31 years ago, a dark night engulfed the twin villages of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, leaving imprints of oppression, brutality, helplessness and what not. On February 23rd and 24th in 1991, the history of mankind witnessed one of the brutal incidents – it was when rape was used as an instrument of war by the Indian Army in the occupied valley of Kashmir. Significantly, what such incidents cause is not just the extreme humiliation on victims shattering their dignity, devastating their souls and making them the living dead bodies, it basically cripples the entire societal construct by taking an urge to live out of its inhabitants – In this context, rape basically, as a weapon of war, is a strategically calculated exercise of power over a helpless target.
Reports of rape by Indian army in the illegally occupied Kashmir started emerging soon after the Indian government’s crackdown in January 1990. Despite evidence of widespread rapes in the valley by the Indian army and paramilitary forces, only a few incidents were ever investigated by the authorities.
The never-ending atrocities of Kashmir
For more than 70 years, Indian state-sponsored atrocities have caused human rights violations in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOK). The barbaric incident that happened in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora, in Kupwara District of Kashmir can never be forgotten. The villagers reported that around 125 soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles and 68th mountain brigade cordoned off the village around 11.00 pm on February 23, 1991. Males were locked in two houses forcefully. – The soldiers, then, left at around 9:00 AM – the morning of February 24, 1991.
From the eleven years old young girls to pregnant women, 60 years old grandmother, and a woman who gave birth four days after the attack were raped. As per the village leadership, on February 27th the violations were done by soldiers, and they later rejected the charges. The Indian forces committed this crime under “cordon and search” operations. After three months or more a committee sent by the Council visited the village, however, the requested police inquiry had never begun because the designated police agent was being transferred by his superiors.
In October 2011, the State Human Rights Commission [SHRC], confirmed the crime. On 29th April 2013, Public Interest Litigation [PIL] was filed by 50 Kashmiri women seeking action on the horrific gang rape in KunanPoshpora.
Moreover, local police constable, A. Ghani, who was from village and accompanied Army column, claimed he had “seen nothing”, but “heard cries of women”. As per PCI, Police HQ Srinagar, Director Prosecutions ordered Kupwar Police by the end of 1991 to close inquiries due to “conflicted statements.”
One of the victims narrated that, three army men caught hold of me and 8-10 army men raped me in turns. They had huge battery torches with them and they used them to see my naked body while making lewd remarks.
Independent inquiries and fact-finding missions (including those conducted by former Chief Justice of Jammu &Kashmir High Court – Justice Bahauddin Farooqi) concluded there’s extraordinary ignorance of usual investigative procedures that had to be followed for crimes like the KunanPoshpora case.
The villagers of Kupawara’s DC and police officers submitted a letter on rape and torture on 25/26 February. After receival, dated 25/26 February, and protest by villagers of Kunan and Poshpora, Deputy CommissionerKupawara visited the village for inquiries.
The Deputy CommissionerKupawara informed the Deputy Commissioner of Kashmir and other authorities, including the local police via a letter dated March 7th, 1991, about the incident. When the letter is received, the Trehgam Police Station registered the First Investigative Report under sections 376, 452, and 342 RPC.
Also, DC Kupwara wrote to DC Kashmir under the subject –Atrocities Committed by the Army Personnel in the Kunan and Poshpora Village of Kupawara district, Dated- 7th March 1991.He wrote, after receiving the letter dated March 5th, 1991, that he carried out the necessary procedure and was shown evidence of the barbarism. Moreover, the presence of alcohol bottles showed that the heinous crime had been carried out under the influence of alcohol.
In 2004, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) after hearing grievances from two people (one victim and one another) and later by others, recommended that the case be re-investigated. However, the DGP brushed aside the charges that were again brought forward.
During a visit to Kashmir in June 2013, former Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid made a startling remark on the infamous Kunan-Poshpora incident. He said, “I am ashamed that it happened in my country”.
The plea was rejected on August 8th, 2014
The authorities appointed Boobli George Verghese, senior Indian Journalist, now associated with New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research. The BG Verghese-led investigation team gave a clean chit to the Indian army, the report became controversial and raised many eyebrows.
The United States Department of State, in its 1991 Annual Human Rights report, confirmed the incident, so did the New York Times. Unfortunately, such harassment of women in Kashmir has now become a state-sponsored act of systematic crime after the revocation of Article 370 by India on August 5th, 2019, emboldening the challenges being faced by the Kashmiri Muslims, especially women. This can be considered in terms of Indian men excitement to get the ‘fair-colored Kashmiri brides’ soon after Article 370 abrogation. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch has also recorded an upward trend of rape in the illegally occupied Kasmir valley.
A report titled ‘Kashmir Caged: A Fact-Finding Report’, states “Hundreds of boys and teens are being picked up from their beds in the midnight raids. The purpose of these raids is to create fear. Women and girls told us of molestation by armed forces during these raids.” However, such cases have been found underreported due to the associated social stigma and restrictions imposed in the IIOJK region.
Such institutionalized violence has violated both the human rights laws and the laws of conflict – The current Government of India has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that prohibits torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In addition, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are also ratified; Especially, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits rape – as it applies to internal conflicts, prohibits murder, torture and ill-treatment of non-combatants by both government and militant forces. – Despite the fact that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ingrained acts of sexual violence, including rape, to be constituted as a war crime (UNGA 1998), RSS-led BJP Indian Government and the Indian forces still enjoy impunity for the crimes they have committed!
The writer is an Editor, Research & Content Lead at the South Asia Times. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.