Kunan Poshpora – The Other Story : Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh
JANUARY 20, 2014
by Nivedita Menon
This guest post by SHRIMOYEE NANDINI GHOSH is based on two essays about the men and women of Kunan Poshpora, that appeared in the Kashmir Reader dated 1 September 2013, and 13 January 2014.
Information and updates about the campaign for justice and truth for the survivors of Mass Rape and Torture in Kunan Poshpora are available at https://www.facebook.com/KunanposhporaCampaign.
Beneath the horrors of the mass rape committed by Indian troops in the twin villages that night in February 1991, lies the untold story of systematic torture of men, carried out by the same forces with the precision and deliberation of a planned military operation.
In June 2013, a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, by fifty Srinagar based women, supported by human rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil society (JKCCS) had resulted in a Magisterial order for the further investigations of the mass and gang rape by Indian army personnel of the women of Kunan, and neighbouring hamlet Poshpora, in Kupwara District of North Kashmir on the night of February 23rd-24th 1991. The police, it appears from the lack of any remotely investigative activities in the villages to have done little if anything, by way of following the court order in the last six months. On 14 September, 2013 they asked for and were granted an additional three months time for further investigations, without notice to the survivors who are legally represented in the case.
However, the closure report, which police had failed to file for twenty – two years, and which had been presented before the Magistrate of Kupwara just weeks before the Public Interest Litigation, in March 2013, had yielded several important previously unavailable official documents. These included a hand drawn police map, a nominal roll of 125 army personnel (including several officers) who were admittedly part of the operation and in Kunan-Poshpora that night, statements from victims, witnesses and army men mentioning specific locations, times and incidents, and the official medical reports of some of the rape victims. JKCCS had decided after some deliberation that if the police did not appear to be doing any investigations, they would themselves, aided by the new documents, attempt to rescue from oblivion the events of that night. Over the last three months, they have been engaged in a process of interviewing villagers, explaining to them what the police papers say, seeking clarifications, and attempting to piece together as coherent a narrative as possible given the constraints of resources, the lapses of memory, the reticence of rage, grief and repeated recounting, and the deaths of crucial witnesses. On 24th August 2013, I accompanied a team of human rights lawyers and researchers from JKCCS to the village of Kunan, on one of their visits. I was told that their interviews with those of the women who wished to speak was almost complete, and the day’s planned interviews were mostly with men from the village. Previous conversations, as well as police statements showed that interrogation centres had been set up in the village during the operation, and witnesses referred to extreme and extensive torture of men, but this was not specifically recorded in the First Information Report, and formed no part of the official list of crimes that occurred that night, which consists of rape, house trespass and illegal confinement.
As in the police documents, Kunan Poshpora has become inscribed as a story of rape in Kashmir’s public memory. But something else also happened that night. A crime so commonplace in that age of cordons and crackdowns that even the men who were its victims, barely thought to mention it, attending instead like the rest of us to the outrage of the raped women. As Ahmad Ameen put it, ‘They let us go home after the crackdown, in the morning at about 9 am.’ [Some men were bleeding; others were barely conscious and had to be carried. One man told us he crawled home on all fours].‘That’s when we realised what had happened. What they had done in every house. Then all hell broke lose.’ Several of the men were somewhat laconic when the interviews began. ‘Joh karte hai, wahi kiya’, Rahim Dar said. ‘They did what they do.’ And indeed they had– with wood, water, electricity–those universal implements for the infliction of finely calibrated pain. JKCCS believes on the basis of preliminary conversations that between hundred to a hundred and twenty men from the two villages were tortured that night. A total of twelve men were interviewed during the course of the day I visited, by three teams of researchers. I think it was after the fourth time I heard mention of medical treatments for sexual dysfunction, that the true irony of the ‘emasculation’ metaphors that are so abundant in talk about the Kunan-Poshpora rapes dawned on me. What I often dismiss as misplaced patriarchal indignation had been repeatedly made flesh that night. ‘Oh! Come on’ I want to say aloud, every time I hear or read the words ‘rape’ ‘our women’ and ‘impotency’ in close proximity–‘It’s NOT about you!’, but this time it was. And it involved wires, needles and a portable DC battery.
A kind of unmooring from the realms of human language has characterised the description of the Kunan Poshpora rapes. District Magistrate S.M Yasin’s report speaks of being unable to put down in ‘black and white’ the acts committed by the ‘beasts’ for instance, and the rape survivors themselves talk of the chaos of a toofaan, of foul smelling shaitaans apparating through their black-outs and disassociated states as they lay in the dark . But, as I listened to the men, ranging in age from 90-year-old Lal Dar (68 at the time of the torture) to 40 year old Manzoor (18 in 1991) their torture seemed to bear a somewhat different relationship to language and the world. What happened to them was nailed to a scaffolding of banal bureaucratic and military terms—interrogation, information, identification, search, cordon, crackdown—and tethered to mundane physical objects and familiar places–-buckets, logs and planks of wood, helmets, torchlights, batteries, wood sheds, barns, streams and trees. As the men spoke I began to picture that night, not as an endless orgy of a horde of rampaging beasts, but as a quiet and efficient military operation, carried out by trained men. Four companies of men from the 4th Rajputana Rifles, 68th Mountain Brigade commanded by a Colonel K.S. Dalal, in fact, as the army itself admits in police statements. Alpha and Delta Companies were deployed in the outer cordon, Bravo and Charlie in the search and interrogation. While teams of ten to twenty soldiers, sometimes headed by an officer who they were heard referring to as ‘Sir’, went on a systematic house to house search, rooting men out of their beds, demanding to be taken immediately to militants or hidden weapons, strip searching them and burying them in the snow, their comrades were otherwise engaged. Most of the commissioned officers were deployed at the ‘interrogation centres’ according to the army. Two kuthars (large barn like outbuildings for storing grain, fodder and cattle) within yards of each other, belonging to Asad Dar and the village numberdar (revenue official) Aziz Shah, and Abli Dar’s home, on the main lane of Kunan’s maze of winding alleys, were quickly commandeered and their lofts or rooms converted into make shift ‘interrogation centers’, while their compounds formed a holding space for the men. All three were provided with the same basic equipment – a bench fashioned out of planks of wood, a large wooden log, a bucket of chilli water, a couple of wires connected to a radio battery forming a crude live-circuit, assorted sticks and ropes, a few chairs, and somewhere to suspend the men from–but adaptations were made according to available resources and geography. For instance, in Asad Dar’s yard through which the village stream ran, repeated dunking in its icy depths formed part of the standard procedure. At two of the compounds, Aziz Shah’s and Abli Dar’s where firewood was stored in the wood-shed a bonfire was lit, around which parka-clad soldiers chatted and drank, and villagers recovered from their water treatments. At Asad Dar’s kuthar a tall, fair and somewhat chubby faced officer sat on a chair before a wireless set, giving orders and flashing his torchlight. Downstairs, in all three yards, men squatted or stood in the snow waiting for their possible turns on the equipment. Occasionally when they went up, they saw a neighbour or brother who was before them in line, slumped on the floor at the head of the stairs. Some like Salim Dar, whose brother was a surrendered militant, paid a visit to two of the three centers. He still walks on crutches as a result.
Names and identifying information has been changed to protect identities in both pieces
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