By Shamshad Ali
New Delhi: Two contiguous north Kashmir villages, Kunan and Poshpora, became part of Jammu and Kashmir’s complex tale of misery on the night of February 23, 1991. But it also got caught in the vortice of allegations and counter-claims so common to many events in the state.
On that night, troops of 4 Rajputana Rifles had cordoned off the twin villages for carrying out a search operation to locate militants there.
The militants were never found, but the Valley raged the next morning with allegations that the army personnel had raped 32 women.
The Army and state authorities denied the allegations.
A team of the Press Council of India, led by journalist B.G. Verghese, which had been asked to investigate said in its report that the “Kunan rape story on close examination turns out to be a massive hoax, orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as part of a sustained and cleverly contrived strategy of psychological warfare.”
The report came under massive criticism from human rights organisations and others, both national and international for having sought to whitewash the incident.
The villages are still fighting for justice in different courts of the state.
Now, five Kashmiri women have taken up the incident to pen down a book titled “Do you Remember Kunan-Poshpora?” (Zubaan Books; pp : 180; Rs.395)
The book talks about reopening the case and documents the legal struggle faced by the survivors. The five authors are Samreen Mushtaq, Ifrah Butt, Essar Batool, Natasha Rather and Munaza Rashid.
In 2013, a group of 50 women, consisting of teachers, students, journalists, human rights workers, lawyers, and other professionals filed a public interest litigation (PIL) before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court seeking to reopen the Kunan Poshpora case.
“The aim behind filing the PIL was to make the Indian Army answerable and to disclose their real identity in Kashmir. The book came later as part of the battle that the survivors of Kunan Poshpora are fighting and so that we don’t forget the allegations of the rapes of Kashmiri women,” co-author Essar Batool told Media Sources in an email interview from Srinagar.
Although the high court rejected the petition after three hearings, the legal battle was restated with a series of fresh petitions.
“The cover-ups, distortions in the case by the state and the humiliation of the survivors is enough reason to bring forth this case into the public domain to show how the armed forces enjoy complete freedom and are allowed to roam around freely. It is this freedom that we are challenging,” Batool added.
The book was officially released at the Jaipur Literature Festival last month. It focuses on the torture of the women from the villages, some 130 km northwest of Srinagar city.
The book has been divided into seven chapters: “Kashmiri Women and Resilience”, “Sexual Violence and Impunity in Kashmir”, “The Night in Kunan Poshpora”, “Life in Kunan Poshpora”, “Inquiries and Impunities”, “People Who Remember” and “The Legal Battle”.
Batool said they had taken up the Kunan Poshpora case because “it is one of the biggest incidents in the history of sexual violence in probably the whole of south Asia,” adding she was inspired when a group of Manipuri women protested naked outside an army facility in Imphal more than a decade ago daring the soldiers to rape them too.
Asked, about the most difficult part to recount while writing the book, Batool said: “Having the survivors recount the horrors of that night has always been hard, because talking about it would send them back to that horrific night.”
She said though they had to travel long distances to Kunan Poshpora and the Kupwara court, the hardest part was to include everything and not leave even an ounce of evidence out. “This is the documentation of the bravery of the women and men of Kunan Poshpora, of their strength, she said.
Co-author Samreen Mushtaq said it had been a struggle to document all of that “to change the stereotype of their being victims to telling the world that they are fighters” .
The writers argue the book is not fiction, but based on truth and was written irrespective of people’s opinion.
“Honestly we did not write the book for acceptance. Truth is spoken not keeping in mind whether or not people will accept it. Truth should be said especially when the other side has been propagating lies for years together. And when you are speaking the truth, confidence comes naturally,” Mushtaq said.
“People who have been part of cover ups and distortion of facts should worry about how they will sound,” Batool said.
“As women, we know how the threat of rape feels, but it is a patriarchal notion that women should not talk about rape since we have attached honour to women. It is this patriarchal notion that has been taken advantage of by the armed forces to use rape as a tool of punishment and reprisal, she added.
“The shame,” Batool said, “is for the perpetrators of rape not for the victims or for those who write about it or speak against it.”