On the night of February 23, 1991, the villagers from Kunan and Poshpora villages in Kashmir’s Kupwara district were witness to a gruesome assault by the members of Indian armed forces. Nearly all women of the two villages became the victims of mass rapes perpetrated by the armed forces on the cold night.
February 23 is now commemorated every year as Kashmir Women’s Resistance Day, remembering the courage and committed struggle for justice by the survivors of the incident, who are still awaiting justice thirty years later, while the Indian army continues to enjoy impunity and protection granted by the State.
On the fateful night, the soldiers, who entered the villages in the guise of a cordon and search operation, dragged out the men from their houses for interrogation. They then proceeded to rape the women who were left behind, not leaving anyone.
These women, whose initial demands for justice were outrightly rejected by the State, have been unable to get any respite even after three decades. In an earlier interview with NewsClick, Natasha Rather, one of the authors of Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?, said that the police took over two weeks to even register the complaints of the survivors of the gruesome incident.
The survivors approached the State Humans Rights Commission in 204, after the police closed the case in October 1991, citing untraced. Following the SHRC report in 2011, which found the allegations to be true, the commission recommended compensation for at least 40 victims, but to no avail.
Later in 2013, a group of 50 women including Rather, filed a PIL in the High Court for reopening the case. However, according to Rather, the HC did not admit the litigation citing that it was premature. This occurred as the J&K Police had failed to file the closure report for the case, which was closed as untraced in 1991, even after 22 years. The police finally filed the closure report in 2013, after the PIL was filed.
As the survivors approached the sub-judge, the Kupwara Judicial Magistrate ordered further investigation. But, after the police failed to take action the survivors filed a fresh petition in “the High Court for orders on compensation and reinvestigation following the SHRC recommendation”, according to Rather.
Again, the army approached the High Court and got the orders for compensation and investigation stayed. While the then state government of Jammu and Kashmir challenged these orders in the Supreme Court in 2014, the Union of India in 2016, filed another petition in the SC that raised question on the SHRCs jurisdiction for passing an order in six cases involving the armed forces, referring the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that grants impunity to the armed forces.
In the same year, the Supreme Court stayed the orders for reinvestigation and compensation. Ever since, the case has remained in the registry of the Supreme Court, without being listed for hearing in four years.
According to the survivors, as well as the authors of Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?, the reason for continuing their struggle for justice is to keep the memory of the incident alive. While justice has been denied again and again, for the survivors “remembrance is important for resistance” so that their voice cannot be repressed again by the State as has been done so far.