Kashmir transparency is essential for healing women rape survivors

Aliya Bashir – WNN Breaking

Kunan Poshpora, Kashmir.
“It looks like any other village in the valley,” says photojournalist Abhijit Dutta who traveled to the village of Kunan Poshpora, Kashmir, the location of one of the worst places for women under atrocity in the last two decades. Image: Abhijit Dutta

(WNN) Srinagar, Indian Administered KASHMIR, SOUTH ASIA: Twenty two years has passed since what advocates say is the largest act of violence against women in the region of Kashmir, India. In the coming days women activists in Kashmir are set to file a Public Interest Litigation against India’s government for the actions of army personnel known as the 4th Division of the Rajputana Rifles.

Answers for women who have suffered have not been easy as rape victim survivors continue to live in a twilight of pain, darkness, humility, exclusion and stigma under a criminal case which seems to have no end. Caught in the throes of conflict in February 1991 a single incident turned these women’s lives upside down.

What has been described with numbers of ‘at least’ 30 women, among the village outlines how women were trapped under conditions of armed conflict as India’s government army brigade, fought with rebel forces in the northern Kupwara District in 1991. But reports that were originally made to police in the region may have been covered up.

“Since the government crackdown against militants in Kashmir began in earnest in January 1990, reports of rape by security personnel have become more frequent,” said a June 1993 report by Human Rights Watch with Physicians for Human Rights. “Rape most often occurs during crackdowns, cordon-and-search operations during which men are held for identification in parks or schoolyards while security forces search their homes. In these situations, the security forces frequently engage in collective punishment against civilians by assaulting residents and burning their homes. Rape is used as a means of targeting women whom the security forces accuse of being militant sympathizers; in raping them, the security forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community,” continued the report.

The lack of transparency and in-depth investigation for what has been described as ‘an intensity of violence against women’ in the village of Kunan Poshpora has continued to haunt those who have been directly impacted. Without resolution women and their families have waited decades for answers. Even though the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in Kashmir has asked regional government officials in the Jammu and Kashmir State to start a fresh probe into the alleged crimes, local magistrates still have yet to act.

Even after villagers had lodged what is called in Kashmir a legal FIR – First Information Report under section 376, 452 and 342 at the nearest police station in Trehgam, all the reports were allegedly closed after they were filed.

Photo of victims of rape violence in Kashmir
A photo of some of the women who reported extreme rape violence in Kunan Poshpora shows their faces blotted out to protect their identities. Those who survived the violence are still very cautious to expose their own case since no arrests in the 1991 crimes have been made. Image: Aliya Bashir

“Many victims…were not accepted [after the rapes] by their family,” outlines a survivor of the violence who prefers not to share her identity. “All [the] women in our village were stigmatized,” she continued. “[A] few committed suicide…Whatever we suffered we don’t want other[s] to suffer the same,” she adds.

While the India’s government continues to deny the crimes happened, records of financial compensation to victims have been reported. Initial surface investigations that were made in 1991 concluded at the time, in spite of proof pointing to the opposite, that testimonies made by women victimized by the violence had only relayed a “well-concocted bundle of fabricated lies.”

“We came to know by many victims of Kunan-poshpora that the government has provided them with the compensation relief of money which the commission [State Human Rights Commission] had instructed. It’s obvious now that the victims have received the compensation. That means [that the] government has acknowledged the crime which they have been continuously ignoring,” says human rights advocate and spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in the region’s capital city of Srinagar Khurram Parvez. Parvez is also public liaison for the International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights in Kashmir.

In 2011 the State Human Rights Commission released information stating that, in fact, women who have claimed to have been victims of gang rape on the night of February 23, 1991, received medical examinations following the event which did confirm that they were subjected to atrocities.

“Litigants routinely ask the Kashmiri court system to respond to claims against security forces for human rights violations that include allegations of assault, torture, rape, extrajudicial killing, and arbitrary detention,” said the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School in 2009. “Government actors systematically fail to investigate claims, refuse to participate in investigations and prosecutions, and ignore the contempt orders of courts attempting to force their participation in proceedings concerning human rights claims.  The Kashmiri court system is riddled with delays and backlogs that deny victims effective remedies.  It also applies procedural double standards for claimants and the military that are favorable to the latter,” continued the Human Rights Clinic at Yale. “By failing to ensure effective remedies to the victims of human rights abuses in Kashmir, India violates its international treaty obligations.”

The Public Interest Litigation filed by women advocates in Srinagar in the coming days is working now to bring justice for those women who have suffered under violence as they have been, what advocates describe as “pushed to the side.”

“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,” says South East Asia human rights advocate, photojournalist and blogger Abhijit Dutta.

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Additional material for this story was provided by the editors at WNN – Women News Network.

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Background on the complex situation that still continues today in Kashmir is shown clearly in this incredible 1991 video released by Journeyman Pictures. Women who are survivors of violence talk to the filmmaker candidly about their frustrations and fears. Twenty-two years ago today women were dangerously caught inside the conflict in the village of  Kunan Poshpora. Over two decades later they are still trying to get the Indian government to believe them.

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