BY NATASHA RATHER
Myths and misconceptions swirling around the Kunan-Poshpora case have served to distort facts and create confusion. The Support Group for Survivors of Mass Rape and Torture at the twin villages, which has been closely involved in the case, wishes to take this opportunity to dispel some of this misinformation.
1. Villagers delayed filing an official complaint (an FIR was filed two-and-a-half-weeks later, on March 7, 1991) about such a serious incident. This shows they are lying
The mass rape and torture in Kunan-Poshpora took place during the intervening night of February 23-24, 1991. Villagers tried desperately to get a hearing from officials from the first day itself. A letter complaining about the incident, written by Jumma Sheikh, the chowkidar of the village, and carrying thumb-prints of about twenty-six villagers, is dated February 25/ 26, 1991. Despite heavy snow, Sheikh approached district authorities on February 25, immediately after the army cordon was lifted. Villagers held protests outside the police station through the week, and went to the Brigade Headquarters on February 27. Finally, after all this effort, the District Collector, SM Yasin, who heard about the incident, reported it to the Special Commissioner in Baramulla on March 3, got a written complaint on March 4, visited the villages on March 5, and wrote his report dated March 7 – which was then converted into an FIR.
2. The number of victims keeps fluctuating. Some say 23, some say 32, some say 50, some say 100, some say all the women in the village were raped. This shows that the whole thing is a hoax
We may never know the actual number of victims, as proper investigations were never carried out, and many women, especially minors, hid their rapes. This is clear from the findings of the Human Rights Watch (Asia Watch) which says more than 50, up to 100 were raped. Twenty-one women gave official statements to the police, 32 medical examinations were conducted, all of which show signs of rape/sexual assault. Fifty women spoke before Wajahat Habibullah in his enquiry, 39 women were granted relief by the SHRC (after inquiry), before which cases of 11 women are pending. It is safe to say that at least 50, but probably many more, women were raped that night
3. No police investigations were conducted at that time. So we have absolutely no proof of what happened, except what the villagers say
The State has always been reluctant in letting the police carry out investigations in any crime reported against the Indian Army. In 1991, police investigations were conducted but they were incomplete and improper. For example, women’s statements were recorded in public. Only 19 out of the 125 army personnel (whose nominal roll was available to the police), who were admittedly present, gave statements. The tehsildar, who was the first outsider informed officially, and the compounder who gave medical aid, were not questioned etc. But statements from witnesses, survivors and accused were recorded and medical examinations of 32 women, several men and an injured baby were conducted. When the first investigating officer stated that investigations were almost complete, the case was transferred to another officer, then to an SIT, and finally it was closed on the wrong advice of the Director Prosecutions, in October 1991. Seized evidence in this case, which were wine bottles and torn pherans, were not produced before the court. Despite improper investigations, there are statements other than those of the survivors, medical reports and injury memos that corroborate and substantiate the villagers’ account.
4. Villagers’ statements are contradictory and full of gaps
Every villager clearly says rape did happen, and that they were tortured. This is clear. Individual accounts may vary, based on the memories people have of that night. If it were a scripted story, it would have a similar version. Since the locations of people varied, so did their stories about that night. There may be minor contradictions, but their statements to the police are not contradictory. In fact they may be slightly similar because of the standardised police language. They did not give all details (mentioned only misbehaviour and not rapes explicitly) in their first letter, due to cultural reasons, but they have always stated the same version, which is clear in the police statements. Contradictions over the time of the baby’s birth, rising due to what that particular survivor may have said to SM Yasin and later to BG Verghese, are cleared up by the police statements, which are the most authentic and reliable account of the events, and which were given in March 1991 itself, when events were fresh in the victims’ memories. Any other gaps, contradictions and variations are for the court to decide about. The villagers have already proved their case successfully before the SHRC, and are ready to do so in court if the army gives them a chance. A strange thing that comes up in this is that everyone has been questioning the victims’ story, but the story narrated by the army to the police is far more contradictory, very brief, and without any facts, because the army cannot fill every minute of the night with a fabricated account.
5. Medical evidence of the victims is ‘anecdotal’, delayed etc, so there is no medical proof of rape
The ‘Nirbhaya Case’ brought to light the fact that India lacks basic kits to examine a rape victim. In comparison, Kunan-Poshpora happened in 1991, when even in 2014 hospitals are ill-equipped and doctors ill-informed to handle such cases. Considering this, there is still a lot of medical evidence available. Medical examinations of 32 women, as well as men and babies, were conducted. The report by the Block Medical Officer in Kralpora clearly states that the 32 women had severe injuries – multiple abrasions and contusions – on their lower bodies, thighs, abdomens, buttocks and chests. Vaginal lacerations are reported in some cases. According to the report, hymens of 3 unmarried girls were ruptured and there are resolving injuries on chest, buttocks, and abdomen.
Marks of grievous hurt / hurt using blunt instrument / electric shock to the penis for men, and evidence of fracture for the baby is also reported. So it is not true to say that there is no medical proof. Though examinations were conducted late (March 15 and 21) all the women reported being “raped against their will, multiple times about 26 days back.”
6. The case has been closed since 1991, and the villagers have done nothing from then to now, about the case, until the PIL was filed
The victims of Kunan-Poshpora mass rape have been fighting tirelessly to have their voices heard. A Village Committee in Kunan-Poshpora was formed and villagers filed their case before the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in 2004 and fought for justice, appeared before the Commission and gave their statements. The SHRC issued its final decision only in 2011, asking for the case to be reinvestigated and monetary compensation to be provided, but no action was taken to implement it. They have also been fighting at a local level so that their sufferings are not forgotten
7. The PIL by the Kunan-Poshpora Support Group led to the case being ‘re-opened’
The PIL, when it was filed by a group of 50 Kashmiri women, created a lot of stir and buzz in the media and the civil society, but did not lead to the reopening of the case. The PIL was dismissed, without being admitted, as being ‘premature.’ During the hearing on April 24, 2013, the judge stated that a PIL could not be a remedy to a 22-year-old case nor lead to the implementation of an SHRC decision. The police had heard about the plan to file a PIL and had filed the closure report on the case before the magistrate in 2013, something the police had failed to do when the case was closed on its files in October 1992. The State of J & K argued in favour of the closure. The victims filed a protest petition against the closure, and managed to get an order for further investigations on June 18, 2013. Virtually, no investigations were made. The case cannot be reopened, because it was never officially closed. Further investigations have been ordered to complete the incomplete and improper investigations the police had started in 1991
8. Villagers have received compensation announced by the State Human Rights Commission
The SHRC decision on Kunan-Poshpora in 2011 included reopening of the case as well as giving compensation to the victims. No action was taken by the authorities, which was one of the reasons to file the PIL. After the petition was filed, a High Level Committee meeting was held in May 2013 to decide on giving compensation.
Thirty-nine women received Rs 1 lakh, but we do not know whether it was a part of the SHRC recommendations. In response to an RTI query, the state government has denied paying any money to the villagers as compensation. But the villagers were paid Rs 1 lakh each in cash by Ghulam Hassan Mir, in the presence of the thsildar, at his official residence. No one knows where this money came from. The villagers were given the impression that this was for the SHRC compensation, and that they should take it immediately in cash as cheques could take a long time.
9. The case has been fully investigated, no proper evidence was found, and the case was closed in 1991
A case can officially be closed only by a Magistrate. The police had tried to close the case on its file as ‘untraced’ (that is, the suspects were not found), but it has remained open all these years. Though three different investigations have been carried out by different police officials, they were never completed. The first investigation officer, who was trying to do his job by recording statements etc, was hurriedly transferred. Many witnesses, including accused army personnel present during the ‘crackdown,’ whose names were given to police were never questioned.
10. Nothing can come out of fighting this case after so many years, that too before the Indian court system
This case is not about winning or losing because not a single accused covered by the AFSPA has ever stood trial in a civilian court. It is about refusing to accept that justice will be denied. The people of Kunan-Poshpora have been fighting relentlessly for more than two decades. Their standing has been sought to be discredited and their realities sought to be falsified. The State has tried to cover up facts, and sought to exhaust and discourage the victims in their struggle.
Fighting the case in Indian courts means that we won’t accept it being hushed up. Our aim is to push the army and the police to disclose information, expose their wrong-doing, and show the kind of impunity they enjoy from criminal prosecution.
Already, as a result of the case, we have got the police file, which was buried for 22 years. More witnesses like SM Yasin, the District Collector in Kupwara at that time, are speaking up. A more coherent story is emerging as we learn more and more. Each time the army or the police files something as a reply and gives us more information, and each time they have to come to court, it is a victory in itself for the villagers.
It is also a fight against forgetting, and against compromising with denial of justice.
-with inputs from and on behalf of The Support Group for Survivors of Mass Rape and Torture at Kunan-Poshpora