I read about a woman and her anguish. I read about her fear and apprehension. It bruised my heart. It marred my soul. And I felt feeble and powerless; as if my hands had been tied down, as if my thoughts only deserved greater comprehension and insight. Then, I studied about that night: the night that she was raped.
On the night of 23rd February 1991, a group of soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles barged in the two villages of Konan and Poshpora in the Kashmir region. They shoved the men out of their houses to conduct a Cordon and Search operation which is a military tactic to cordon off an area and search the premises for weapons or insurgents. These men were taken to a different place for thorough investigation while their mothers, wives and daughters were sexually assaulted. Reports say that these assaults were carried out all through the night and the villages were never the same again. For a few days, the natives were quiet; burdened to an intensity that shuddered their very existence. Then, about 53 women lodged complaints while many others chose to remain hushed. The testimonies of the men and women of the villages state that the victims ranged from girls as young as 13 to women as old as 80.
What did the government do? They warded off the case calling it a militant conspiracy against the soldiers. Reports were manipulated. Appropriate investigations were never carried out. The villagers have since suffered various social stigmas and have lost all faith in humanity and the regime. The incident also left several women physically injured in addition to the pitiable mental trauma they had to bear with. Today, it has been more than twenty-two years but the pain is still fresh in the minds of the people of Kunan-Poshpora, which came to be known as one after those appalling hours of darkness.
Following initial investigations due to the uproar created by the media after the incident, the government gave a clean chit to the soldiers. A few statements also go ahead explaining that this dissolution of the charges against the specific group of soldiers doesn’t seem convincing because of the visible consequences of the episode. More than fifteen women had to undergo hysterectomies as a result of the infection that penetrated their bodies after the sexual violence inflicted upon them. The incident severed many families, left many young girls unmarried or wedded to old divorced men and brought about a huge transformation in the way people look at Konan-Poshpora. The women assert that the communities from nearby villages pity upon them or stigmatize them as if they willingly invited or provoked the army men to gang-rape them. The young boys and girls who go to study to other towns and villages have to face humiliation and answer umpteen questions about the night because of which they generally drop out of school and lead a secluded life.
In a story that I read, a woman cried saying- ‘They raped my mother-in-law, my daughter-in-law and me one by one. Our age, physical condition, our screams and screeches didn’t have a bearing on them.’ The case was slammed in the most implausible and hushed ways and the complaints of the natives were not taken into account. The police officer who was assigned the task to profoundly interrogate the events was transferred. The victims, over the years, have been neglected for the major part. After hearing their pleas for many years, in October 2011, the State Human Rights Commission ordered a probe into the matter and monetary compensation for the sufferers. The commission also demanded trial of the head prosecutor who had instructed for the closure of the case. Justice hasn’t been served to the victims yet and in recent times in June 2013, the Judicial Magistrate of the Kupwara disctrict, J.A Geelani, shelved the conclusions made by the police in their latest closure report and asked them to inspect the matter firmly to find an answer about the identity of the perpetrators.
The media, authorities and public are divided on the matter because a part of them claim the entire story to be a hoax while majority of them believe that this did happen keeping in mind a number of evidences that have come forward over the two long decades. Can the hysterectomies and the communal disgrace be a con trick? Can the tears, psychological, mental and emotional ordeal be feigned for more than twenty years by regular village folk to dupe the nation?
The people of Kashmir have already been putting up with the fact that their state that’s considered a heaven on earth is far away from the notions of tranquillity and protection. This incident proves why it’s even worse for some of them. The victims of the Konan Poshpora mass rape cry their heart out whenever someone mentions that night. It changed them, their village, their lives and their beliefs. What they still wish for is that justice will be doled out. They’d find serenity only when the soldiers who ripped open their endurance get the castigation they ought to have. And more than any of this, they wish to be treated normally. They crave to live with dignity. They want to be able to trust again. Trust and Smile.