Had State acted on Kunan-Poshpora, Kathua wouldn’t have happened

The rape and murder of an 8-year old nomadic girl in Kathua has reopened the wounds of the survivors of the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape of 1991, who came all the way down from their small hamlet to show solidarity with the minor victim.
“If the State would have acted in case of Kunan-Poshpora, Kathua would have never happened,” they said.
As many as 27 years have passed, but the survivors of the mass rape are still longing for the guilty army personnel to be punished, as the probe has been thwarted again and again by the government.
“We are happy that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is pushing for a fast track court to be set up to expedite the Kathua rape and murder case and to ensure speedy justice to the victim. The CM has also asked for the termination of the accused police officers from service.”
“If this one rape has shaken her conscience, why is she unfazed by the mass rape of women by armed forces in Kunan-Poshpora? Doesn’t she have a responsibility towards us also,” said a victim who had come along with other people from the village at the office of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.
“If the state would have booked the perpetrators (armed forces) who unleashed terror in the village and raped our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives; a minor girl would not have been raped. Kunan-Poshpara could have acted as a deterrent, so that no girl in Jammu and Kashmir would ever be raped.”
On the night of 23 February 1991, as many as 150 girls and women were raped and nearly 200 men tortured by the armed forces. None has been punished till date for the horrendous atrocity inflicted on the villagers of Kupwara district of Kashmir.
“When the incumbent Chief Minister was not in power, she promised us that she would fight to provide justice to us. Now when she is in power what did she do for the survivors of the mass rape. The rapists should have been given an exemplary punishment so that no one would dare to rape any girl,” said Mohammad Amin of Kunan-Poshpura who had come to represent the victims.
“Many people have come to us, recorded our statements. Every time a person would come we would think now something would happen. Now it’s been 27 years, the culprits are yet to be booked. I appeal the government to take cognizance of our case and ensure justice in our case as well.”
A look at how the State failed to provide justice to mass rape victims:
The villagers say the army continued the cordon of the villages for three days after the incident and did not allow them to approach the local administration. And some days a group of village elders finally managed to meet deputy commissioner Yasin. On March 5, 1991, Yasin visited the villages and a couple of days later wrote to police about the mass rape.
Subsequently, Trehgam police station registered an FIR and SHO Farooq Ahmad Shah conducted an investigation, finding that the “offence u/s 376/RPC stands made out against 4th Raj Rifles under the command of Commandant Adjutant R Kuler” and “only the arrest and the identification of the culprits was to be done.”
On March 22, 1991, director general of police entrusted the investigation to SP Headquarters Kupwara, Dilbagh Singh, who conducted a fresh investigation and recorded the statements of witnesses again.
On March 26, 1991, Singh constituted an SIT and statements of a few army officials were recorded. On July 12, 1991, Singh was transferred and the new SSP Kupwara, S K Mishra, began a fresh probe instead of relying on the two preliminary investigations conducted earlier.
The survivors, however, didn’t appear before Mishra because they had already deposed several times. A sense of hopelessness had set in and the villagers had understood that the government wasn’t interested to probe the case.
Subsequently, Mishra sought the opinion of director prosecution in the DGP’s office. On September 23, 1991, director prosecution responded that the “challan is not maintainable” and the case was “un-fit for launching criminal prosecution.”
On October 21, 1991, Mishra decided to close the case as “untraced.” The police didn’t submit their closure report to the court and instead maintained silence.
Instead of ensuring a fair police investigation, the government has been citing a report prepared by a Press Council of India delegation led by B G Verghese that had been sent “on a fact finding mission” in June 1991. The committee termed the mass rape a “massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad.”
Verghese had flown in an Indian Air Force helicopter to Kunan-Poshpora and stayed with the army unit accused of the mass rape. The villagers insist that the PCI team never visited the village. But this clean chit by a media watchdog literally replaced a police investigation.
After years of living in horror and hopelessness, a survivor finally approached the State Human Rights Commission on November 10, 2004, to seek re-investigation into the mass rape. Subsequently, more survivors approached the SHRC in 2006 and 2007. The SHRC treated their petitions as a composite complaint.
On October 19, 2011, the SHRC said it had found that the personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade, had raped indeed the women, and recommended that the case be re-opened and reinvestigated by a Special Investigation Team headed by a SSP rank officer.
The SHRC also asked the state government to prosecute the then director prosecution in the DGP’s office for recommending that the case should be closed. It also recommended “compensation” of two lakh rupees to each of the victims. The government, however, didn’t take any action.
In March 2013, a group of 50 young women from across Kashmir came together in a Support Group for Justice for Kunan-Poshpora and planned to file a PIL in the J&K High Court, seeking implementation of the SHRC decision in the case.
On June 10, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz filed a protest petition on behalf of the survivors against the closure report.
On June 18, Judicial Magistrate Kupwara J A Geelani dismissed the closure report and asked for further investigation to unravel the identity of the perpetrators. He ordered that a police officer of the rank not below SSP should investigate the case within three months. But the SSP didn’t record the statement of the victims.
In 2014, the High Court asked the government to implement SHRC direction and also conclude the investigation in the case. The state government brought a stay to the High Court order and approached the Supreme Court. The army too brought a stay to the High Court’s order and approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court stayed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court proceedings in 2015 and there has been no further movement since.