Twenty-four years after the event, the alleged Konan Poshpora mass rape case against the Indian army in Kashmir has taken a new turn. This highly propagandised human rights “violation” reverberated not merely in J&K and India, but in the US Congress, UK House of Commons, EU Parliament in Brussels, UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, etc.
The J&K official under whose watch it purportedly happened — the deputy commissioner (DC), Kupwara, a major gateway for the cross-border militancy that erupted in 1990 — S. M. Yasin, has now added a new dimension of villainy to the story. He stated in February that he was personally offered monetary and promotional inducements by the military and civil authorities to hush up the “beastly violence” he found when he visited Konan Poshpora. Further, the leader of the Press Council of India team investigating alleged human rights violations by the army — which was me — did likewise, pleading “national interest” and “threatening him” otherwise.
This arrant nonsense is a belated concoction for reasons unknown.
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The man fell short of his official responsibilities in February 1991, possibly for fear of militant reprisals that had become routine, but has now begun to roar like a lion!
The alleged rape of 23 women (the DC’s figure) by men of 4 Rajputana Rifles headquartered at Trehgam, while conducting a cordon and search operation, took place on the night of February 23-24, 1991. The DC visited Konan, some 10 kilometres from his headquarters, around March 5-6 and submitted his report to the divisional commissioner, Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah, on March 7, on the basis of which an FIR was lodged at the Trehgam Police Station (4 km from Konan) on March 8.
Vikram Rao, the other member of the PCI team to Kashmir, and I visited Konan, Trehgam and Kupwara accompanied by the tehsildar, Trehgam, on June 8-9, by when police investigations were under way. Since the DC had completed his task three months earlier, how could I cajole or threaten him to close the case? And how does a journalist threaten no less than the DC and get away with it, aided by the latter’s stoic silence for 23 years? Prima facie, what Yasin now alleges is a contemptible lie.
Did the man file a report or a case against the “military” or me for attempting to subvert justice through coercive or corrupt means when the issue was so “beastly” and had become a cause celebre? If he did not, was that not wilful dereliction of duty? Now that the Konan Poshpora case has been reopened under popular pressure and
is being heard by a magistrate, has he filed a statement in the court about this new criminal offence? The army, which is being arraigned, must summon
him to give evidence and subject him to cross-examination. He must be charged with perjury if unable to produce proof or commonsense justification for rank defamation.
Look at Yasin’s own record as documented in the press council report, “Crisis and Credibility”, in the section titled “Human Rights Excesses or Exaggerations: The Indian Army in Kashmir”. As DC, he reported “hearing something” about Konan on March 3-4. He visited it a couple of days later and concluded that 23 women had been brutally gangraped. Why did he not go sooner? Heavy snow? But everybody else seemed to be on the move. When Habibullah went to Konan on March 18 with the DC in tow, the rape figure rose to 40, and then 53. Later estimates went to 60, then 100, then every single woman in the village. He found the Konan story greatly exaggerated.
The PCI team found the Konan story to be, at best, a gross exaggeration but more probably a massive hoax, an act of psy-war to keep the army, newly inducted to deal with militant-jihadi-azadi uprising, at bay. There were contradictions galore. Nothing added up. The medical examination was only conducted three to four weeks later on March 15 and 21 when 32 women were examined. Why this inordinate delay? The evidence cited was anecdotal, not medical. No medico-legal report was filed as required.
The Konan women contradicted themselves on each telling to different interlocutors, the media and to us. The mother of a full-term pregnant victim told us that the girl was raped by three men, kicked in the stomach and delivered a baby with a fractured arm in the Kupwara district hospital three days later. She herself jumped out of the window and lay wailing all night in the snow until discovered by police escorts around 4 am. However, the DC’s report stated that the girl had delivered her baby three days before she was assaulted. She could walk to the Kupwara hospital in her condition but the DC was snowbound and unable to leave his house during this same period!
Two police escorts are required to accompany military units on cordon and search operations and to submit a report on return. Accordingly, constables Abdul Ghani, who hails from Konan, and Bashir Ahmed accompanied the 4 Raj Rif team from the Trehgam thana. The PCI team examined them. Both said they heard screams and cries of agony through the night but did precious little. They signed the required NOC before the Raj Rif left the village on the morning of February 25 and subsequently failed to submit any report on their assigned mission back at Trehgam. No one questioned this glaring omission, though everybody was agog over the Konan “atrocity”.
Ghani, the policeman from Konan, went home two days later. He knows everybody in his own village. Yet, though he spent a whole day there, nobody, not even his family, spoke of the mass rape, nor did he attempt to make any inquiry whatsoever.
Despite the terrible “atrocity” committed by 4 Raj Rif, women and children from Konan never stopped attending the unit’s weekly medical camp in Trehgam. We met some of them during our visit in June. They said it was only here and not in the government health facilities that they got real care. This too says something.
Before departing Konan, we were treated to a harangue on the UN resolutions on Kashmir, self-determination, India’s duplicity and military high-handedness by a so-called teacher, an ideologue obviously not from the village. This highly political and polemical finale told us what the “Konan story” was all about.
After being made aware of these many contradictions, blatant procedural and legal lapses, wilful inaction and lack of follow-up, we were later handed a video cassette in Delhi by a leading human rights activist obtained from unknown sources that recounted the entire Konan episode in graphic detail by 25 women, all well-groomed, and some men, and finally by the same teacher, who delivered the same harangue we had heard personally. The foliage on the trees suggested the film was made sometime in April, five to eight weeks after the event. Who would make such a staged video, and why? Which “rape victim” in conservative rural Kashmir would recount and relive such a horror story in public for a world audience? The press council has the cassette.
If 23, then 30, then 40, 60, 100 and then all the women in the village claimed or were said to have been raped, it could only be to shield one or two victims behind mass anonymity. But the stories retold and the video recording say something else. Now it is said nobody wants to be married into Konan Poshpora on account of the social shame it attracts. Tragically, the village has punished itself while the militants exploit their predicament.
The PCI report is the most exhaustive and detailed report of the alleged Konan Poshpora incident made by anybody. Sadly, it was and is widely criticised to this day, without critics having read it or controverted its substantive findings. The mainstream Indian media had shamefully fled the scene in 1990-91, and there was an information vacuum largely filled by gun-wielding militants who spouted lies.
The writer led the Press Council of India team investigating the Konan Poshpora incident and is at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi