A test for the system

More than two decades after the event,another chance for justice in the Kunan Poshpora incident

Published: June 22, 2013 5:37 am

More than two decades after the event,another chance for justice in the Kunan Poshpora incident

By refusing to accept the police closure report on the Kunan Poshpora rape allegations and ordering a fresh investigation,a Kupwara district court has frontally addressed the problem,22 years after the event. This decisiveness has been missing for the last two decades,as the question of individual culpability and punishment was lost amid larger arguments over the army’s role and the high-decibel claims of human rights activists.

The allegation is that,on February 24,1991,men from the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles encircled Kunan Poshpora,in Kashmir’s northwestern Kupwara district. While they were ostensibly there in search of militants,they allegedly raped scores of women and threatened them at gunpoint. After the incident was reported and the district magistrate allegedly confirmed the rapes,even as the police examined witnesses and admitted medical records,a second investigation was set up in March 1991,overriding the first one. It acknowledged the medical records,but said that because no identification parade had been done,it was forced to close the case. Several independent fact-finding commissions relayed the anger and betrayal of the people. The army then asked the Press Council of India to investigate the claims. That report,which declared the incident a “massive hoax” designed to make Kashmir an international human rights issue,drew wide criticism for being shoddy. The closure report itself was filed 22 years after the investigation was wrapped up. Accounts of the Kunan Poshpora mass rapes are seared into Kashmir’s collective memory,but they have not been resolved,one way or another,by the investigative and judicial system.

This is a highly fraught case. The good faith of the state’s institutions will be tested by how it addresses the Kunan Poshpora cases. Two decades of looking away have only intensified the anger and estrangement in Kashmir. Now,the district court has asked for an SSP-level officer to reinvestigate it,and submit a report in three months. The government must realise that the credibility of its institutions in the Valley hinges on how fair and thorough that investigation is seen to be.

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