Published On: Mon, May 27th, 2013

Kunan Poshpora defines Kashmiri character

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By Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani –

Treatment of women forms the basis of civility in a community and a State. The rights of Kashmiri women (or women resident in J & K) are listed under article 22 in the J & K Constitution. The most important of these is 22 (e), that is, “special protection against discourtesy, defamation, hooliganism and other forms of misconduct”. A conscientious society would never turn its back or decide to linger in the cause of justice due to its women for over 22 years.

Reminder

It is almost after 22 years since the gang rape of Kashmiri women of village Kunan Poshpora took place on the night of 23/24 February 1991, that Coalition of Civil Society had to remind us through its PIL that justice has been delayed.  Parvaiz Imroz, Khurram Parvez, Zahir ud Din and other members involved in this quest for justice to women of Kunan Poshpora deserve a commendation for their admirable sense of civic obligations. The question that begs an answer is in regard to the duty of the State under article 22 of the Constitution and oath that the members of the Government and elected representatives have taken, that, they “will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without favour, affection or ill-will”.

Feel Ashamed

The process of justice in an unprecedented gang rape case in the history of Kashmir need not be dragged thus far for over 22 years. It was on 5 March 1991 that Deputy Commissioner Kupwara in his report cited that, “I feel ashamed to put in black and white what kind of atrocities and magnitude was brought to my notice on the spot. The State officer further added, “I suggest the team of officers be deputed to the concerned village to conduct enquiry on spot and immediate steps be taken to punish the culprits. Measures are taken to punish the culprits. Moreover the measures are taken to prevent any more such unfortunate incident in the district.”  The benefit of these recommendations is yet to be enjoyed by the victims.

Massive Hoax- Credibility of an Institution

One would yield to the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in the administration of justice but there is no room for any denial of justice. It is unfortunate to state that victims of Kunan Poshpora were further victimized and the community was slandered by an otherwise distinguished institution, namely, The Press Council of India. A committee appointed on 14th December, 1990, to carry out enquiry in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, investigated the Kunan Poshpora rape case. It claimed to have visited the location, and dismissed all allegations as a massive hoax.

The Press Council of India reported that a massive hoax was 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 international agenda as a human rights issue.  It is unfortunate to state that PCI appointed committee had very little or no regard for the first report filed by the Deputy Commissioner Kupwara and the testimony of the victims.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Voices of victims sans the support of Civil Society Institutions do pale into insignificance if confronted by a negligent administrations and the added bias of institutions like Press Council of India in this case.

It should be assuring that a State institution entrusted to act as a watch dogs for the promotion and protection of Human Rights has discharged its duties in fairness and in equity. The State Human Rights Commissions has found that “all the successive governments and the District administration closed their eyes towards the pain and agony of the victims and nobody for all these more than twenty years has tried to extend any relief or compensation to them which could have been even for prima facie aroused a sense of belonging to these victims and they would have developed that there is a somebody who owns and cares for them. Right from Feb 1991 all the successive Governments and District Administration have been guilty of callous, negligent and insensitive and indifferent approach and attitude towards these victims as if nothing had happened in Kunan Poshpora during the intervening night of 23rd/24th of Feb 1991.”

The findings of the Deputy Commissioner Kupwara in March 1991 and the findings of the State Human Rights Commission in October 2011 leave no doubt that Kunan Poshpora victims and the State have a case against the findings of the Press Council of India as well. PCI is guilty of perverting the course of justice and slandering the victims.

Granting of NOC-Failure in Duty

It is 22 years since these unfortunate women of all ages and conditions were raped between 11p.m and 4a.m. on the night of February 23/24, 1991. The army column moved off about 9 a.m. after having procured a no-objection certificate signed by three village notables and two J&K police constables who had accompanied the troops as required. These were exceptionally difficult circumstances and nothing of the sort had ever happened or been witnessed in 145 years from March 1846 – February 1991.

Granting of a no-objection certificate to the culprits constitutes an offence. It may not be in the interests of justice to punish the three village notables and two J&K police constables for failing the test of a sense of duty, yet we may need to summon them and reprimand them for their failure.

Secondary Victimization

These victims should have received Psychological First Aid in 1991 and the process should have continued. There should have been an appropriate package of rehabilitation. Unfortunately the victims are summoned in the dock even after 22 years. Some Kashmiris were quick to make a living out of this misery. Kunan Poshpora victims were paraded in front of a camera and women were made to hold their trousers in their hands. The group photograph was sold around the globe and there was trace of shame on any face.

It is reported that a sessions’ court in Kupwara on Friday 24 May 2013 recorded the statements of five victims. The statements were recorded by the court following directions from the High Court on May 14 to expedite proceedings in the 23 year old case. It is very insensitive to summon these victims after 23 years in the open court and record their statements. It would be even more painful and humiliating for a female victim to face a male judicial officer. It may be that the judicial officer is not trained in recording evidence in such cases.

It is encouraging to note that Coalition of Civil Society has taken notice of the situation and its spokesperson Khuram Pervez has expressed his concern that the statements of victims were recorded in an open court in contravention to the Supreme Court guidelines on protecting the identity of the rape victims. One would have hoped that the local judicial officer and the system would have due regard for the sensitivities involved in recording the evidence of rape victims. The process amounts to a secondary victimization after 23 years.

Way Forward and Advice

JKCHR has remained fully involved in representing these and other victims in the last 23 years.  The first two reports titled “Torture, Rape and Death” and “Women & Children, Rape and Torture” were published in June 1992 and June 1993 respectively. It is time that we put an end to the agony and pain of these victims. The important step is to give credence to their testimonies given in 1991 and to the findings of Deputy Commissioner Kupwara made in March 1991 and findings of the State Human Rights Commission made in October 2011. These victims should not be processed any more in the judicial dock.

Financial Support and Rehabilitation

The number of victims is different in PIL, report of the Deputy Commissioner and the findings of the State Human Rights Commission. The number may be more because most of the   victims decide not report. A serious effort should be made to revisit the village and encourage people to come forward and record their grievance.

The financial support & rehabilitation of Kuna Poshpora and other victims should not be left to the State Government or to any compensation from the culprits. An urgent approach should be made to OIC Secretariat and part of the funds raised under item 10 of OIC Resolution ICFM/22-94/PIL/DR.3/Rev.1 passed at THE XXII Islamic Conference in Casablanca, Morocco, in December 1994 on Kashmir, be requested at the earliest. Funds from 57 Muslim Countries, Islamic Institutions and philanthropists have been mobilized from December 1994 for “providing humanitarian assistance to the Kashmiri people.”

Let Kunan Poshpora not define our character.

Author is London based Secretary General of JKCHR – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.  He is on UN register as an expert in Peace Keeping, Humanitarian Operations and Election Monitoring Missions. He could be reached on email dr-nazirgilani@jkchr.com


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