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Co-Written by Inamul Haq& Tajamul Maqbool

Rape as well as sexual violence committed by security forces against women have been an indispensable element of Indian military strategy in conflict zones like Kashmir and northeast. Those who were legally bound to protect the civilian rights have been involved incrimes particularly against women in Kashmir. For two decades there have been incidents of rapes and sexual violence committed by Indian security forces against Kashmiri women

The targeting of women sexually by the security forces is a political action, so it should be subjected to public accountability. As noted by Asia Watch and Human Rights Watch in one of their reports on Kashmir “Rape by state forces is not a privately-motivated form of …abuse …but an abuse of power that implicates public responsibility”

The case of Kunan and Poshpora-two villages in district Kupwara of Kashmir division, where Indian army cordoned off the two villages and started search operation on the intervening night of 23 and 24 of February 1991. All the men were assembled at one place and women were left alone at their homes. During the search operation, the army men were drunk and gang raped about 40 women (the numbers differ in different reports) including minors, pregnant and disabled, who were trapped in their houses. The victims were betweenthe ages of twelve and eighty years old. The then, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah had visited the villages and asked for judicial enquiry but it was rejected by the Indian government and instead sent a team of two members from Press Council of India to examine the crime.

The villagers alleged that the team never visited the villages but the team met the commanding officer of BSF (Border Security Force) at a checkpoint and concluded that “The Kunan rape story on close examination turns out to be a massive hoax, orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as part of a sustained and cleverly contrived strategy of psychological warfare and as an entry point for re-inscribing Kashmir on the international agenda as a human rights issue. The loose ends and contradictions in the story expose a tissue of lies by many persons at many levels”. However, the victims never give up. In 2011, the State Human Rights Commission asked for re-opening of the case while reinvestigation into the crime was ordered by the judicial Magistrate of Kupwara. But unfortunately the state High Court stayed the judicial investigation in 2013. All the successive governments of the state since the incident in 1991 have been insensitive towards the victims as if there was no such incident in Kunan Poshpora. Even the government has failed to submit its report which was asked by the SHRC in 2011. Though more than two decades have passed and many victims have died, there has been no justice provided to the survivors

Recently a book “Do you know Kunan Poshpora? Authored by five Kashmiri women activists had the narratives of the victims. The book notes down that

“Even pregnant women and teenage girls weren’t spared in the ensuing savagery from the soldiers. Aged women were raped in front of their grandchildren, young mothers were raped in front of their children. The age of the victims ranges from 15-85. One the story quoted in the book is that”I begged before the soldier, that leave us for the sake of God, we have done nothing. I even bowed my forehead on to his shoes. He dragged me to the kitchen were my mother was already there. I screamed with all my energy, mother please save me. “How could she”. After that my clothes were torn, and with that, my whole life too”

With the opening of the case, the divisional bench of State high court which comprised of Chief-Justice M. M Kumar and Justice Hasnain Masoodi Issued a notice in 2014 that Government should provide the compensation to the victim within three weeks. However, it was denied despite the J&K High Court orders. According to Khurram Parvez, Human rights activist in Kashmir”The denial of justice to Kunan-Poshpora victims has time and again exposed the hypocrisy of the Indian state. It implies that no justice should be expected from a system that works to safeguard the perpetrators of horrible crime and human rights violations in Kashmir,”

Every year February 23rd is celebrated as Kashmiri Women Resistance Day and in 2019, it is 28th anniversary of horrible Kunan-Poshpora mass rape, when soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles, while conducting a search operation in Kunan-Poshpora and raped at least 40 women in a single night.

 Inamul Haq& Tajamul Maqbool are Research Scholars, Central University of Gujarat.

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