22 Years after Kunan and Poshpora, Rethinking Kashmir: Abhijit Dutta

Guest post by ABHIJIT DUTTA; all photographs by the author unless otherwise mentioned

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It looks like any other village in Kashmir.

You go past a wooden bridge, past open fields winter-barren and wet with rain. Past mountains with snow on their chin. Past wistful looking poplars. Past a brook with clear water. Past grumpy apple trees gnarled like a grinch.

Then the road narrows, and homes – of timber and brick – come into view. Some have fences, unpainted wood. Heaps of hay, dung cakes, piles of dried leaves left to smoke. Ditches and dykes choked with snowmelt. Leafless walnut trees and brunette willows. The chinars, wild redheads just months ago, now old and arthritic. There is a government school on the right, a madrassa on the left. A few houses of stone, fewer of concrete, tin roofs over all.

Before you walk any further, the village ends. The next village is Poshpora. Like Kunan before it, it looks like any other village in the valley. The two villages are so close that people no longer call them by their individual names. Everyone knows this two-in-one village as Kunan Poshpora.

This Night, That Other Year

I had arrived in Kunan with the sun, a few minutes after 7 am. The village was silent, wholly empty of morning sounds. It was as though everyone in the village was asleep, as though it was still hours before the muezzin would call for fajr prayers. It almost seemed deserted, devoid of human life. My friend, who had travelled with me from Srinagar, clucked his tongue in disapproval. ‘By now, everyone in my household would have been up, half the day would have been over,’ he said, shaking his head. We walked the stretch of Kunan, and a bit of Poshpora. Then, as we were crossing the madrassa on our way back, we saw them: a group of girls, peeking at us from behind the gate. They caught us looking, they giggled, and ran back in. Their laughter rang out clear in the silent stillness of the morning.

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I had frozen for a moment. With everything I knew, it was awkward. Then I relaxed; these girls seemed young, the oldest of them perhaps fifteen. Young enough to have been spared the memory of that other morning when the village must have been the quietest. That cold February morning no one would have giggled. That morning they would have still been shivering, still disbelieving what had happened to them through the night. That morning they would have still been hurting.

That morning was February 24th, 1991. That morning, the night didn’t end.

It had been snowing on 23rd February when men from the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles, a much decorated regiment of the Indian Army, surrounded Kunan Poshpora for a ‘cordon and search operation’. Such operations – also known as ‘crackdowns’ – were a common enough occurrence in the first decade of the conflict in Kashmir. They were also, without exception, an utterly dehumanising experience for the Kashmiri, who was literally and figuratively kicked around by the jackboots of the Indian army. The purpose of inflicting such a terrorising experience on the local population was not only the discovery of arms and militants, but also to make it clear that the Indian army was in complete control and the Kashmiri lived his or her life at its mercy. The standard procedure for these operations involved yanking men, including teenage boys, out into a gathering space (usually a nearby field) where they were generally made to wait in the freezing cold while the Army searched their homes. Women and very young children would cower into corners as these men stomped around the frail wooden houses, turning everything upside down with brutish callousness. Most operations took place in the night, beginning around 10 or 11 pm and lasting till 4 or 5 am in the morning; the idea was to maximise discomfort.

Several accounts exist that describe the night when the Fourth Rajputana Rifles troopers entered Kunan Poshpora for just such a crackdown, the details in each varying with source. A composite and reliable account can be found in the text of the 2011 judgment on ‘Complaints regarding Kunan Poshpora atrocities lodged by victims and inhabitants of the Village V/s J&K State and Others,’ passed by the J&K State Human Rights Commission (JKSHRC). The JKSHRC is an autonomous body constituted by the state government under the Human Rights Protection Act (1993). It is chaired by a retired high court judge appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of a committee headed by the chief minister. After hearing all testimonies and defence statements, the JKSHRC bench, which included its Chairman, described the intervening night of 23rd and 24th February 1991:

“Analyzing the statements of all the witnesses/victims it transpires that at about 10 to 11 pm in the night, security personnel cordoned the village. The men folk of the village were ordered to come out and were confined in a Kothar [store houses]. Then small groups of security forces comprising of 2/4/5/6 personnel made their forced entry into the houses. They consumed/had consumed liquor and then gagged the mouths of the victims and committed forced gang rape against their will and consent. The personnel from the security forces had actually turned into beasts and had lost their sense of reasoning as even minor girls of 8 years of age of some of the victims were also ravished. Actually Security forces had come with the intent to ravish the chastity of all the women folk of village Kunan Poshpora and had not cordoned the village to flesh out any militant(s) (sic). The security forces did not even took notice of the presence of minor children who were only crying and witnessing their gory and shameful act (sic). The indecent incident continued approximately till 3/4 AM in the night. There was a police man namely Abdul Gani from the village who tried to raise SOS alarm for help from the loudspeaker of the local mosque, but later on he too was killed by the army personnel so that all the evidence against them is whipped off (sic). Almost all the women folk of the village suffered some atrocities during the whole night. After regaining consciousness in early morning the victims found their all clothes were torned out (sic). They were taken for medical examination and treatment to the doctors. Even later on a lady doctor was camped in the village for about a week, so that the victims can get proper medical treatment. The police did not conducted any identification parade though the statements of the victims were recorded by the police and other officers of the civil administration (sic). The victims have been suffering from various mental and physical disorder and trauma since they were subjected to forced rape. The cross examination of the victims has disclosed that the security personnel had gagged their mouths and warned them of dire consequences at the gun point. Though they cried for help but there was no one to respond. Some of the witnesses have deposed that they were not medically examined. Till date the victims have not been provided any relief by the government or any other agency. From the statements it transpires that at least 36 ladies were subjected to forced gang rape and despite that no identification parade was held.

At the time, the first news report was published by the veteran Kashmiri journalist, Yusuf Jameel, for The Telegraph (Calcutta) on March 12, 1991, after a confidential letter sent by the District Magistrate of Kupwara (the district in which Kunan falls) leaked to the press. The magistrate had visited the village on March 5, a week after the incident, and spoken to the residents. He is widely quoted as having written in his letter that “the armed forces had turned violent and behaved like beasts”. The whole matter was promptly denied by the Ministry of Defence, calling the allegations “far-fetched” and “a figment of someone’s imagination”. Yet, the reports on the incident continued to multiply and finally spilled into the international press. On March 19th, the UK newspaper The Independent carried a report titled, ‘Indian villages tell of mass rape by soldiers’, based on anecdotes the reporters had heard in Kunan Poshpora. Among them, the story of a woman named Bakhti, who was assaulted by six soldiers. “One by one, they raped me, while my five year old son was forced to watch, weeping beside the bed,” she told the paper. The New York Times too reported the incident on April 7, 1991 (“India Moves Against Kashmir Rebels”), in which it noted that “no single event has contributed more to this rapidly rising militancy among women than reports of a gang rape a month ago by Indian troops in Kunan, a remote village in northwestern Kashmir”. Besides newspapers, several international human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued statements about the incident.

The then Divisional Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah led a team comprising of a colonel from Army HQ, a commandant of the Border Security Force, the Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara district and the Superintendent of Poilice, Kupwara. After gathering statements from 41 women, he decided that there was sufficient cause for a more detailed enquiry and suggested as much in his report to the Governor. When the state government published his report, they deleted this recommendation. A former Chief Justice of the J&K High Court, Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi, who also led an independent fact finding mission to Kunan Poshpora in March, concluded that “he had never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one”.

As may be imagined, there were no protests in India, not in Delhi, not anywhere else, against these rapes. No one laid siege to Raisina, no one led candle light vigils, no one asked for fast track courts, no one demanded committees be set up and reports be written.

No, that’s not wholly true. Someone did ask for a committee to investigate the matter, did ask that a report be written. Who? The Indian Army. Why? Because, evidently, it was “deeply upset by what it saw as baseless or grossly exaggerated charges leveled against it in the Press”.

How very gallant. The alleged perpetrator, who is undoubtedly a good man, seeks to clear his name, and willingly offers himself for inquisition. His choice of inquisitor? The Press Council of India.

BG Verghese, a former editor of the Hindustan Times and The Indian Express, and K. Vikram Rao, also a senior journalist, visited Kashmir twice: once towards the end of May, and once in June, for a total of 9 days. There was a third member, Hind Samachar editor Jamnadas Akhtar, who, because of his old age, couldn’t make the journey.

That’s right. The alleged mass rape of at least 20 women, probably 30 or more, by one of the most exalted units of the Indian Armed Forces needs only be investigated – upon the request of the Army – by a couple of aged journalists who make two wheezing visits to the valley, spending more time in Srinagar than in Kunan Poshpora, spending more time talking to state and Army authorities than to the villagers, and who selectively believe and dismiss testimonies as though they were editors, not merely of newspapers, but of Reality itself.

Their conclusion?

“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.”

This Press Council committee’s denial forms the cornerstone of the Indian official response to the alleged mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora. In nearly every news piece, blog post, comment, even scholarly writings, a reference is made to the ‘Press Council report’ or the ‘Verghese Committee Report’ and its findings. In absence of any meaningful legal proceedings, this report is the sum and substance of the investigations, enquiries and pronouncements made by the state.

It makes sense then to scratch at it a little more on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of that night in Kunan Poshpora when more than just collective conscience was violated.

A Crisis of Credibility

I tried looking for the full report, hoping to read more than just extractions (“massive hoax”, “well-concocted bundle of fabricated lies”, “without foundation”) that are regurgitated so frequently. I quickly learnt that it is practically impossible to find the report as a standalone document but that it survives only as a chapter within a book titled, ‘Crisis and Credibility’. It turns out that the Committee was already tasked, via a separate Press Council order issued December 14, 1990, to “examine the role of the Press and its functioning in the current environment in the state of Jammu & Kashmir on the one hand and the role of authorities of the state government in dealing with the press on the other.” When Kunan happened and media reports began to indict the Army for its role, the committee was “further asked to go into reports published in certain newspapers alleging excesses by the civilian population in Kashmir”. To do this, the committee visited Kashmir twice: May 21-26 and June 10-12. In July they published the “Second” and “Third” report, titled ‘Crisis and Credibility’ and ‘Human rights Excesses or Exaggerations’, respectively. The ‘First Report’ had been on the role of media in Punjab (‘Overcoming Fear’) and was originally published in January 1991. The Second Report, which gives the book its name, covers the general media landscape in Kashmir at the time, while the Third report focuses on specific allegations like Kunan Poshpora, Dudhi, Pazipora, and Tengpora, among others.

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There is much that is curious about the Third Report, and they get curioser and curioser as you turn each page. The introduction itself offers several opportunities for pause. In an attempt to provide background to why this report was needed, it offers this etiology:

“In any democratic society, the police and para-military forces are there to uphold the law and protect the citizen while the armed forces, the ultimate protectors, have traditionally been imbued with an aura of chivalry as keepers of national honour. It is understandable therefore that the Indian Army should be perturbed by media reports alleging various kinds of excesses by its personnel in Kashmir. What is most refreshing however is that it should seek an impartial verdict of the media record through a body such as the Press Council of India.”

If you can set aside the fact that to read the words ‘chivalry’ and ‘national honour’ in the same context as Kunan Poshpora is to experience the most vile sort of stomach turning, spine snapping, sycophantic mulch, it is easy to see how this is a fitting and a most appropriate introduction to what follows: an embarrassingly elaborate, unctuous apology for the role of military and para-military forces in Kashmir.

In a paragraph headlined ‘The Army Arraigned”, the authors list all the different allegations that have been made against the Indian Army (a long list) and ends with this sentence: “The last two incidents (Dudhi Killing and Kunan Poshpora) have given rise to the most grave charges of all. Hence it would perhaps be best to dispose of them first.”

It is an interesting choice of word. The committee feels it necessary to ‘dispose of’ grave charges rather than ‘investigate’, not ‘examine’, not ‘look into’, not even a neutral ‘turn to’. No, they must dispose of these charges.

This is the general tenor of the report. It speaks in the language of an Army PRO, eager to proffer the benefits of the slightest doubt to the good men of the armed forces, and ruthless in seizing upon the slightest discrepancy in the testimonies of traumatised women who were interrogated like criminals, about the tiniest details of a brutalising incident – purely from memory and after nearly four months of the incident – in front of strange men, and much of it through a male interpreter. The committee has no trouble in rubbishing the report of a Block Medical Officer (a government official) alleging 32 rapes based on medical examination as “worthless” and in dismissing the report made by the District Magistrate (also a government official) to the Divisional Commissioner as being “clearly anecdotal, hardly investigative”. However, the committee is wholly willing to believe the military version, which suggests that after a whole night of searching houses and interrogating men (never mind the raping), the Commanding Officer “distributed sweets to some kids who appeared”, without the slightest trace of skepticism.

And why be skeptical? After all, there is no reason whatsoever to doubt the integrity of these much accomplished Committee men who are entirely independent and completely objective. The impartiality and credibility of their report is unquestionable. Till you look at the cover jacket that is.

Crisis and Credibility, says the cover, is published by Lancer International. Inside, there is a logo and a selling line: “Knowing is half the battle”.

Never having heard of them, I trawl the web for a background check, starting with its own website. It informs me that (a) Lancer is a publishing house on national and international security and defence related projects; (b) Lancer was established by a former Captain of India’s Armoured Corps; and (c) Lancer used to publish the Indian Defence Review (“which pioneers research on contemporary security issues”) before it started with a series of ‘Lancer Papers’. The Press Council report is ‘Lancer Paper 4’. Look through other Lancer Papers (there were 6) and it is immediately clear that with the exception of Paper 4, every other paper is authored by a retired armed forces personnel.

There is more.

The URL for Lancer Publishers page is an extension of this website: http://www.bharat-rakshak.com.

What be Bharat-Rakshak? According to itself, it is “A Consortium of Indian Military Websites” that originally included the websites of the Indian Army, Navy, Airforce, Space and Missiles. Not without a touch of pride, it chronicles its growth since the early days thus:

“By 15 August 1997, the 50th Anniversary of India’s Independence, the Bharat Rakshak website had attracted more than 12,000 visitors. It was then decided to put all the sub-sites on a common server, with the BR main page. Seetal (the founder of the first defence website) then made the investment of registering the domain name (www.bharat-rakshak.com) and leasing out server space. The cost however was too expensive for just one person to carry and thus it was decided that all the webmasters would chip in.

Seetal (known as BIG BOSS by the other web masters) then came up with the idea of having a sponsor so that they would cover the costs and we would host their site. Soon with luck and determination, Seetal found the perfect sponsor Bharat Rakshak was looking for – Lancer Publishers & Distributors Ltd. This company was a very renowned publisher of military books in India. Lancer sponsored Bharat Rakshak by contributing their information and resources for the use on the website, and in fact Lancer’s own site is designed and maintained by Seetal himself. This relationship with Lancer later on helped Bharat Rakshak in developing its own website for marketing of books related to Defence and Military issues. The influx of higher traffic after the nuclear tests in 1998, necessitated a mirror site till the time better servers were engaged to cater to the high traffic.”

As I read this, I realised the printer’s devil on the the cover. The title of the book was not meant to be Crisis and Credibility. Surely, the authors had made the ethical choice to disclose the truth about themselves and simply wanted to call the book ‘A Crisis of Credibility’.

Once upon a time it was journalists that we looked to, to help us distinguish between what is ‘essential truth’ and what is the rubble of detail. Yes, there is a place for certainties and immaculate testimonies, for coherence and consistency. But reading through each sentence of the committee’s report, it is far too evident that its distinguished members were tasked not with finding the truth, but only with making a grotesque caricature of everything that the women of Kunan Poshpora, wet with tears and burnt in shame, told them.

Fact, Stranger than Fiction

In fact, the truth of Kunan Poshpora is so dangerous that it is not enough to simply dismiss it as fiction; it must be denied even as fiction.

Reviewing Mirza Waheed’s novel The Collaborator for Outlook magazine (Mar 7, 2011 issue), Member of Parliament and MoS for HRD Ministry, Shashi Tharoor, dismissed a fictive reference to the rapes as a “preposterous claim”. Waheed had written these lines:

“I gaze at people, at the whole setting, the trees, the hill, the sky, and stop at the brightly painted green pulpit to check something that had struck me as familiar earlier and – yes, my God, yes – there it is, painted dimly beneath the Allah-o-Akbar: ‘Eid Mubarak, Mohalla Committee, Poshpur’… and I feel a leaden weight, a sinking feeling, of guilt, of shame, descend on me at once, for long ago – Oh, Poshpur! – when Noor Khan had told me about the nearest big village, Poshpur, whose women had been raped by Indian soldiers and from where a lot of boys had left together for Pakistan to become militants, I had taken it with a pinch of salt, thought of it as yet another Noor Khan exaggeration, but now, looking at these men – there is not a single boy here – I believe everything at once, know it was true then, know it is true now, and in so doing feel guilty again, and am filled with rage both past and current! You have no idea what people look like when their women – all their women – have been raped.”

Tharoor is very much toeing the government line when he rants against Waheed’s depiction of “a village where every single woman has been raped by Indian soldiers”. For Tharoor, such and other narrative fallacies, like the failure to create “a single sympathetic Hindu character” and absolving Pakistan, are simply a bunch of “preposterous claims made as if they reflect fact”.

Unfortunately, truth is a bit like a pimple head: it will never completely disappear, however many layers of make-up you apply; and in time it will burst.

The 2011 JKSHRC judgment, which was primarily dealing with specific petitions made to it by a few victims, reported that the then Director General of Police (DGP) of J&K, the ‘top cop’ of the State who had initially “tried to brush aside this serious matter with just a casual approach”, later came forward “with a little bit of truth and tried to open the closed doors of investigation”.

The DGP had in fact, in a report dated 22-05-2010, “affirmed that during the intervening night of 23/24 of Feb-1991 Army personnel cordoned village Kunan Poshpora,” and that men were dragged out of their houses, women interrogated. Crucially, the DGP’s report also acknowledges that the petitioner’s medical report “has proved the allegations of torture and ‘rape’ to be correct”. However, the report also took the standard stonewalling line of defence, arguing that “as no identification parade of the army personnel was made, the investigation of the case was finally closed as ‘untraced’.” Justifiably frustrated, the judgment asks, “…can for God’s sake the police chief of the state answer a simple question as to why in such a serious and heinous case the identification parade was not held? Who was responsible for this intentional dereliction of duty and what action the DGP J&K has taken against the erring officials?”

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The JKSHRC further accuses that “it prima facie appears that all the officers from top to bottom were in a hurry and wanted to scuttle the investigation of the case and they have succeeded in their evil design but in a very bad and crude way. The main complainant in the lead case has clearly and unequivocally mentioned that she is and was in a position to identify the offenders, but investigating officer(s) and their high-ups were not in a mood to proceed with the investigation of the case in a fair and impartial manner.” It similarly chastises the Director Prosecution responsible for the case for scuttling the investigation of the case and for playing “a pivotal role in this whole incident where by due to his intentional omissions/commissions and negligent approach he has deterred the investigating agency from taking due action as warranted under law and thereby has been responsible for violation of human rights.”

In its conclusion, the JKSHRC bench recommended that proceedings for prosecution be initiated against the Director Prosecution under section 19 (1) of the J&K Prevention of Human Rights Act 1997; that a minimum Rs. 2 lakhs each be paid to all victims; and that, most importantly, the FIR lodged at the time of the incident be re-opened and re-investigated through a special investigative team not below the rank of an SSP and that “the investigation must be taken to its logical end without any further delay and hiccups within a specific time bound period.”

Naturally, nothing has happened since, except the selective flinging of loose change masquerading as compensation.

In Other Rooms, Other Rapes

Kunan Poshpora was not the first instance of rape of by the armed forces in Kashmir. In his memoir, Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer talks about a rape that had happened less than a year ago:

“Women and girls formed a circle, held hands and sang. They moved back and forth, tapped their feet on the ground, shook their heads, raised and lowered their voices. It was an old custom practised before the groom left for the bride’s house; grooms left for the bride’s place after the sunset and returned after a late dinner. Kashmiris had discarded that centuries-old tradition after the evening of May 16, 1990, when Indian paramilitaries fired upon a marriage party and raped the bride.”

Peer was referring to the case of the 18 year old bride Mubina Gani in Anantnag, who was travelling by bus with her husband and a marriage party of 27 people. The bus was fired upon and stopped near Badasgam village in Anantnag district by a patrolling party. The bride was kidnapped by the jawans, gang-raped and released after 48 hours.

Mubina’s was perhaps the highest profile case of sexual assault by the armed forces in J&K in 1990 – the first full year of the Kashmir conflict – and among the rare ones where there was some token action (the BSF suspended 4 jawans). In September of that year, The Illustrated Weekly of India published a special report, ‘Protectors or Predators’, chronicling several other cases that had taken place in a span of just 8 months (January-August). Among them:

  • “Three unmarried sisters from a well-respected family in Lal Bazar, a downtown area of Srinagar, were carried off to the cantonment and released after two nights of sexual assault.”
  • “Young girls in scenic Trehgam village were dragged inside their homes alone and subjected to various forms of physical torture from blows with belts and rifle bulbs (sic) to electric shocks.”
  • “Eighteen year old Mumtaz of Tangwara mohalla had the flesh of her left cheek gouged, her clothes stripped off and it is uncertain whether she escaped rape for she has withdrawn into herself.”
  • “Near Chokibal, another serene village in Kupwara, a couple was arrested and taken to an army camp where the husband was tied to a tree while his wife was raped by jawans.”
  • In Ballipora, a dozen women from neighbouring Pazipora were “raped by 9 or 10 men. One of them was pinned down in a field for as long as three hours, her blood-stained salwar later set on fire by the jawans.”
  • In Kupwara town, after a crackdown, 26 year old Rabia was caught alone by three jawans who “snatched her baby out of her arms and knocked her to the ground with their rifle butts. They then gagged her with one of her own phirans, tore her kurta, and raped her. One of them even pressed his boot down on her child’s chest so that he could not cry out while they were unleashing their passion. This carried on for an hour, after which she fainted.”

Several other news and investigative reports, including the Physicians for Human Rights/Asia Watch report ‘Rape in Kashmir: A Crime of War’ (1993) and the report by Committee for Initiative on Kashmir, ‘Kashmir: A land ruled by Gun’ (1991), chronicle dozens of other atrocities and assaults on similar lines.

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And of course Kunan Poshpora was not the last. Besides the well known case of Nilofer and Asiya who were allegedly raped and then drowned in Shopian, there have been several cases of rape by the Army. Alleged Perpetrators, a landmark report published by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir (IPTK) in December 2012, examines 214 cases of human rights violations, several of which include rape.

It is striking that in each of the cases where rape is alleged, it has never taken place in isolation. The army did not arrive to rape; it also raped. Most often, the primary reason for the men to arrive into the home or village was to interrogate or take into custody a family member with alleged links with militants or militant activity. In some cases, it was a regular crackdown, in others an ad hoc ingress.

A rape is a rape is a rape?

Throughout the time we were reading, reflecting, raging against what happened that night to our braveheart, the Unknown Citizen who loved, laughed and watched a movie one December night, we were reminded of a few other names, a few other places – Kunan Poshpora among them. In those alchemic days when the men and women of Delhi seemed galvanised to speak up and fight for the right of every woman to be safe anywhere in the country, there was a generosity of spirit that allowed them to embrace all the Others. When they asked for justice, they asked for it without qualification; when they sang of Azadi, they borrowed their meter from the Kashmiri chant for freedom; and, in between demands to ‘rape the rapists’ and ‘hang the rapists’, their cardboard placards and hand-scrawled posters found space to also ask for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In Kafila, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and several others wrote with heart that we shouldn’t be selective in our outrage, that, really, the same long thread of impunity, of trenchant male patriarchy and sexual power politics, runs through Khairlanji, Manorama, Soni Sori, Nilofer & Asiya, Kunan Poshpora and hundreds of other cases that we have failed to metonymize.

At a recent protest in Delhi. Photo by Shuddhabrata Sengupta
At a recent protest in Delhi. Photo by Shuddhabrata Sengupta

It’s true there is a likeness in the cultural, moral, and social sanctions that allow the rape of women in a Kashmiri village and of a girl on an empty Delhi bus. Yes, there are similarities in the mindsets of Ram, Mukesh, Vinay, Pawan, Raju, Akshay and the men of 4 Rajputana Rifles. Yes, there is the same patronising narrative that weighs down popular sympathy, treating the rape of a woman ultimately as the trespass of private property. Yes, in both cases the language others the victim, and yes, both events took place on a cold winter night.

Yet there is a difference and it is this: Kashmir is a military occupation and Delhi is not. This is not a political opinion, it is a statement of fact. Any land that requires half a million troops to hold down and protect, that necessitates the systemic use of brute force and bodily violence, the routine use of riot gear and curfew restrictions, the daily violation of human dignity, is unarguably a military occupation. It is a fact that even the myopic Army-commissioned Government-endorsed Press Council Committee sees clearly, albeit they see it as a justification for abuses rather than its essential cause. Speaking of the pressures of serving among an “alienated population,” the Committee wrote: “…many security personnel were prone to regard themselves as part of an occupation force under siege and the entire populace as ‘enemies’.”

Naturally, there is no accompanying reflection as to why such a situation has come to occur, why the population is alienated, why, if the forces are indeed stationed there to ‘protect’, had they come to see the “the entire populace as enemies”.

What happened in Kunan Poshpora that night was not a random event. This was not a bunch of drunken soldiers who chanced upon a couple hapless women and couldn’t resist giving into their beastly ‘male urges’ heightened in isolation and stress of a hardship posting. This was a planned, highly organized crackdown, meant to discipline the recalcitrant Kashmiri.

In the introduction to the 2009 report issued by the IPTK, Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked and Mass Graves in Indian Administered Kashmir, the authors wrote:

“The structure of governance affiliated with militarisation in Kashmir necessitates dispersed and intense forms of psychosocial regulation. As an established nation state, India’s objective has been to discipline and assimilate Kashmir into its territory. To do so has required the domestication of Kashmiri peoples through the selective use of discipline and death as regulatory mechanisms. Discipline is affected through military presence, surveillance, punishment, and fear.”

The Illustrated Weekly report quoted above (‘Protectors or Predators’), also carried an interview with the then DGP of Kashmir, JN Saxena. There is a telling exchange that reveals this link between rape and psychosocial disciplining:

Interviewer: Why is it that the maximum number of rapes and other atrocities have taken place in Kupwara?

DGP Saxena: Because it is badly infested (with terrorists) area. Udhar to jahan pair maariye wahan arms milte hain (wherever you kick you find arms there).

The truth is that rape in Kashmir is less about the power relations between man and woman in a patriarchal context; it has everything to do with the relations between State and Subject operating within the context of an armed occupation. There are several complicating factors of course, like the fact that the State is no longer in control of the situation politically and (therefore) is entirely dependent on its armed apparatuses to keep it together, as well that the Subject is stubbornly disobedient in its response to statist overtures of repression or rapprochement. You could argue that an occupation is semiotically akin to patriarchy and it would be a fine argument indeed, except that that sort of sophisticated philosophical argument is least helpful when we are trying to see clearly what is what. We must be able to see that a rape in Kashmir is no different from an enforced disappearance, an extra judicial killing, an illegal detention or a case of torture. When Captain Ravinder Singh Tewatia of 12 Rashtriya Rifles and SPO Bharat Bhushan rape women inside their own home in Banihal (Alleged Perpetrators report, Case 42) or DSP Altaf Ahmad Khan rapes a schoolgirl who is the cousin of a surrendered militant inside the Zachaldara Police Post (Alleged Perpetrators report, Case 57) or Captain Gurtej Singh rapes a man’s wife in Qazigund (Alleged Perpetrators report, Case 98) they are doing their duty, they are teaching “them” a lesson, they are keeping Kashmir “integral” to India.

This is precisely why a singular focus on repealing AFSPA as a remedial action to institutional sexual violence in Kashmir (or Manipur or Chhatisgarh) will lead to squat. Let’s set aside what Human Rights activists say for a moment and turn to the Army for some plain speaking. In its defense of AFSPA, which it calls an ‘enabling act’ it has this to say:

“The provisions of the Act wrongly termed as draconian by vested interests merely give certain additional powers and immunity from prosecution akin to those enjoyed by police force under CrPC to armed forces personnel deployed in counter terrorist operations. […] A perusal of the various powers available to the Police authorities under the provisions of the CrPC vis-a-vis those available to Armed Forces under AFSPA would reveal that the police authorities still enjoy wider powers relating to arrest, search, seizure, summoning of witnesses, preventive detention etc than the powers enjoyed by the Armed Forces.” (Source: Official Website of the Indian Army; emphasis added)

This maybe a rather sorry apology for the Act, but the facts are accurate enough. There are indeed a whole range of mechanisms available to the state today, some overt, some covert, that are opportunistically used to discipline the population. As the nature of the conflict shifts from a straightforward confrontation between the Army and the militants to a more sophisticated ballet involving multiple State actors and an incredibly broad-spectrum Resistance, we will see  – in fact, we are already seeing this – a gradual burgeoning of subcutaneous repression. The state doesn’t need to always rape kill or abduct, it can achieve its ends by ruining careers, permanently restricting mobility, always-on surveillance, co-option, information blockade, pressurising parents, or simply ensuring lifelong, bone crushing poverty. Therefore, if we truly want to not be “selective” in our outrage against rape, we need to be able to see (and protest) the wider rape of Kashmir and the Kashmiri.

A Political Distraction

It is quite likely that in due course, once Omar Abdullah, New Delhi and the Army have had their fill of playing games, they will indeed repeal AFSPA, or reduce the scope of its application. It will be a cause to cheer and we will cheer for it. And when we are whooping with joy, in the background, they will quietly cook up a new Act, a new acronym, a new anagram to do worse than AFSPA. Remember that the notorious PSA (Public Safety Act), which has become as much of a buzzword among Human Rights activists as AFSPA, was introduced in 1978 during Sheikh Abdullah’s time for checking the menace of timber smugglers! Today, it is the primary instrument employed by the state to hold the population ransom. The army doesn’t even get involved! It is the friendly neighbourhood Kashmiri policeman who will come around and take you away.

So, at the risk of the stating the obvious, AFSPA isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that too many of us, including those who turn up on a Delhi street with ‘Justice for Kunan Poshpora’ and ‘Repeal AFSPA’ scrawled on cardboard placards, believe that those half a million troops swarming in a tiny valley of six million are indeed needed to keep Kashmir ‘integral’ to India. The real problem is that many of us actually believe that India has the right to deny Kashmiris their Right to Self Determination, believe that Kashmir is an Indo-Pak issue, Kashmiris be damned. The real problem is that so many of us believe (wish?) that there is no substantive, genuine sentiment in favour of ‘separatists’ and Pakistan, that any such thing – even the idea of it – is nothing more than a well-concocted bundle of lies fabricated by evil, poisonous people high on drugs laced with cash.

At a recent protest against rape in Delhi. Photograph by Shuddhabrata Sengupta

The problem is that too many of us believe that what Kashmiris really need – what they really want – is our development packages and apocryphal bridges. The problem is that in our eagerness to take up cudgels on behalf of human rights – a rape, a killing, or a hanging – we attempt to paint the victim of abuse in a light that is most convenient for garnering the widest possible support for the case. For that, it is often necessary to assert and emphasize that the victim was ‘innocent’, that she had nothing to do with throwing stones, giving the finger or sticking her tongue out at the State. The victim preferred by activists are the ones with a squeaky clean record, preferably teenaged, and ideally on their way to school or playing cricket when they were picked up, tear gassed, PSAed, raped or abused. This approach, whatever the intent, essentially and effectively feeds into and strengthens the statist narratives that seek to criminalize political dissent and create the trope of an ‘ANE’ – a popular acronym that routinely peppers statements issued by the Army or the government in its defense, and expands to Anti National Element. And by doing that it refracts reality.

When Afzal Guru was hanged earlier this month, several people wrote, including on Kafila, against it. The emphasis, without exception, was on the lack of a fair trial, the inefficiency (and ludicrousness) of Speed Post and the politics of death row sequencing. The question that no one asked, even if it was at the back of their minds, is that what if Afzal had claimed responsibility, had staked his claim as the mastermind of the attack on Parliament. What if he had said, yes, I did it, and I would do it again. The Parliament of a nation that colonises me is a legitimate target of attack. Hang me, Hang me now. What do we think would have been the reaction in Kashmir? Would he have been seen as a “terrorist” or would he have been celebrated and lionised as an even bigger hero? And what would have been our reaction, all of us who wanted him saved from the gallows?

1-stone pelter_protester

To be clear, there is no denying that AFSPA is a legislation completely at odds with the ideals – and the idea – of a self-professed democratic, republic state. In a signed response to an RTI application (Home/RTI/15/2012/1213) filed by Khurram Parvez, co-ordinator of J&K Coalition of Civil Society and a well known human rights activist in Kashmir, on the number of prosecutions sanctioned under AFSPA, the J&K Home Department simply stated that “no sanction for prosecution has been intimated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defense to the State Government from 1990-2011 under the J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act.”

No prosecution in 21 years. None. Not one.

For this reason alone we must continue to use every occasion possible to advocate for the repeal of AFSPA. And we must recruit as wide a support base to do so. Yet we must also be careful that when we conflate a rape in Delhi with a rape in Kashmir (in our desire to be inclusive) we remain alert and fully aware of the fundamental politics at work. Investing all our rhetorical energy behind a de-contextualized protest against AFSPA is to fall into a narrative booby trap and being, willy nilly, complicit in accepting, condoning and, worse, ignoring, the military occupation in Kashmir. As Kartik Murukutla, co-author of the Alleged Perpetrators report and an International Human Rights lawyer says, “AFSPA is a bad law that needs to go but it is also a tool of political distraction.”

Keepers of National Honor

The Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law (2013) has been widely hailed as a breakthrough for its unequivocal stance against the shame-honor complex that governs the Indian imagination of rape. Speaking of how the concept of shame has given law enforcement agencies an upper hand, it notes that it is “deplorable” that “the police have become arbiters of honour”. “In other words”, the Committee writes, “we feel that an indirect validation of police inaction in rape crimes has taken place as a result of – a) amorphous attribution of women’s position in Indian society; b) the theory of shame-honor; and c) the policeman, ‘being the male’ in a patriarchal society, ought to be the ‘moral judge’. It not only skews the justice delivery system at the stage of lodging the complaint, but it has a strongly debilitating effect resulting in direct violation of fundamental human freedoms and rights under the Constitution and the various international instruments.

Read this paragraph a few times over and it is clear that a few modifications are needed when describing the situation in Kashmir. It is more accurate, for instance, to say that “an indirect validation of State inaction in human rights excesses has taken place as a result of – a) amorphous attribution of Kashmir’s status in Indian nationalist history and geography; b) the theory of ‘Anti-nationals’; and c) the Army, ‘being the keepers of national honour’ in a jingoist society, ought to be the ‘moral judge’. It not only skews the justice delivery system at the stage of lodging the complaint, but it has a strongly debilitating effect resulting in direct violation of fundamental human freedoms and rights under the Constitution and the various international instruments.”


A similarly comparative reading  may be applied onto several other recommendations made to ensure justice for rape victims elsewhere in India. To peel away these politics from an event like Kunan and to make our support contingent on a discrete, discontinuous act of oppression, to support human rights in Kashmir while we ignore the essential conflict that gives rise to these abuses, is to inflict a far more brutalizing narrative abuse on ‘innocent’ Kashmiris.

No, it is not necessary to agree with the politics of Kashmiri resistance movement  (which in any case is a polymorphous thing and not some monolithic idea that one could agree or disagree with) to be able to sympathize with the abuse of human rights. But we also cannot ignore the context, or gloss over the relation between the State and its Subject in a situation of conflict. If we do, it is tantamount to allowing ourselves to be tricked by refracted and motivated etiologies. In time, it will make us blind.

The swiftest possible redressal of human rights abuses – be it rape or any other abuse – in conflict situations like Kashmir is to offer an acceptable political solution to citizens who have come to hate everything about India through their own personal experiences of living in a militarized state that owns him mind, body and balls. If this cannot be done, let us not assert a spurious moral supremacy by token gestures to hurt a little less, to kill a little softly.

Past Continuous

Every time I have visited Kashmir over the years, Kunan has been on my mind. But I have never managed to drag myself there. What could I say? How would I look them in the eye? Why should I scrape at their wounds?

This time when I had begun writing this piece, I decided I had to see the place, I needed to locate it in my brain, needed to change the shape of Kunan in my head. I wanted to dust off the distance that makes them ‘victims’ in my mind, that makes them the details of a case file. I went because I was afraid that after this piece was written, after another 22 years had passed, I wouldn’t be able to remember them, I wouldn’t be able to remember what was done to them in my name. I went because I wanted to clear out space in my mind, space to grow new memories, memories that were of people, people who were complete individuals, individuals whom i could remember by their particular features. I could only imagine their distinct laugh, imagine their expressive eyes, their hunched backs over glowing stoves, their grey pheran with blue flowers, their evident amusement at seeing me shiver with my 5 layers of warm clothes – all this I needed to see for myself, to record with my own eyes.

As it happens, I arrived in Srinagar to curfewed streets and concertina wires. Afzal Guru had been hanged the day before and the Valley had been prepared for the news with a siege. Police and Para-military, like some new species of a weed, had sprung up in thick rows along sidewalks and streets from the airport to downtown. After being turned away at half a dozen checkpoints, my cab driver suggested I walk the remainder of the way to my hotel.

Dragging my suitcase on uneven, pebble-strewn streets that morning, my cold cheeks kissed by the noon sun, my lungs filling with clear winter air, I wondered if I was being silly to look back at something that happened so long ago when what was happening now needed attention, needed speaking up for. In this era of breaking news and insta-updates, what did it mean to look back, to tell the same story that had been told a hundred times, a thousand times. It was a thought that kept bothering me through the days that followed – days that brought news of deaths in Watergam and Sumbal, days that disappeared newspapers from the valley, days that seemed to have become scenes from a Kashmir documentary of the 90s.

Even to reach Kunan, I had to navigate the present. The road to Kupwara, the district in which the village falls, goes through Sopore, Afzal’s hometown, and several other ‘incorrigible’ towns of north Kashmir. These areas had been the most volatile, the curfew there among the worst. For the first four days it seemed impossible to make the journey. The present was obstinately obstructing my access to the past.

1-kunan 2

Finally, emboldened by my friend’s company, I decided to make the trip. We left Srinagar before 5:00 AM, hoping to reach Kupwara before the curfew is clamped at 6:30/7:00. That dark morning, as every few kilometers dissolved its nocturnal depths and revealed a bit more of the landscape, I remembered reading something Joe Sacco wrote in his book Footnotes in Gaza. The book itself is focused on two massacres that had taken place in 1956, but Sacco draws the reader into present day Gaza by inserting himself into the narrative. Several times, both in first person and third, he visits this question: what does it mean to chase ’56 when everyday, all around, there are people being killed, houses being demolished, children being maimed. As one character says to him with some anger, “everyday here is ’56. ’56 is dead”

He deals with this in some detail in the introduction to the book. He writes:

“Palestinians never seem to have the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next one is upon them. When I was in Gaza, younger people often viewed my research into the events of 1956 with bemusement. What good would tending to history do them when they were under attack and their homes were being demolished now? But the past and present cannot be so disentangled; they are part of a remorseless continuum, a historical blur. Perhaps it is worth our while to freeze that churning forward movement and examine one or two events that were not only a disaster for the people who lived them but might also be instructive for those who want to understand why and how hatred was planted in their hearts.”

In one television debate following the Afzal Guru hanging, an (Indian) guest – a former Foreign Secretary – had bristled: why, he asked in a shrill voice full of outrage, why are Kashmiris so upset about the hanging of a convicted terrorist?

Perhaps it is worth our while, as Indians, to reflect on one or two events in Kashmir that have taken place over the past decades – rape of a village, massacre of a crowd, killing of an innocent, ruination of a generation – and ponder over that question, asked so earnestly.

Previously by Abhijit Dutta in Kafila:

Related posts from Kafila archives

55 thoughts on “22 Years after Kunan and Poshpora, Rethinking Kashmir: Abhijit Dutta”

  1. “In one television debate following the Afzal Guru hanging, an (Indian) guest – a former Foreign Secretary – had bristled: why, he asked in a shrill voice full of outrage, why are Kashmiris so upset about the hanging of a convicted terrorist?

    Perhaps it is worth our while, as Indians, to reflect on one or two events in Kashmir that have taken place over the past decades – rape of a village, massacre of a crowd, killing of an innocent, ruination of a generation – and ponder over that question, asked so earnestly.”

    Kashmiris are welcome to hero worship terrorists like Afzal Guru, but then should not complain if they are treated as one outside Kashmir.


      1. Bilal,
        I read the whole story. While I have sympathy for women in general who are victims of violence you need to reflect on the countless rapes of Kashmiri Pandit women in the valley in the 1990’s. Many of the people involved were muslim neighbors.
        The bottomline is you reap what you sow.


        1. Could you please elaborate on the “rape of kashmiri pandit women (of whom many were muslim neighnours)” – any credible data to back that claim up?


          1. The collective conscience of “Anonymous Indian” and his ilk is good enough evidence. You don’t need any data to back up facts spoken up by ‘patriotic’ “Anonymous” Indians


          2. About kashmiti pandit women i can write about 2 women known to my family.
            The first case was of Mrs ganjoo who was raped and was killed along with her husband.The other (I cant recall har name) was raped and then killed in village tekar in kupwara district.Her body was actually cut in many pieces in a log cutting machine.


        2. *********
          I read the whole story. While I have sympathy for women in general who are victims of violence you need to reflect on the countless rapes of Kashmiri Pandit women in the valley in the 1990′s.

          Yes, because rapes committed against Kashmiri Pandit women justifies rapes being committed almost routinely by the Indian Army in our name in Kashmir and Manipur


        3. If the issue is the Kunan Poshpora rapes, the article will stick to the topic. I can never understand why over-zealous patriotic Indians feel the need to lecture writers focusing muslim issues or Kashmir etc, to explain themselves and render themselves “credible” in their eyes only if they reflect on the “wrongs against the Hindu communities” too.


        4. So You are equating the crime supposedly committed by a moron to a crime committed by an ‘able’, ‘disciplined’ Jawan who carries the tricolor on his head. You sound wonderful! Just a question. Please. Do you learn it from somewhere or does it come naturally to you – Your ignorance.


    1. After reading all this,its only an ‘indian’ who can write words like that.
      Then again we are not surprised.


      1. we “indians” have sympathy for Kashmiri Pandit women who were raped and killed in the Valley in the 1990’s by their own muslim friends and neighbors, unlike you who think rape of muslim women is “rape” and everything else is fair since its a “FREEDOM STRUGGLE”.


        1. While it is true that pandits have also been persecuted,the number of them killed is not more than 209,as per govt. Of india.Even the Pandit organisations don’t put the number more than 500.And it appears to ‘indians’ like you that there has been an allout genocide of pandits,perhaps in lakhs!!!
          Not to justify such killings though.A murder is a murder.
          And those killings have NOT been done by kashmiri muslims You accuse kashmiri muslims of raping pandits, what a lie!
          As for the record of India’s forces in kashmir,here are the facts:
          killings: 80,000 to 100,000
          enforced disappearances:10,00
          rapes/gang rapes:10,042
          and what not..
          Thats among the worst genocides in history.
          Still if you are truthful,and if you have a bit of shame left in you, make a trip to kashmir, stay there for a month and see for yourself what happens there on a daily basis.You won’t call youself indian anymore,you would be so ashamed.
          And meanwhile let me tell you that in the 3 days after afzal gurus hanging,6 people have been killed by indian occupation forces in kashmir-innocent people, not even protestors.Among them was a 13 yr old and a pregnant woman.And little wonder that Indian media didn’t say anything of it.As if nothing ever happened.But thats daily routine for us kashmiris.
          And you form your opinion on the lies and bias of indian media.And thus you call the oppressed ‘terrorists’ while the real terrorists in uniform are your heroes,or jawans as you call them!


          1. It is not a question of numbers. What matters is who ignited the fire?These trouble makers have double standards. They accept the fact that Dogra rulers purchased Kashmir and made it Jammu and Kashmir state but do not accept the reality that a dogra ruler acceeded this state to the Indian union.Thanks to the central leadership and the media who converted Kashmir problem to Jammu and Kashmir problem as desired by Pakistan.


            1. It is very unforunate and digusting to justify such inhuman behavior..The Nazis were better and more humane that you.
              This is an international problem..and needs to be solved rather than aggrevating it.
              What India is doing is tapping natural resources of J&K and keeping them under supression..(half of India gets electricity from hydyle plants from JK..plus irrigating your northern india).
              This is the main reason India doesn’t want the issue solved.


    2. Anonymous Indian, show your face, put a name behind your thoughts and words. Why do you hide if you believe what you have to say? Dont have the courage of your convictions? I dont blame you if you dont, for they are the convictions of a very underdeveloped soul, a terribly warped mind, and a horribly distorted view of right and wrong. First and foremost, thankfully, no matter what history comes between man and man/man and woman, rape is a human rights violation, under LAW. The barbarity of tit for tat is long over in the law books. Now we just need to get it through our thick heads, our numb skulls, that HUMAN RIGHTS LAW applied and obeyed protects us all. So Mr. Anonymous Indian get smart, get savvy, join us in the 21st century, slough off the dreadful past of the dustbin of HIStory. Its over. The lack of ethics you express in your brash and ugly point of view — from behind curtains at that — are exactly the views of a coward with a mean spirit; shed it and stand tall among we the people who will surely lead human destiny out of the morass of small judgements such as yours and all who rape and plunder.


  2. The same so-called Media-Expert team— headed by V.G Vergese with Vikram Rao and Jamuna Dass Akhar as members– who had visited Punjab and submitted a report on media to the Press Council of India (PCI) in 1991, also visited J and K twice during that period and exonerated the Armed forces soldiers of large scale rape and atrocities on women of Kanun-Poshpora village. In Punjab too, that so-called media experts ignored the police excesses, rape and atrocities on the people and stood by police, paramilitary operations led by KPS Gill which were openly supported by so-called nationalistic print media— the Tribune, national news papers from Delhi, Punjab Kesari Group , Daily Ajit and other Left newspapers then. The media followed the so called nationalistic agenda of the Indian state with unquestioned support to ‘unity and integrity’ slogan at the cost of large scale violation of human rights, people’s dignity and self respect–the very basis of life, nay , what civilized world of the day could think of.


  3. Abhijit, I am very touched by the sincerety of your investigations on kashmir issue, particularly the rape of women in kunanpora. I am now clearer what needs to be done most urgently.
    I suppose your motivation as a journaist has been to seek the truth and your committement is towards humanity. I share these values with you. Added to that comes the fact that being born in a Hindu family in Anantnaag and having had all my relatives and cousins with whom I spent my childhood and youth in kashmir I have some added feelings for Kashmir. I left India for higher studies and then spent many years away from my homeland before I returned app 22 years back just when the Kashmir problem was again on the boil, I was more involved in women’s and agricultural issues as I took to staying in a village rather than the polluted cities of India. This was after a tour of about 5 years of visits and work in some cities of India. I was totally de-romanticised by the cities. Anyway what I started doing in connection with Kashmir more intensively, research and personal visits to the valley as well as Jammu camps etc. is only 10 years old. Of course what was happening to my many relatives in Srinagar, I was becoming aware of too. I have always had the Vasudeva Kutumbam approach all my life, namely the problems of germans , of those living in Telangana reigon of andhra Pradesh or in Kashmir are very much the same at a human level.
    Having said this let me share with you the sadness I feel for the women of kashmir valley, who have been constantly humiliated sexually assaulted and what not by the security forces mostly since the insurgency started end of Eighties. More recently they are also suffering due to the doings of their own husbands as well as other men ,directly or indirectly the militants and due to the increasing influence of religion and beliefs of some religious leaders in the valley.
    For me as a feminist and as a Kashmiri the problem of Kashmir has to be approached from at least 3 perspectives the patriarchal, the repression of state-center politics and finally the religion of the dominant community.
    I have always shown solidarities with women who suffer under sexual violence be it in Germany, Delhi, Medak District or kashmir. My solidarities are with the Kunanpora raped girls and women, living lonely lives, also because their husbands wont take them back or because nobody wants to bring up the children born of these rapes and they are again singlehandedly managing their lives. All this because the Indian Army wont accept and apologise, give them their due respect and compensation as well as because according to the religiously minded people they are “defiled” and anybody accepting them back would go to hell.
    I want all of you who are investigating the case further to not give up, till all those members of the Rajputana Rifles who raped these women and girls get treated the same way as the delhi rape convicts.
    Most of all I want my sisters in the valley to understand that unless they approach all the different imensions of their suppressed state of affairs in the valley and come out and protest not only in Delhi but also in Srinagar and other places in Kashmir, neither will their problem be solved nor will the Kashmir problem be solved. I say this because –keeping the international experience of women’s role in peace building- I firmly believe that it is the women of Kashmir who can play a vital role in Kashmir politics, in finding a solution which is acceptable for all communities.


    1. ” My solidarities are with the Kunanpora raped girls and women, living lonely lives, also because their husbands wont take them back or because nobody wants to bring up the children born of these rapes and they are again singlehandedly managing their lives. All this because the Indian Army wont accept and apologise, give them their due respect and compensation as well as because according to the religiously minded people they are “defiled” and anybody accepting them back would go to hell.”

      Wow,that’s a really amazing way to show solidarity with the raped population.We are overwhelmed!
      Thank you for standing with your ‘sisters’.


  4. Eta ki shuru korle dada!!! Amra to shobai Ram Goruder Chhana! Ei shob dekhe to amra kotha shikhey jabo! Kotha holei hashbo! Kintu amader to mukher opor mukhosh! Amra hashbo na na na na!!!


  5. Kashmir is occupied by indian state and they are facing murders ,mass rapes everyday under the boots of indian army.had afjal guru really been a planner in attacking parliament he would definitely had got the status of bhagat sing not only for kashmiris but for all those who support the freedom of kashmir from indian occupation.


  6. while i dont feel the need to respond with some clinical/objective comment/observation, i do wish to assert that the state’s priming of particular populations to ‘appropriate’ status vide the horrors inflicted carries the weight of a painful generalization: the assault on human rights/diginity also represent assault on our very sanity. chanakya-ised ethics must assume globalized responses to terrror, resistance and dissent, undermining not only other philosophies, cultures and life but ironically our own as well. simply cant be/love the animal the indian state shapes its subjects to be


  7. Kashmir issue will linger on till indian n pak govt continue to propogate ridiculous lie that Kashmir is an integral part of either of them. Only way to resolve it is to give Kashmiris – Right of self determination- via referendum. Fact that indian govt is scared of referendum is open evidence to the reality of military occupation. As an indian I want Kashmiris to be part of india more than the land of kashmir. Sadly actions of indian govt n media reflects otherwise


    1. ” Only way to resolve it is to give Kashmiris – Right of self determination- via referendum. ”

      Thank you for being honest here.

      “As an indian I want Kashmiris to be part of india more than the land of kashmir. ”

      There lies the problem dear friend.Alas!


      1. “There lies the problem dear friend.Alas!”

        I think what he meant was that the focus should be on Kashmiri people and not on the land of Kashmir. Nation is made of its citizens, not merely of the land.


  8. it is wonderfully written. overwhelming and clear. can’t write more than this right now. too overwhelmed. thanks a lot for this brilliant piece.


  9. Those soldiers guilty of rape should have been punished and hanged. Regarding the so called “azaadi”, these people lost that right when they drove out their own flesh and blood, the KP’s.


  10. Perhaps few people from outside valley may feel lurch in their gray matter about perception on Kashmir after gone through line by line above, but can’t alter the head setup against Kashmiri across mass, ill will is imbibed by biased media and that matter is rushed and gushed in their blood, sorry! but this is what I understood under my open eyes and in my clear head, ought to text events through which I came across, but how could I? when I know I am a Kashmiri ………..my version will not carry weightage in front of spectators used to live outside.Thanks to all who are having bit sympathy for Valley or who so ever have in future………..long way to run……..let us see.
    (May Almighty avail “peace and harmony” of Kunan Poshpora Victims, and all innocents who suffered during whole tenure of turmoil “here and there after”)


  11. It was the poilicy of Jagmohan, the then Governor of J&K, who made kashmiri pundits to flee out of kashmir…we never had any problems with the kashmiri pundits….during that time out of some 290 deaths, around 200 were of muslims while 70 pundits got killed…Had the killing of pundits been in the interest of azadi, figures would have been different….However some people are bent upon making the killing of 70 pundits (whose lives were equally important as a kashmiri citizen and a human being) seem like a deliberate genocide to justify the oppression perpetrated by the fascist Indian state…..


  12. fact is that india has used “Rape” as a war weapon to suppress and humilate the kashmiris or the people from North East states. insensitive, ruthless and brutal policy of state doesn’t care about the rights of people in general and women in particular,its only aim is to control the teritory. shame on such nation.


    1. in the history every nation used rape as a weapon to terrorize and to get hold over the nerves of people …. Kashmir is unfortunately one of them but what more unfortunate is that the world don’t want to accept the fact of our being victimized and brutalized.
      I don’t have any regret for India because it is a well know fact that India and america is such a country where rape is as common as though its not raping but marrying .its just a normal snack for Indians . but in Kashmir we are not used to it .if someone even abuses a women we pull that hand out of his shoulder… now don’t call it violation its justice . that’s we believe in that is something world should believe in & is only way to stop sex abuses all over the world.
      now before stretching my statement long ,I just want everybody to think , is this literally army means .is this world portray indian army our (kashmiris) guardians n protectors.
      I hate India media in particular they never show the truth they always portray us lairs and terrorist in reality the India is the one who should b called a terrorist country who don’t just rape us but also their own kith n kin .rape is the most justifying meaning of terrorism. Indians are terrorist s .
      many often indian people debate about to which Kashmir actually belongs and Indians always say in boost to us and mingle information in such way that can justify their occupation . but one can now think how sincere Indians are to present the truth .they just want our land for that they can transgress any limit or bound .
      the idea of their lewdness n wicked mindness cant be imagined .its a Hindu up there in the comments who said its justifying to rape you because a pundit was killed or raped which is clear fabrication and a policy….Kashmir doesn’t belongs India . history shows Kashmir was a separate country . what Indian say is a blunt lie . you should now understand how sincere are they in reality. IN SHA ALLAH IT WILL REMAIN a MERE DREAM FOR THEM TO WIN KASHMIR.
      THE MOST MILITARIZED AREA IN WORLD IS KASHMIR THIS SHOWS THE FORCED OCCUPATION OF INDIA ON US. I get insane by thinking how come a country could be such oppressive and bais which suffered same sufferings for over 15 decades. shame on india


  13. Those who claim Kashmiri Pandits were raped by Muslims, fail to quote any example. The only case that was ever reported was of Sarla who was shot dead (and alleged to have raped in Soura). No othe alleged rape case ever happened against Pandits in Kashmir. The other fact that Kashmiri Pandit Capt Tickoo gave license to renegades to rape and plunder Kashmiri Muslim ladies in Kashmir is never mentioned. Why? Is this not a fact that rape was used as a weapon only against Kashmiri Muslim women by India. None of the Pandit families who chose to live in Kashmir were ever touched by Indian Army. There was a clear policy of hitting at Kashmiri Muslim, often much of this policy was engineered by Pandit planners (like Capt Tickoo who is treated as the pioneer of infamous SFT in Kashmir).
    Every time people talk about crimes by Indian in Kashmir, Indians try to balance with ‘what about Kashmiri Pandits;. Does that mean Indian killed 90,000 Muslims and raped thousand of Muslim women there to exterminate them for making way for kashmiri pandits only?


    1. Have you got any proof, all the reverse cases are also

      a man is innocent until proven guilty and the responsibility of proving him guilty is that of the Judiciary .

      My father is in MLI regiment, and the level of professionalism in Indian Army is unmatched , for your example, the mass slaughter of Hindus in East Pakistan were approx. 5,00,000 Hindus were killed and Hindu women were sexually assaulted , had their been any other army apart from INDIAN HINDU ARMY(hindu form 90% of army , rest 8% are Sikhs and only 1% muslims) would have slaughtered Pakistan muslim soldiers and raped their women(which included top Officers wives,daughters, diplomats and their relatives). But the level of discipline is far higher in Hindu Soldiers from History.

      In 1819 their was no gurantee for POOR AFGHAN WOMEN whose husbands after being routed by HINDU GENERAL MISR DIWAN CHAND(PUNJABI MOHYAL BRAHMIN) fled to Kabul, but Misr Diwan Chand instead of assaulting them make arrangements with food and clothes for them to go back to KABUL(that too when Jabbar Khan and his brother Azim Khan treated Pandit women as objects). The afghan women captured also included Jabbar Khan wife and daughters and any other person apart from a Hindu general would have indulge himself in rape and assaulting afghan women. Before shouting do read the 1819 KASHMIR CAMPAIGN of SIKH EMPIRE led by COMMANDER IN CHIEF MISR DIWAN CHAND(a HINDU NOT A SIKH)


  14. @ Connor.

    What are you talking about? No seriously. Misr Chand’s “chivalry” from 1819 is your response to the actions of the Indian Army in 1991? I come from a military family, including family members who served in Kashmir. Let me assure you the army is fully cognisant of the levels of brutality enacted on Kashmiris by troops, and senior officers see this as a necessary part of what is known as psyops: spreading terror in a population. The whole point of this piece is that there has never been a judicial inquiry into the Kunan Poshpora rapes despite overwhelming evidence, and this is not an aberration but a normal mode of the operations of state power in Kashmir today.


  15. Aarti, thank you for that comment. I obviously agree. I do want to belabour the point a bit, because I know several people who either work for the Indian armed forces or have relatives who do, have reacted exactly like Connor above. So, I just want to make a few things clear (at least as far as my point of view is concerned)

    a) The key thesis of my piece is that the many alleged AND proven atrocities committed by the Indian Army in Kashmir is a manifestation of the politics governing the relation between State and Subject in an armed occupation and NOT a reflection of “indiscipline” in the Army. Like Connor, several people argue that in general the “discipline” of the army is very high. I couldn’t agree more. I agree because, the idea of rape/killing/violence as a random event brought on by indiscipline or a freak madman in uniform is to suggest that it was committed in innocence with no larger meaning to it. That is simply not true. As I have explained at some length above, the Army deliberately uses techniques of psychosocial control, including rape, to maintain the State’s hold. Therefore, what they do is ‘strategic’ not a mistake. Yes, it can be argued that what is strategic can also sometimes spiral out of control but those are cases that are less of a problem in mind and can be more easily addressed judicially.

    b) Second, from a moral standpoint, I find it reprehensible that anyone can argue that a rape is justified because another one was committed. Or one killing justifies another. No! One killing followed by another killing, makes two killings. One doesn’t nullify the other. Revenge is not justice! (a concept that our lawmakers clearly struggle to understand, given their willingness to consign people to the gallows in the 21st century). This is a particularly painful and difficult point to make in the context of pandit narratives, who continue to feel that their victimhood is de-prioritized in liberal narratives relative to the Kashmiri Muslim narrative. My problem with the “you killed/raped/hurt a pandit” so “my army” can put my country’s flag up your behind is that it gives peace to absolutely no one. Rahul Pandita in an interview to Pamposh Raina in NYT India (published Feb 19th) actually said that “It is very important for the Kashmiri Pandit community not to lose sight of what happened to us in January 1990. It’s like a festering wound, and I will personally make sure that I keep festering this wound” If the express aim is to keep “festering”, we have a deep deep problem. Rahul Pandita is a writer so i assume he chooses his words carefully – there is a great difference between “remembering” and in ensuring it “keeps festering”. If there is no desire for reconciliation, no desire to fill the breach and the only desire is to compete to be the bigger victim, then god help us. Several leaders (and ordinary people) have repeatedly welcomed Pandits back, repeatedly offered dialogue. This has been dismissed for lack of sincerity. No one is saying there are no problems to be sorted – there has been 20 years of conflict for heaven’s sake – but your intent and motive needs to be clean before you can move forward. If anyone followed the argument between Pandita and Gayatri Ugra on her post on going back to Kashmir, it is easy to see that there is definitely a segment of Pandits (just like a segment of Kashmiri musims) who will go to great lengths to milk the conflict for personal agendas.

    c) And on a more mundane point. No one is asking for anything other than the most basic things in the case of Kunan Poshpora victims. All that is being asked for is due process. Follow the recommendations of your own institutions (the JKSHRC in this case) and just open the case and re-investigate in a meaningful manner. No one is accusing the entire army of being savages and rapists of the first order. But the fact is too many women claim to have suffered and it is only fair that a fair investigation takes place and due process of justice follows. That is ALL that is being asked for in this specific case. I see no reason why members of the Army, who by their own reckoning are very disciplined, should take offence to try the bad apples! In fact, trying them and punishing them, would be/should be something that others can be proud of!


  16. Nice to see in these comments, after 22 years, the ongoing confirmation of mindless Hindu brutality, of which, I myself have been a victim.


  17. Let me start my comments by saying that conflict in the Kashmir is a low intensity conflict or war . Please remember alll around the world where ever the war is fought grave human rights violation takes place and kashmir is also no exception . all the armies in the world stick to this type of atrocities and reverse is also true for example – naxalities restoring to kangaroo courts for dispensing so called justice .
    In kashmir case these charges are very difficult to prove as these are levied by those persons who demand self determination for kashmir and I think it derails the whole process of getting justice for the violated girls & women Authorities & state immediately labels such demands as anti national or foreign sponsored and it is supported by mainstream media , in short no body takes them seriously . It also helps so called human right activist to remain in limelight because if demand made by them is excepted by the state it denies them their shot to the glory.
    For my kashmiri friends I like to tell them that shouting slogans against india does raises a opposite reaction from mainland india and it helps the perpetrators of above mentioned crimes go un punished . It also leads to hardening of stand in public and play in the hands of right wing politician.


      1. Well britishers were ruling us from thousand of miles and don;t have any emotional attachment with India only commercial interest .
        In the case of Kashmir it is much more complex as religious , ethnic , linguistic factors are in the play. Redrawing of boundaries does not bring peace (Ex – Indian sub continent,Middle East or Africa) but opens up the pandora box of new ethnic tensions . Ask any Kashmiri ‘Azadi’ seeker whether independence of India or partition has been bane or boon for them


      2. I have seen this comparison between Indian freedom struggle and Kashmir many times. What I have not seen is a comparison between Kashmir insurgency and the American civil war. I think that is a fair comparison as well.
        Everytime India’s acts are rightly criticized we should not make the mistake of absolving Kashmiri society of its responsibilities. The assumption that the oppressed cannot be an oppressor is a false one. How has the Kashmiri society treated the dissenting voice, how has it treated it’s minorities ? Do we not ask these questions because we hold Kashmiri society to a lower standard ? Some people like to bring in numbers everytime these questions are asked to say that the magnitude of the atrocities committed weighs much more heavily on one side. But this is a false comparison. A particular side is only able to inflict the amount of damage that is allowed by the amount of power and resources it has. To judge a society we have to look at how it treats another one that is weaker than it and not stronger.
        I apologize for veering off what the article is about. I believe the victims will get justice provided persistent efforts are made in that direction by the people who are fighting for it. And I am not saying this because I have great faith in Indian judiciary but because all over the world I do see a consistent evolution towards a more equitable and just society. India may be behind others but it cannot escape that evolution.


  18. We feel indebted to Mr. Abhijit Dutta for coming up with this revealing article. While i appreciate the efforts and convictions with which many Indian friends like Mr. Dutta present the case of Kashmir, i am equally aware of many people within India and abroad, who react very sharply against such reports and try to undermine the struggle of Kashmiris and denigrate them as a whole. It is sad to see some trolls that use words like “genocide”, “kill them all”, “teach them a lesson”, “bloody traitors”, “terrorist-sympathisers”, etc. etc.
    As if Kashmiri have not been inflicted with enough cruelities, that some people call for harsher measures.


  19. The article made me sick.I lost the respect for the army which i was proudly holding all these years.Will never join the army nor advise anyone to do so. Repeal AFSPA and bring these perpetrators to justice.
    And people here are justifying the crime because some kashmiri pandits were also raped.How sick minded.They were raped by anti social elements not by the army which is meant to protect its citizen.Even I support the cause of kashmiri pandits,but that does not mean i will not criticize the army for its heinous conduct.


  20. all these things have really left me deeply struck …
    especially the thing that there’s hardly any young boy left in the village and everybody’s aware of where they like are…
    really wanted to say a lot in this regard after studying this issue in depth .
    The Kashmir people regard this day as women resistance day I guess .
    Similar incidences have happened to women in Berlin after world war 2 and the latter also acknowledges its brutality.
    let peace prevail in the valley and Indian authories should get themselves resolved from this soon as


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