Konan Poshpora mass rape: 22 years on, state still out to scuttle probe

Konan PoshporaSupport Group for Justice for the Konan Poshpora mass rape survivors speaking to media in Srinagar. Shuaib Masoodi
When Judicial Magistrate Kupwara J A Geelani asked for "further investigation" into Konan Poshpora mass rape last month, it only returned the spotlight on a case that is seared into the collective memory of Kashmir as an unforgivable atrocity. And even 22 years after that dreadful night, the women of these two villages are struggling to be heard.

However, instead of starting a thorough probe, the Jammu and Kashmir government is again trying to block the process. First, the state filed a closure report in March this year – 22 years after the police claims to have shut the case -- with an aim to bury the case and stall any prospect of a fresh probe. The court rejected the police's conclusions, sought "further investigation" and directed it to "conclude the probe within three months" and it seemed that the government was left with no alibi.  There was no immediate official response but once the dust settled, it was clear that the government wasn't comfortable with a fresh probe. Twenty one days after the court order, the police are yet to get to work.  Instead, the villagers say, the government has adopted a carrot-and-stick approach: plainclothes policemen keep visiting them to shut them up and a minister has approached them with doles to buy their silence.     

Instead of closing the case without a proper investigation and thwarting every move to secure justice for the mass rape survivors, the government should have ensured a proper investigation, especially in light of the fact that then deputy commissioner, Kupwara, S M Yasin had on March 8, 1991 sent a shocking missive saying the army men "had behaved like violent beasts". It didn't happen then and now when the court has directed further investigation into the case, the government is again trying to obfuscate the truth and avoid the processes of justice.

To understand how demands for fair investigation and justice by people of Konan and Poshpora -- two villages that became one in public lexicon because of the mass rape that cold February night -- have been consistently scuttled, it is essential to take a look at the sequence of events and confidential reports filed by two top J&K government officials and a senior army officer soon after women of these villages alleged that they were gangraped by soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles during a cordon-and-search operation during the night of February 23-24, 1991.  

The villagers say the army continued the cordon of the villages for three days after the incident and did not allow them to approach the local administration. And when a group of village elders finally managed to meet deputy commissioner Yasin, several days had passed. On March 5, 1991, Yasin visited the villages.

On March 8, 1991, Yasin wrote to Police Headquarters, Kupwara, about the mass rape. Subsequently, Trehgam police station registered an FIR and Station House Officer Farooq Ahmad Shah conducted an investigation and found that "the offence u/s 376/RPC stands made out against 4th Raj Rifles under the command of Commandant Adjutant R Kuler" and "arrest and the identification of the culprits was only to be done". The government had something else in mind. Though a case had been registered, there was no way the SHO could question the accused army men. Indeed, he was soon taken off the case.

On March 22, 1991, "Director General of Police entrusted the investigation to SP Headquarters, Kupwara, Dilbagh Singh who conducted a fresh investigation and recorded the statements of witnesses again. On March 26, 1991, Singh constituted a SIT and statements of few army employees were recorded".

On July 12, 1991, Singh was transferred and then SSP, Kupwara, S K Mishra began a fresh probe instead of relying on the two preliminary investigations conducted earlier. The survivors, however, didn't appear before Mishra because they had already deposed several times. A sense of hopelessness had set in and the villagers had understood that the government wasn't interested to probe the case.  

Subsequently, Mishra sought the opinion of Director Prosecution in the DGP's office. On September 23, 1991, Director Prosecution responded that the "challan is not maintainable" and the case was "un-fit for launching criminal prosecution". On October 21 1991, Mishra decided to close the case as "untraced". The police didn't submit their closure report to the court and maintained a silence. It seems the move was deliberate because once other such incidents started taking place in Kashmir, Konan Poshpora faded out of the headlines.

And instead of ensuring a fair police investigation, the government was citing a report prepared by a Press Council of India delegation led by B G Verghese that had been sent on a "fact finding mission" in June 1991. The committee had termed the mass rape a "massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathisers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad". 

Verghese had flown in an Air Force helicopter to Konan Poshpora and stayed with the army unit accused of the mass rape. The villagers insist that the PCI team never visited the village. But this clean chit given by a statutory, quasi-judicial body set up to act as a media watchdog literally replaced a police investigation. 

After years of living in horror and hopelessness, a survivor finally approached the State Human Rights Commission on November 10, 2004 to seek re-investigation into the mass rape case. Subsequently, more survivors approached the SHRC in 2006 and 2007.  The SHRC treated their petitions as a "composite complaint".

On October 19, 2011, the SHRC said it had "found that personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles, 68 Mountain Brigade, had raped women in the villages of Kunan Poshpora on the intervening night of 23/24 February 1991" and recommended that the case be "re-opened" and  "reinvestigated" by a Special Investigation Team headed by a SSP rank officer. The SHRC also asked the state government to prosecute the then Director Prosecution in the DGP's office for "recommending that the case should be closed" and also provide "compensation of two lakh rupees to each of the victims".

The government didn't take any action.

In March 2013, a group of 50 young women from across Kashmir came together in a Support Group for Justice for Konan Poshpora and planned to file a PIL in the J&K High Court, seeking implementation of the SHRC decision in the case.

On March 30, 2013, the J&K police filed the closure report before the Judicial Magistrate, Kupwara, 22 years after they had closed the investigation. The filing of the closure report in the case wasn't a coincidence; it was a calculated move to again obstruct any prospect of a fresh probe. 

On 20 April, the support group filed the PIL. On May 14, the High Court disposed off the petition. The court observed that "on account of the pendency of the statutory process for implementation of the recommendations made by the SHRC in its report and also the pendency of the proceedings before the magistrate at Kupwara, we are not inclined to entertain this petition at this stage".

It, however, said that it hoped the government-appointed committee would examine and "expeditiously" implement the SHRC recommendations within four weeks "after which the petitioners are at liberty to approach the court afresh in the matter''.

 

On June 10, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz filed a protest petition on behalf of the survivors against the closure report.

On June 18, Judicial Magistrate, Kupwara, J A Geelani dismissed the closure report and asked for "further investigation to unravel the identity of those who happen to be perpetrators".  He ordered that "a police officer of the rank not below SSP should investigate the case within three months". This order came as a surprise and generated a little hope for a fresh probe. But the hope started to fade away soon. 

According to the survivors, they were summoned by SSP, Kupwara, Abdul Jabbar through Assistant Sub Inspector Abdul Rashid to present themselves for recording of statements from July 3 onwards. But once the first group of survivors, along with their male family members and Imroz, arrived at the SSP's office on July 3, they were asked to wait till 4 pm. "At 4 pm, SSP sent us a message that the programme to record statements has been changed and asked us to return home,'' Abdul Ahad Dar of Konan told The Indian Express. "We were told that SSP would come to our village to meet the victims".

There has been no further movement since. When contacted, the SSP refused to comment. In fact, he declined to even confirm that the police have begun investigation.     

To understand why a thorough investigation into the mass rape case was never allowed to happen, a careful reading of the confidential reports sent by then deputy commissioner, Kupwara, S M Yasin, then Commander 19 Infantry Brigade, Brig H K Sharma, and then Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah is essential.  

Yasin was the first top government officer to visit Konan Poshpora on March 5, 1991 and conduct an on the spot enquiry. He wrote to Habibullah that "I feel ashamed to put in black and white what kind of atrocities and their magnitude was brought to my notice on the spot". Yasin said there was a hue and cry in the village and that he had recorded statements of the victims, seen their torn clothes and inspected the rooms where they were gangraped at gunpoint. "It was found that armed forces had turned violent and behaved like violent beasts,'' he said.

Since a deputy commissioner heads the administration in a district, Yasin's report put the government on the defensive. He had copied his confidential letter to Habibullah to the DGP, two other senior police officers and the SP of his district. On March 7, 1991, Habibullah received the letter but didn't act for another 11 days. Finally when he visited the villages, it was not to ascertain the facts and order immediate action. "… the news of the alleged offence had attracted strong adverse comment from the local and national press and denials issued had failed to carry conviction,'' he wrote in his confidential report to the government. "After discussion with the DGP and Corps Commander, therefore, it was decided that the undersigned might visit the village and also talk with concerned army officers to determine the course of action required to be followed to allay doubts and restore confidence. I, therefore, visited the village accompanied by Lt. Col Naeem Farooqi, Shri Tyagi, Commdt 76 BSF, the DC and the SP of Kupwara on 18/3/91".

 

Habibullah's report was the first attempt to whitewash this crime. Though he listened to how women were repeatedly raped by the army men that night, his report came up with appalling reasons to question the veracity of their tragedy. "If in each case rape was committed by 5 to 15 persons as alleged there would have to have been at least 300 men in the village doing nothing but this! In fact, the number of men was 150,'' he wrote, of the women who deposed before him. "It is impossible to believe that officers of a force such as the Indian Army would lead their men into a village with the sole aim of violating its women. Even were it possible to concede this and the Army were indeed such a brutal force, it would then be impossible to explain why the officers themselves did not participate in such an orgy". In fact, the use of word orgy for an allegation of mass rape of such magnitude is an unforgivable offense in itself.

Habibullah's conclusion was that the mass rape allegation was "highly doubtful" and "exaggerated". He even speculated a militant hand behind the complaint. "While the veracity of the complaint is thus highly doubtful, it still needs to be determined why such a complaint was made at all. The people of the village are simple folk and by the Army's own admission have been generally helpful and even careful of the security of the Army officers,'' he wrote in his confidential report. "It is possible that they have acted under militant pressure and that the long delay in making the report was a result of their not being able to withstand this. That elements wishing to discredit the army as brutal, the civilian administration as ineffective and the Govt of India as uncaring have orchestrated a campaign on the issue is also evident. This comes in the face of growing goodwill for the army among the public and improved civil-military liaison".

Habibullah, however, recommended a police probe, upgradation in the level of investigation, entrusting the case to a gazetted police officer and seeking an order from the 15 Corps Commander to ensure Army cooperation in the probe. But these recommendations were not part of his report that was made public by the then government. In a recent interview with The Indian Express, he had said that the then government had "deleted" these paragraphs from his report. Habibullah became the first Chief Information Commissioner of India after he retired. He is currently the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities.

Habibullah breaks silence: Govt deleted key portions of my report on J&K mass rape case

After the deputy commissioner's damning report, the army sent a senior officer, Brigadier H K Sharma, to the village on March 10, 1991. In his confidential report, he mentioned that the women told him that the soldiers had raped them.  "Most of the ladies were between 40 to 50 yrs of age and some were in their thirties. These women were segregated and asked to explain their complaints away from the menfolk in the presence of Police pers, Village Headman and the School Teacher. Thirteen women came out with info that they had been raped. First two ladies stated that two to three persons had committed rape. The later complainants increased the No to 6-8 pers assaulting one lady. The alleged misconduct took place around mid night and as per women the tps (troops) stayed in the house for one to two hrs,'' he wrote. "At the initial stage only old women came forward, then gradually, as if on cue from the school teacher, other women also came forward to give their complaints. The first one was abandoned wife of a mad person whose whereabouts are not known. While the ladies were giving out their complaints, the other ladies were giggling and when this was brought to the notice of the school teacher, he was quite crestfallen".

This shocking insensitivity towards the survivors and absurd and contradictory reasons for the women to go public with the allegations of mass rape is evident throughout Brigadier Sharma's report and it is clear that the aim of his visit was not to find the truth but hide it. While he termed the mass rape as "baseless, unfounded, mischievous and motivated", there are serious contradictions as to why these women came forward to depose before the authorities.  He claimed that the villagers praised the army and, in fact, voluntarily helped them recover hidden ammunition but listed "defaming the army" and "protection of suspected ANE's (anti-national elements)" as the reason behind such a serious allegation.

Here is why Brigadier Sharma thought the women would raise such a hue and cry. "It appears that the taunts the inhabitants of Kunan/Pushpora recd from their neighbouring villages that their women folk had been defiled motivated them to lodge the complaint. Help of J&K Police personnel who are residents of the village was taken to bring this issue to the notice of highest police authorities,'' he wrote.

Konan Poshpora is an open wound, festering for the last 22 years. The coercive methods to shut up the survivors haven't worked earlier. And there is no way that wads of cash and job offers by the government can make up for a deliberate denial of even a legal process.

Confidential Reports

Photo: Twitter

Photo: Twitter

*Government of Jammu and Kashmir*

*Office of the District Magistrate Kupwara,*

* *

*Subject: Atrocities committed by the Army Personnal in the Kunan Poshpora

Village of Kupwara District.*

* *

*Sir,*

*An application was received by the undersigned from the villagers that on the night of 23rd/24th of Feberuary, 1991, Army from 4 Raj Rifles of 68 Brigade C/o 56 APO entered the village of Kunan Poshpora at 11pm and forcibly drew all men-folk from their houses and took them to other 2 houses and locked them in two rooms and started interrogation and adopted cruel measures for interrogations.

A large number of Armed Personnel entered into the houses of the villagers and at the gun points they gang-raped 23 ladies without any consideration of their age, married, un-married, pregnancy etc. They did

this upto 9'O clock on 24th Feb 1991.They did not even allow to make any cry by the ladies.

On the 5th March, I along with local police posted at Trehgam visited the spot and there was a hue and cry in the whole village. I recorded the statements of the villagers including some ladies on whom the above mentioned atrocities have been committed. I was shown the rooms which were used by the Armed forces for gang-raping and was shown the clothes which were torn by the Army. It was found that Armed forces had turned violent and behaved like violent beasts. The villagers produced empty bottles of wine, which I handed over to the local police and I was told that the atrocities were committed after consuming the wine. I found that the villagers were harassed to the extreme possible extent. In the morning after 9 A.M when the army left the village, the men folk were released and when they entered their houses they were shocked to see that the Army Forces have gang rapped their daughters, wives, sisters etc. The Army Forces had forcibly taken No objection Certificate from the locals as well as local police after doing the illegal action. Shri Juma Shiekh S/o Khazir Shiekh village guard had shown them his identity card and in spite of it he was beaten and locked in aroom and his daughter and daughter-in-law were gang raped. One of the girls XXXXX gang-raped had given birth only 4 days earlier to a baby and in-spite of that she was gang raped. I feel ashamed to put in black and white what kind of atrocities and their magnitude was brought to my notice on the spot. The news has started to spread in the whole district and I apprehend it may have adverse effect on the Administration.

I suggest that a team of officers be deputed to the concerned village to conduct enquiry on spot and immediate steps be taken to punish the culprits. Moreover, measures be taken to prevent any more such unfortunate incident in the district.

Yours faithfully,

Sd/

(S.M.Yasin)

District Magistrate

Copy to the:-

Director General of Police J&K Government, Jammu

D.I.G of Police Srinagar.

Special Commissioner Baramulla.

DIG of Police Range Baramulla.

S.P Kupwara, for information and necessary action.

Text of the confidential report of the then Commander of 19 Infantry Brigade, Brigadier H K Sharma

CONFIDENTIAL

INVSTIGATION REPORT ON INCIDENT DATED 23/24 FEB 91 IN VILLAGE KUNAN AND PUSHPORA (TREHGAM)

Kunan Village is sit approx 3 kms SE of Trehgam Bazar. In the map, Village BABAGUND is shown towards the East whereas on ground, it is sit due West. Village Pushpora is shown in the map as a separate Village. On ground also, the Village is sit about 800 m due west of Kunan. However, some of the houses on the Northern side of the Village Kunan are incl in Village Pushpora for revenue purposes. Thus the contiguous gp of about 120 houses from Kunan as well as Pushpora.

4 RAJ RIF had obtained certain info regarding suspected ANEs hiding in some houses in Village Kunan and Pushpora which are adjacent to each other.

Two colns consisting of nine offrs incl the CO and all Coy Cdrs with approx 160 OR move out from there loc at 2130 h on 23 Feb 91. The outer cordon was est by about 2330 h. A police rep, Constable Abdul Ghani, also accompanied the cordon party and he iden the houses which were cordoned off individually. The search party consisted of six to eight pers with an offr as incharge of the search party. Questioning of male inmates of these houses was also carried out simultaneously. The search of the specific houses was completed by 0600h and the following arms and amn were recovered:-

AK 47 - 02 with 2 mags and 50 rds.

Pistol - 01 with 1 mag and ten rds.

At about 0700h an announcement was made for all male members to assemble near the mosque and the search of remaining houses was carried out during the day lt hrs commencing from 0730h on 24 Feb 91. During these searches, the village Headman or a prominent person accompanied the search party. The complete op was terminated by about 0900h on 24 Feb 91. There was no apprehensions and all persons detained for questioning were released.

As per SOP on civic action, while the search was being conducted during day lt hours, the RMO of the unit was providing med aid to the local population and he examined 15 pers incl approx eight women.

At the conclusion of the search, the CO assembled all villagers and asked if they had faced any problems during the search ops. All persons unanimously praised the conduct of the security forces and in fact volunteered to indicate the places where other arms and amn were suspected to be hidden and promised that they would hand over suspected ANEs on their own. Based on the info provided, a stick gren was recovered from another house which was outside the cordon area. The Bde Cdr had also reached outskirts of the Village by about 0900h and he also met the Village Headman Abdul Aziz Shah and the prominent persons incl the teacher of the Village.

At the conclusion of the ops, the cert stating that no harassment was faced by the population, was obtained duly signed by two police reps, the Village Headman and a prominent person.

I reached Village Kunan/ Pushpora at 1545h on 10 Mar 91 and met Village Headman, Abdul Aziz Shah and following prominent persons besides approx 100 male members :-

Mr. Abdul Hamid Dar (Teacher) r/o Kunan.

Mr. Haji Mohd Akbar Bhatt.

Mr. Gulam Mohiuddin Bhatt (Headmaster Trehgam) resident of Pushpora.

The inhabitants of the Village confirmed the date and timings of ops and once again praised the overall conduct of the tps. However, they alleged that during the ops, certain excesses had been committed for which they had appch Cdr 68 Mtn Bde 2 days after the ops i.e on 26 Feb 91 who had promised them that a proper investigation would be carried out. They were quite satisfied with the reply and requested that in future the search ops be conducted only during day lt hrs.

There are 6 pers of the Village belonging to the security forces as per list att. Five are from J&K Police and one from Home Guards. Main complaint of inhabitants was that despite showing helmets, belts, police uniform and photographs of these police pers, who at the time of search were not present in the village, the security forces disregarded these and treated the family members as if they were hiding the suspects.

On being specifically asked, if there was any misbehaviour with or molestation of the women, the Headman passed the word around and about 30 women were collected to state their complaints. Most of the ladies were between 40 to 50 yrs of age and some were in their thirties. These women were segregated and asked to explain their complaints away from the menfolk in the presence of Police pers, Village Headman and the School Teacher. Thirteen women came out with info that they had been raped. First two ladies stated that two to three persons had committed rape. The later complainants increased the No to 6-8 pers assaulting one lady. The alleged misconduct took place around mid ni and as per women the tps stayed in the house for one to two hrs.

At the time of alleged misconduct, there was no shrieking or shouting by the supposed victims as the inhabitants of the neighbouring houses, which were not being searched, had heard nothing. There were no visible marks such as scratches indicating use of violence. Only one cotton pheran was produced which was old and torn. No woollen garment or any other garment worn outermost was produced.

At the initial stage only old women came forward then gradually, as if on cue from the school teacher, other women also came forward to give their complaints. The first one was abandoned wife of a mad person whose whereabouts are not known.

While he ladies were giving out their complaints, the other ladies were giggling and when this was brought to the notice of the school teacher, he was quite crest fallen.

Since more than one hr had been spent with the alleged victims, the complaints petered out and the ladies became restless. It appeared that the tutored complaints had exhausted and they did not know what more to say. They confirmed that the Dr. had treated them and their children and had praise for offrs.

Certain houses where the alleged misconduct was supposed to have been perpetrated were inspected but no sign of forced entry such as broken locks/bolts could be seen. There was no evidence of damage to house or property due to use of force/arson in the entire village.

At the end of the visit, the Village people volunteered to escort the visiting party upto Trehgam as they were apprehensive that some misguided persons might bring harm to the visiting party. A cert from the Village Headman, the Police pers and prominent citizens was obtained certifying that they had no complaints against this visit on 10 Mar 91.

I am of the opinion that no rape could have taken place as alleged during search ops on ni 23/24 Feb 91.

It was snowing during that ni. Each search party was headed by an offr and the CO was personally supervising the ops. The Bde Cdr has also kept a close watch over the ops. During the search the tps are tense and apprehensive of sneak and sudden surprise attack from ANEs and more concerned in saving (Word illegible) rather than indulging in such acts. Two days after the ops the villagers themselves got ANEs surrendered voluntarily alongwith wpns.

The ladies in large Nos came for routine treatment to ADS (B) Trehgam, the day after the alleged excesses. This sort of confidence could not have been shown in the armed forces if the atrocities and the harassment as alleged had been committed.

It appears that the taunts the inhabitants of Kunan/Pushpora recd from their neighbouring villages that their women folk had been defiled, motivated them to lodge the complaint. Help of J&K Police pers who are residents of the village was taken to bring this issue to the notice of highest police auth.

The charges are baseless, unfounded, mischievous and motivated and have been levelled for the following reasons:-

Defame the Army.

Prevent further search and cordon to prevent inconvenience

Prevent search to provide protection to some suspected ANEs

Place: C/O 56 APO (HK Sharma)

Date: 13 Mar 91 Brig

Text of the confidential report of the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah (along with the deleted paragraphs)

 CONFIDENTIAL

Report of Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir

on incident at Kunan Poshpora, Kupwara.

A report was received from the Dy Commissioner, Kupwara vide his No: Conf/1956-61 of 7/3/91 in which it was stated that according to a report received by him from the villagers of Kunan a mass rape had been committed in that village in the night of 23/24 February during cordon and search operations conducted by elements of 4 Rajasthan Rifles. He had accordingly proceeded to the spot on 5 March and according to his preliminary investigations it appeared to him prima facie that an offence of monstrous proportions had been committed. A copy of his report is at Annexure A. On the basis of this report a case was registered in Police Station Trehgam and investigations started. Medical examination of the alleged victims is reported to have been conducted on 16/3.

Consequently, on being approached by the DG Police J&K, Corps Commander deputed Brig HK Sharma Comdr 19 Arty Bde to visit the village and report. The Brigadier made some local inquiries on 10/3 and came to the conclusion that report was baseless. His report does not however discuss in detail why he has altogether dismissed the statements layed before him by a number of village women. A copy of this report is at Annexure B. Attached with this report at Appendix B is a statement obtained from the Medical Officer, HQ 68 Mtn Bde giving a list of women who attended his medical camp from villages Kunan and Babagund between 24 and 28 Feb.

In the meantime the news of the alleged offence had attracted strong adverse comment from the local and national press and denials issued had failed to carry conviction. After discussion with the DGP and Corps Commander therefore it was decided that the undersigned might visit the village and also talk with concerned army officers to determine the course of action required to b followed to allay doubts and restore confidence. I therefore visited the village accompanied by Lt. Col Naeem Farooqi, Shri Tyagi Commdt 76 BSF, the DC and the SP of Kupwara on 18/3/91.

Background:

----------

Kunan is located approximately 4 km from Trehgam. The road to the village is still snowbound and not motorable. According to the Commander 68 BDE the village has a history of sheltering militants. It was confirmed by the representative of the BSF that they too have often conducted cordon and search operations in the village. The BDE Comdr also indicated that the villagers had been cooperating in arranging surrenders of such elements and weapons to the army. This is also supported by the enclosed report of Cdr 19 Arty Bde. However the night of 23/24 Feb was a first when an all-night operation was undertaken. The details of how the operation was executed have been mentioned in paras 3 to 7, Annexure B and need not be repeated here.

The Accusation:

--------------

The allegation is contained in the DC's report at Annexure A. It might however be mentioned that while refers to a complaint of rape of 23 women, those that appeared before me numbered 42, all but 3 of whom complained that they had been similarly treated. Their statement was that on the fateful night between 1100 hrs and 0700 hrs several jawans entered their houses forcibly and while the men were taken away for questioning, the ladies were repeatedly raped over a period ranging from one and a half hours to several hours and several times. It was stated that in the meantime the officers accompanying the party having earlier been around the village then went into a separate building and remained there conducting interrogation. Only one of the ladies, ___[Name withheld by Indian Express] claimed to have made any report to the officers present but alleged that she was ignored.

Two ladies also claimed that the men had been drinking. As reported by the DC some bottles were recovered from the spot. ___[Name withheld by Indian Express] alleged that no search was actually conducted and that it seemed the men had come solely for the purpose of rape. Torn ferans etc were also shown to support the allegations.

On being questioned it was stated by most ladies that they did not cry out because they had been threatened at gunpoint by the jawans that should they do so they would be shot. They were unable to leave their houses at night to complain to their menfolk.

The notables of the village who assembled to meet me and who included the numberdar, teachers and retired police officials were also asked why when an incident of such enormity had taken place they did not immediately request the intervention of senior officers present on spot and had infact given a NOC to the search party on their departure. They stated that they came to know of what had happened only after the column had left and they had not gone home till then.

Rebuttal

--------

The report of 4 Raj Rifles has been reflected in the report of Cdr 19 Arty Bde. I have also discussed the issue with Cdr 68 Bde - which heads the formation of which 4 Raj Rifles is part- and with CO 4 Raj Rifles. According to these officers and as borne out by my personal knowledge there is no question of jawans being unleashed for search operations in a civilian area without the supervision of officers. Also carrying of liquor during an operation is not possible.

The officers also asserted that winning the goodwill of the public is one of their prime concerns and there is no question of covering up any act of indiscipline of troops let alone an event of such magnitude as reported. Cdr 68 Bde also informed me that the villagers had met him several times after the alleged crime. On the first occasion they had mentioned that there was a 'rumour' of a rape having been committed in Kunan but in reply to his questions had stated that they were unable to identify the alleged victim. The ladies had also been attended to by the Medical Officer of the unit and had made no such complaint to him.

Analysis

--------

Having gone through the report of the DC and the Cdr 19 Arty Bde and having spoken to the officers concerned and the alleged victims, I am of the opinion that the allegation of mass rape cannot be sustained for the following reasons:

The number of alleged victims has been continuously fluctuating. While the rumour of a single rape was reported by the villagers to the Cdr 68 Bde two days after the alleged crime, a figure of 23 was reported to the DC. 39 ladies claiming to be victims have appeared before me and some villagers stated that there were still others who were too modest to report openly. Private investigators have been told of 53 cases. If in each case rape was committed by 5 to 15 persons as alleged there would have to have been atleast 300 men in the village doing nothing but this! In fact the number of men was 150.

It is intriguing that despite such a major incident having allegedly taken place no report of the crime was made. The villagers were questioned by me specifically on this issue but were unable to give a satisfactory explanation as to why the DC or SP was not approached the very next day. Their statement that they did not feel that the DC could take any action is contradicted by the very fact that it was to the DC that the villagers finally reported.

It is possible that in an isolated case of rape the victim was forced into silence and there was no hue and cry at the time. However in a situation when almost every house in the village was allegedly a victim it is inconceivable that there could have been no alarm raised and that the men were ignorant till after the army had left. This doubt is further reinforced by the statement of the CO that he accompanied by some of the village elders had gone around a few of the houses before departure and no such complaint was made to him.

No complaint has been made against any of the officers. It is also admitted on all hands that the officers were in the village when the crime was committed. It is impossible to believe that officers of a Force such as the Indian Army would lead their men into a village with the sole aim of violating its women. Even were it possible to concede this and the Army were indeed such a brutal force, it would then be impossible to explain why the officers themselves did not participate in such an orgy.

The complaint is further weakened by the discovery of liquor bottles on spot. No force is permitted to carry drinks on a operation and the bottles are therefore quite obviously a plant. This evidence does not support but weakens the credibility of the complainant.

The list of ladies at Appx B contains a number of names which correspond to the names of several of the complainants (as indicated by a tick) who appeared before me. Since particulars are not available it is not possible to say whether these are the same persons. But since almost the whole village is claimed to have become victim, it must be presumed that at least some of them are. And it would be very strange if they were to appear before a doctor the very day after the incident and not complain of it.

While the veracity of the complaint is thus highly doubtful, it still needs to be determined why such a complaint was made at all. The people of the village are simple folk and by the Army's own admission have been generally helpful and even careful of the security of the Army officers (Para 17 of Annexure B). It is possible that they have acted under militant pressure and that the long delay in making the report was a result of their not being able to withstand this. That elements wishing to discredit the army as brutal, the civilian administration as ineffective and the Govt of India as uncaring have orchestrated a campaign on the issue is also evident. This comes in the face of growing goodwill for the army among the public and improved civil-military liaison. But at this stage and at the present level of the enquiry it is not possible to rule out the possibility of isolated incidents having occurred which have antagonised the villagers. Unlike Brig Sharma I found many of the village women with whom I spoke in Kashmiri genuinely angry.

A case has already been registered and investigation begun. Medical examination is unlikely to be enlightening as it has taken place so long after the event. It is recommended that the level of investigation be upgraded to that of a gazetted police officer. The SP Kupwara has indicated that in other cases he was not getting the required cooperation for investigation from the army. Comdr 68 Bde avers that cooperation will be given whenever asked for. This should be ensured by orders from Corps HQ.

Safeguards for the Future

--------------------------

To prevent similar complainants arising in the future which shake the public faith and sully the fair name of the country, the following steps might be considered:

During operations such as this the local police officials are asked to remain outside the village when the operation is conducted. Since the police officials are taken along to assist in the operation they should be associated with the actual search.

It would be preferable if a Magistrate were asked to accompany the column without necessarily compromising secrecy. He can attend to civilian requirements and report to the senior officer present in case of any complaint.

Although high praise was heard in this village and in Trehgam for the conduct of the 68 Bde HQ, that was not the case with regard to 4 Raj Rifles. The unit may make a determined bid to refurbish its image both in the eyes of the public and civil officialdom.

Since this particular operation has not been specially productive in terms of recoveries (please see para 3 Ann B), the advisability of carrying out all-night searches might be reconsidered.

Wajahat Habibullah

Divisional Commissioner

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