Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? by Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Munaza Rashid, Natasha Rather, and Samreena Mushtaq, published by Zubaan, 2016
As the wounds of Kashmir continue to bleed, even though both the administration and the Army remain callously oblivious to the ever-burning indignation of a people subjected to relentless persecution, torture and trauma, a book like Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora serves to highlight the entrenched reasons of ceaseless resentment against the Indian state in the valley of Kashmir and the criminal complicity of the state in the generational injustice which has been systematically inflicted on the people of Kashmir.
The book, written by five fiercely courageous and forthright women, Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Samreena Mushtaq, Munaza Rashid and Natasha Rather, records the ongoing trauma of the inhabitants of two Kashmiri villages, Kunan and Poshpora, in the district of Kupwara, bordering Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, where 31 women were raped by the members of the 4th Rajputana Rifles Regiment of the Indian Army on 23rd February, 1991. Till date, no one has been either convicted or punished for these crimes. The book is a product of the research carried out by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, including the authors, which was instrumental in the filing of a Public Interest Litigation at Srinagar High Court in 2013, in order to secure justice for the survivors of that horrible night and the endless trauma it caused.
For most Indians, outside places like Kashmir, Nagaland or Manipur, the book comes across as a shocking revelation that churns your insides and leaves a sense of nauseating disgust in your mouth as you try to process the villagers’ 24 year struggle for justice which has been repeatedly thwarted by administrative and bureaucratic inhumanity which has either sought to deny the perpetration of the crimes or has deliberately maligned the victims or has systematically concealed all traces of truth.
It is a fact of history that war zones bring out the worst in men, especially soldiers who often exhibit their power or enforce their dominance by subjecting women to rape, molestation and mutilation. Since Kashmir has been suffering as an interminable war zone for so many decades, it is inevitable there would be such horrible incidents. But it is the duty of the state to acknowledge the crimes committed by itself against its own people and to ensure that justice is served, no matter how aggravating circumstances. Not only does the continuation of the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) resist any such pursuit of justice, the administration instead concocts a series of contrivances to obfuscate the truth and protect the accused. As one reads the accounts of the survivors and learns how women of all ages were subjected to brutal sexual assaults by several men at once, including women who were deaf and dumb or pregnant, grandmothers and teenagers, even as the men folk of their families were being beaten, electrocuted or maimed, all of one’s preconceptions about nation, democracy and one’s cherished institutions begin to be smeared in black and red, as one sinks into scenes of an unending nightmare. No talk of Althusser’s Repressive State Apparatuses or Foucauldian bio-politics can possibly convey the ruthless bestiality of the accounts which either reminds you of the horrors of Partition or those, at times, perpetrated by British soldier during colonial rule.
Of course the physical and psychological trauma of rape and the persistent denial of justice constitute only one part of this nightmare. The other part includes the relentless humiliation faced by the survivors and their family members who were stigmatized and ostracised by members of other villages to such an extent that they had to drop out of schools, found their marital lives destroyed by whiffs of suspicion, shame and scorn and became pariahs to their own communities. It is terribly unfortunate that even in a place of pervasive suffering, as the valley of Kashmir seems to be, it is the victims who must bear the brunt of social stigma and ostracisation, as opposed to a heightened sense of sympathy and solidarity, from other Kashmiris, who too have suffered in other ways. This further emphasises the patriarchal construct of ‘rape’ which has interpellated men and women to such an extent that the villagers of Kunan Poshpora continue to be jeered by other Kashmiris, irrespective of their gender and age and profession.
But the book itself is not just about the inhuman crimes committed by certain members of the Indian Army and the terrible victimisation faced by the villagers of Kunan Poshpora. It is also about the remarkable courage and resilience shown by such villagers, especially the women, who not only spoke up after the event and got FIR and statements registered and then continued their uncompromising struggles for 24 years even as the state did all in its power to crush their quest for justice. The book is a testimony to the unyielding resolve of the human spirit even at the face of harshest oppression.
The same resolve is also shown by the authors and their industrious and determined colleagues who took up the cause of the victims and despite their own relatively privileged and protected lives, sought to challenge the state and all its institutions, with dauntless defiance – a defiance that was as much motivated by the experiences of terrors, loss and humiliation they each suffered in different degrees as by a sense of affective solidarity with the people of Kunan Poshpora.
Naturally enough, the book is an impassioned document and one should not expect to read it as an unbiased and objective account. It is a scathing indictment of the Indian state and the Indian Army with an unabashed desire for Kashmiri freedom – a most unrealistic concept in the given geo-political condition. And when you read that despite wearing an Indian skin, “one scratch and you bleed Pakistan”, it is not unusual to feel conflicted about the nature of the rest of the text.
But then again, true patriotism is about acknowledging the greatest crimes that your state has committed, under whatever justification, even if it involves adjusting your convictions about a national institution as revered and loved as the Indian Army. For most Indians, the Indian Army is a supreme embodiment of courage, integrity and sacrifice. Their experiences have taught them exactly that. For anyone from Kolkata to Coimbatore, the men who must brave the sub-zero climate of Siachen, the men who fought the Pakistani infiltrators in Kargil, the men who eventually neutralised mass murderers like Kasav and his cohort of terrorists are unquestionably heroes and martyrs who deserve our respect and gratitude. I have been one of them. But I cannot help but think that the image of the army would only have been strengthened if it had acted righteously against perpetrators of inhuman crimes, whatever the circumstances, and cooperated with the victims in their search for justice. In fact, judicial verdicts are rarely enough in such cases. What needs to supplement adequate judicial remedy is a willingness to embrace responsibility for crimes, collateral damages and individual aberrations so that a process of healing and forgiveness may begin. Mere words will never achieve that and stubborn refusal and further repression will accentuate mutual hatred and raging conflicts. Neither the Army nor the Indian Government seem willing to accept this, even as more innocents die at the hands of soldiers or agonise in hospitals.
For anyone willing to understand better the problem of Kashmir and its people and the nature of the existing Indian state, the book is a must-read. It is a necessary step in a process of introspection, repentance and atonement which must condition both the response of the Indian state as well as every conscientious Indian who believes Kashmir to be an integral part of India.
– Abin Chakraborty