That Night in Kunan Poshpora

  • Publish Date: Apr 1 2016 2:36PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 5 2016 3:47PM

‘They were told not to shout or else they would be shot’


“Most people are not aware about the police investigations conducted into the mass rapes that took place in Kunan Poshpora on the night of 23rd–24th February 1991. These investigations provide enough ‘factual’ evidence to prove the points that have been made by the victims. The police documents consist of almost 200 pages of victims’ statements, maps of the village, the accused’s nominal roll provided by the army, and medical documents showing clear evidence of the rapes. Perhaps it is because the evidence was so strong that many successful attempts have been made to bury the case as well as the truth. The investigating officer was transferred just before he was going to conduct an identification parade of the implicated soldiers. Biased reports were published to clean the image of the army. Incomplete and wrong information was given as reply to a query under the Right to Information Act. Wrong information was also given to the State Human Rights Commission by the police – that a closure report in the case had been filed in 1991 itself. Actually, the formal closure report was filed as late as March 2013, 22 years after the event, possibly after the authorities found out through their intelligence gathering that a PIL regarding the Kunan Poshpora case was under preparation by the Support Group!

This chapter shall unearth the buried and lesser known facts of the case, drawing on some key documents: the case diary submitted by J&K Police before Judicial Magistrate Kupwara, 2 SHRC statements and decision, 3 statements given by the survivors of mass rape and survivors of torture to a research team from Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Support Group for Justice for Kunan Poshpora (SGKP) in August 2013, and our personal interactions with the victims……..”

“The story of the “intervening night of 23rd/24th February” according to police documents, begins with the planning of a cordon-and-search operation in the Army Headquarters of 4 Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade at Trehgam. A cordon and search operation takes place when the army receives information of movement or perhaps a hideout of “antinational elements”, as they call them, through any of its local or intelligence sources. The area is ‘cordoned’, i.e. surrounded on all sides by soldiers, and then a door-to-door search is conducted to locate such elements. The army has vast powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act, and can conduct cordon-and-search operations, which are military ‘counter insurgency’ operations, at any time of the day or night. In local language they are called “crackdowns”. In the case of the Kunan-Poshpora crackdown, the army men from 4th Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade got official clearance for the operation and subsequently briefed the soldiers who were to be deployed at Trehgam Camp. The battalion left the army camp (Trehgam) at 9 p.m. in 4×4 army vehicles. The roads were covered by snow and it was a bright moonlit night. It took them one hour to reach the outskirts, and a little longer to reach the interiors of the villages. All possible escape routes were blocked and three ‘interrogation centres’ were established in houses and barns (kuthars) in the village. According to army statements and a letter by the Investigating Officer to the army asking for the list of nominal roll of the soldiers involved in the Kunan-Poshpora operation, four companies were established for outer cordon and door to door search operations. The four companies included a total of 125 soldiers. These companies were commanded by Colonel K.S. Dalal. The Alpha and Delta Companies were deployed in the outer cordon, while Bravo and Charlie were responsible for search and interrogation. The nominal roll of soldiers suggests that there were 16 soldiers in the Alpha Company, 28 soldiers in Beta Company, 22 in Charlie and 32 in Delta; 16 more are listed as soldiers from headquarters. The listing uses a code: A for Alpha, B for Bravo, C for Charlie, D for Delta and HQ for headquarters. Besides the Colonel, four Majors, two Lieutenants and two Captains were part of these Companies. These Companies were headed by Major Mahesh Kumar Mathur, Major Hoshair Singh, Lt. Raghuraj and Major R. Khullar. This adds up to a total of 125 named personnel deployed, including 8 officers and a doctor. The villagers however have stated to us repeatedly that it felt like there were more men around than one battalion, in the village…”

“…The men’s statements to the police provide us with a vivid and chilling account of that night. They told us that all men from the village were slowly collected outside the interrogation centres. They were made to sit barefoot in the snow. It was a bitterly cold night. The Kashmiri wind in the month of February is cold enough to cut through one’s body. For the whole night the villagers were made to sit barefoot on snow. Later, when they were told to disperse by the army, they realised that they could barely move since the snow and sub-zero temperature had turned their legs numb. It took many hours for their legs to regain movement and in some cases it resulted in long-term ailments…”

“…According to the women, ‘rape’ is not an adequate word to describe what was done to them. It was not rape – it was war. Women were caught and held by a minimum of 5-6 army men as their husbands, fathers and sons were forcefully separated from them. Pushed to the walls, they shouted and screamed for help, for mercy. Their screams were not answered. Guns were pointed at their chests and mouths. They were told not to shout or else they would be shot. Army men were drunk, and were seen drinking during the operations. They smelled of liquor. They tore the women’s pherans (long traditional gowns worn over the clothes). They pulled down their trousers and raped them. While raping them they continued to consume liquor. They took turns, and sometimes took two rounds of a particular house. The women resisted but in vain. Minor girls, those dumb and deaf, the physically handicapped, and the pregnant women were not spared either. Mothers were raped in front of their daughters. Grandmothers and their granddaughters were raped in the same room. The survivors said that they had bite marks on their chests, everywhere on their body, even on their hips. Many of them described bleeding from the mouth, from their private parts and from other injuries.

One of the survivors in her statement to the police given in March 1991, narrated to JKCCS/SGKP that she heard a knock on the door at 11 p.m. As the door was opened army men barged in and took her husband and brother-in-law with them. Some remained behind and searched the house. As they found nothing ‘objectionable’ they caught hold of her and raped her. “They were having liquor while raping me. My children screamed but there was no one to help me”. She fainted and only regained consciousness in the morning. Her husband and her brother-in-law too returned in the morning. Her brother-in-law was bleeding and was in a critical condition. Some days later, the police came to record her statement along with the Deputy Commissioner. She handed over her clothes as evidence. They were provided medical treatment, she states. She also recollects that she saw police constables with the army that night but says that, “they could not help me. They had themselves been beaten by army men.”

“…The soldiers ignored the small children who were crying and screaming as their mothers, sisters and grandmothers were raped. Meanwhile, the Commanding Officer of the army was at the interrogation centre, barely a few yards away. He was clearly aware that there was something ‘unusual’ going on, as several witnesses report that he shone a powerful torch on the window and shouted at the soldiers to keep the noise down, during the rapes. It does seem like – as the women have said – the soldiers had orders to rape them. A toddler was thrown out of the window by soldiers from the ground floor of the house, and later rescued by the police constable Abdul Ghani in the early hours of 24th February, when he was taking rounds of the houses of the village. The child had been lying on the snow for several hours. The constable picked him from the garden area and kept the child on the verandah of the house. He went into the house and, as he had done in other homes, covered the naked, barely conscious survivor of sexual violence he found there with a blanket. He told her that her child was on the verandah and was slightly injured, but was otherwise fine. But the mother was unable to move and could not get her child back into the house, till her husband returned…”


(Excerpted with permission from Zubaan, an independent feminist publishing house based in New Delhi)