In February last year, five activists released a book titled Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora to remind India about the alleged mass rape by Army men in two villages of Kashmir in 1991. A year later, attempts to refresh memories about the quest for justice by the survivors have hit a road block.
On Wednesday, the police in Srinagar refused the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society permission to organise an even to mark the 26th anniversary of the Kunan Poshpora rapes of February 23, 1991. The group had planned a press conference to discuss the status of a Supreme Court case on the incident.
Natasha Rather, one of the event organisers and co-author of the book on Kunan Poshpora, said the authorities had told them on the phone that they would get the go-ahead for the event. But a written order was later issued denying them permission.
The order, issued by the Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar, said it was “not advisable to grant permission” because of fears it would cause a law and order problem.
A statement by the organisers, issued on Wednesday, said this was “symptomatic of the State’s attempts to completely clampdown on events relating to human rights violations, particularly sexual violence and that the refusal to grant permission, “aimed at highlighting the continuing miscarriage of justice in the Kunan Poshpora case, is the latest in a long history of cover-ups, intimidation and silencing”.
Munazza Rashid, a co-author of Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora, said the organisation had faced hurdles last year too and were finally given permission only when the authorities realised it was a book launch.
In the end, on Thursday, two women and relatives of other survivors gathered in the office of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society office in Srinagar on Thursday to mark the 26th anniversary of the incident.
Before the programme, Rashid said, security personnel had questioned survivors about plans for the event. The husband of a survivor, told journalists, “We weren’t going to pelt stones. Have we ever done that? Have we ever resorted to violence?”
More than two decade later, the Kunan Poshpora incident remains one of the most intense controversies involving the armed forces in the state.
On the night of February 23, Army units cordoned off Kunan and Poshpora, two villages in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, to conduct a search operation for militants. The men of the villages were segregated, while soldiers are alleged to have gangraped at least 23 women – though some estimates put the number at 100. However, the Army denied the allegations. No suspects have been identified.
On March 8, 1991, a First Information Report was registered at the Trehgam Police station. However, on October 21, the Jammu and Kashmir Police closed the case.
In April 20, 2013, a group of 50 Kashmiri women filed a Public Interest Litigation before the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, demanding that the case be reopened. In 2014, a bench of the High Court directed the state government to “explore the possibility” of awarding compensation to the survivors.
In August that year, the state informed the court that compensation would be paid, but two months later, approached the Supreme Court against the High Court order. Proceedings in the case were stayed.
Last year, the Army approached the Supreme Court, objecting to the case being reopened and claiming the allegations were false.
The Supreme Court is set to hear the case on March 2.
Cover ups and delays
In this long wait for justice, seven women who were party to the case have died. In all, 20 survivors had come on record, said Rashid. “If we count the minor girls and old women who did not come forward, we would say the figure is at 40-50 [survivors],” she said.
In an interview to the Indian Express in February 2014, former Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah, who had investigated Kunan Posphora incident, indicated that there were attempts to cover up the investigation into the case and said that portions of his report had not been published. He also claimed that GC Saxena, the governor of the Jammu and Kashmir from 1990 to 1993, had discouraged him from visiting the villages.
“It is true that I had submitted it but the government only published part of my report – a critical portion of it was excised,” Habibullah told the Indian Express. “(T)he government wanted to use my name and standing as a defence against what it saw as an international outcry against the alleged incident.”
Rashid claimed that the cancellation of the event was a way of keeping the case buried. “This time they [the authorities] knew it [the event] was about Kunan Poshpora case and that there are two petitions before the Supreme Court,” Rashid said. “They do not want people to know that.”