survivors’ to mark 23rd anniversary of the ‘mass rape’.
Yasin reiterated what he had mentioned in his report about the February 23, 1991 incident—“the soldiers from 4 Rajputana Rifles behaved like wild beasts and allegedly gang raped up to 32 women without any consideration of their age, marital status or pregnancy. The victims ranged in age from 13 to 60.”
Yasin said the Press Council of India team led by senior journalist B G Varghese, which later gave a clean chit to the Army, had asked him to “save the soldiers in the national interest.”
“I told him (Varghese) ‘are you not ashamed of what your Army has done in Kunan-Poshpora?’ However, he started threatening me and my family. Even the Special Secretary tried to persuade me to close the case. However, I refused to do so. Later, I was transferred from one place to another but I never comprised over my report.”
Yasin said the then Governor had summoned him and asked what made him to write that Army soldiers had acted like beasts. “I replied that they were worse than beasts.” He also said the then Special Secretary, SS Kapur, had direct involvement in trying to shelve the case and shield the perpetrators.
“What kind of democracy is India? How do they claim that their Army is disciplined? They have the worst Army. The Kunan-Poshpora mass rape is a blot on the face of Indian democracy,” Yasin said.
Many survivors also spoke during the Sunday event and narrated their stories, bringing tears into the eyes of many in the audience.
“I had been married for just 10 days and had returned to my paternal home on February 22. The Army came and hell broke loose. It was the night of Karbala. Our lives were devastated forever,” one of the survivors of the mass rape said. “Twenty-three years on, our suffering seems nowhere to end. The dark night has left scars on our hearts and minds. It is haunting us. We don’t have answers for the questions our kids ask about that dark night,” she said, while struggling to hold back tears.
“We were dead on that night. Just that we breathe doesn’t mean we’re alive,” she said. She said she and the other women were living “only to take the struggle for justice to its logical end.”
Javed Ahmed, a victim’s son, told the audience that he had to quit his studies due to social stigma. At the school, he said, his classmates taunted him.
Expressing solidarity with the victims of Kunan-Poshpora, Shakeel Ahangar, husband of Neelofar and brother of Asiya, who were allegedly raped and murdered in south Kashmir’s Shopian township in 2009, said the incidents of rape “will continue to occur unless Kashmir is set free from the Indian occupation.”
“I request the parents not to send their children on Army-sponsored tours. Our youth are not safe. Our women are not safe,” he said. He said he doesn’t have any answer when his 5-year-old son talks about his mother and aunt. “Justice seems impossible. However, we have to continue our struggle,” Shakeel said before bursting into tears.
Munazah Rashid, a member of the support group for ‘Justice for Kunan-Poshpora Survivors’, said that every women is contributing their bit in the struggle for the mass rape victims. “State is like a confused soul. They don’t know if they want to side with the oppressed or the oppressor. However, we’ll stand by the victims till end,” she said.
Abdul Gani Tantray, a social activist from Banihal narrated how the soldiers involved in the rape, murder and disappearances were let off by courts. Even in certain cases, he said, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) shelved the cases under carpet by granting ‘compensation’ to the victims.