By MUZAFFAR RAINA IN KUNAN POSHPORA (NORTH KASHMIR) July 15, 2013.kunan1

Ghulam Ahmed Dar with his niece who was allegedly raped by the security forces. Dar’s wife was also allegedly gang-raped. Picture by Abdul Qayoom.

Abdul Ahad Dar alleges he could hear his wife’s cries as soldiers raped her while their comrades beat him, gave him electric shocks and thrust his head into a bucket of chillies.

Any mention of that winter night 22 years ago, when soldiers allegedly gang-raped dozens of young and old women here — daughters, mothers and grandmothers — still moves many villagers to tears.

For years, unmarried village girls could not find suitable grooms because of the social stigma of rape. Young boys even now drop out of school unable to bear the questions of classmates.

Many of the alleged victims, who were middle-aged mothers then and are grannies now, say they don’t know what to say when their young grandchildren ask about that night.

The army and the Centre claim the rapes never happened and the Press Council of India, invited by the army to investigate, dismissed the villagers’ allegations as a “massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathisers”.

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Abdul Ahad Dar points to a shed where he alleges he was tortured while his wife was being raped. (Abdul Qayoom)

 

Kunan Poshpora is particularly aggrieved at the silence of Indian civil society.

“We want the accused soldiers tried under Indian law, the same law under which the accused in the Delhi rape and murder case are being tried,” said Ghulam Ahmed Dar.

“Her (the Delhi victim’s) suffering shocked us deeply but equally shocking for us is the silence of India’s civil society (about Kunan Poshpora).”

Tired of sharing their “ordeal” with outsiders while continuing their unending wait for “justice”, Dar and others spoke to this correspondent with a degree of reluctance but agreed to be quoted.

Here is their version of the incidents of February 23 night in 1991, which turned the adjoining villages of Kunan and Poshpora into Kunan Poshpora, one village with one name, as if the mention of one was incomplete without the other:

At 11pm, when the village was under a thick carpet of snow and most residents had gone to bed, scores of soldiers from a nearby army camp stormed into their homes.

They allegedly took the men folk out, ostensibly for an identification parade — a common occurrence during the height of militancy — and assaulted the women.

“My sister was raped. We had to marry her off to a man more than double her age. Many other girls too had to make such compromises. We still face problems in getting suitable grooms for them,” said Ghulam Dar.

Abdul Dar said his son had left school after Class IX.

“His classmates and teachers would want him to narrate what happened that night, perhaps out of sympathy. But they couldn’t understand how painful it is for a son to narrate the brutality his mother suffered. Several other boys faced a similar problem and they too gave up their studies,” he said.

Not all the questions come from outsiders.

“I have narrated my ordeal before many but not before my children. We don’t discuss such things with our children,” said a 57-year-old, a mother of five sons and four daughters and an alleged rape victim.

“It’s the questions from my grandchildren that worry me. Now they want to know what happened with us that night. Tell me, how do I answer them?”

She said the soldiers had raped her in one room and two of her daughters in another.kunan map 3

“I had my infant baby, whom I was still breastfeeding, in my arms. My four daughters were also in the room. They threw the baby to one side and dragged my two elder daughters to an adjoining room. They violated us through the whole night.”

She said she had lodged a police complaint “about my rape but we didn’t report the rapes of my daughters, thinking who would marry them? I wish I had died that day”.

Five of the alleged rape victims, four of whom were grandmothers, have died.

One woman said: “They raped my mother-in-law, who was around 70 years old, her two daughters-in-law including me, and her granddaughter-in-law. There were cries from everywhere. My mother-in-law died heartbroken a few years ago.”

Abdul Ahad Shah said his wife was so badly brutalised that her wounds never healed and she died of her injuries two years later. “She was too young to die, just 37. She has left a big void in our family.”

‘Hoax’ or ‘shame’?

The Press Council team, led by former editor B.G. Verghese, had said: “(It) turns out to be a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathisers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as a part of 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.”

But foreign minister Salman Khurshid stirred a hornet’s nest recently when he became the first Union minister to express “shame” at the alleged incident and “shock” at being unable “to do anything about it”.

But Abdul Dar said a statement by a minister was not enough. “We want justice, not statements.”

After the alleged incident, residents claim, the army cordoned the village off for several days to prevent the matter being reported. Three days after the alleged rapes, some villagers managed to lodge a complaint with Kupwara deputy commissioner M.Y. Yasin, who visited the village and reported to his superior that “soldiers behaved like beasts”.

The Telegraph was the first newspaper in the country to report the alleged incident in March 1991, publishing Yasin’s confidential letter. Protests and international outrage followed.

Initially, 23 women complained they were raped, with 10 more later joining them when an FIR was lodged 22 days later. “The 33 women were sent for medical examination which confirmed their rape,” human rights activist Khurram Parvez claimed.

The then station house officer of Kupwara, Farooq Ahmad, reported that “the offence under 376 RPC (rape) stands made out against 4 Rajputta Rifles”. “RPC” stands for the Ranbir Penal Code, which is in effect in the state in place of the Indian Penal Code.

The army accepted that 125 officers and jawans had taken part in a cordon-and-search operation in the village that night but denied rape. No identification parade was held.

In September 1991, the state police’s then director of prosecution wrote in a closure report that the case was “unfit for criminal prosecution” as the “incident was stage-managed”. He said the witness statements were “stereotyped” and had “serious discrepancies and contradictions”.

The police made the closure report public only in March this year, filing it before a Kupwara court after a public interest litigation asked Jammu and Kashmir High Court to order a reinvestigation.

“The closure report was filed (in court) 22 years late. It was done only to subvert the process (before the high court),” Khurram said.

The families challenged the police report and asked for a reinvestigation. But the high court disposed of the PIL after noting that the closure report had been filed in the Kupwara court.

On June 18, the Kupwara court ordered a investigation.

“When it is prima facie established that during night hours, the men folk were taken out from their houses…then who could have raped the women folk for the entire night… is a circumstance which makes an unbreakable chain to put the suspects on trial,” the court observed.

“Further, there is presumption in a gang rape in favour of the victim,” it noted.

In 2004, the victims had approached the state human rights commission, which ordered a reinvestigation in 2011. The commission’s orders are not binding on the government.

-Courtesy: Telegraph India

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