This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. The case note contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the conflict:
The Kashmir conflict is a territorial conflict over the region of Kashmir, mainly between India and Pakistan, with China playing a role as well (Chang 2017). The conflict began after the partition of India in 1947, into India and Pakistan, and both states claimed the entirety of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. The dispute over the reason escalated into three wars between India and Pakistan, and a range of other skirmishes. Following the partition of India and a rebellion in the western parts of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, tribal militia from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, and catalyzed the erstwhile Hindu ruler of Jammu and Kashmir to join India. A war began between India and Pakistan and culminated in a UN-mediated ceasefire that marked the “Line of Control.” Following two other wars in 1965 and 1971, the formal Line of Control was established by the Simla Agreement. In 1999, another armed conflict broke out in Kargil. Since 1989, Kashmiri protest movements were created to voice Kashmir's disputes and grievances with the Indian government in the Indian-controlled regions, and to call for self-determination.
Scholars have indicated that Indian forces have committed many human rights abuses against the Kashmiri civilian population, including extrajudicial killing, rape, torture, and enforced disappearances (Kazi 2015). There have been instances of human rights abuses in the regions controlled by Pakistan, as well (Adams 2006). The UN OHCHR Reports (2018) on Kashmir have noted the activities engaged in by the militants on both sides of the border; how pro-India advocates have been killed by militants on the Pakistan side, and how militants on the Indian side engage in violence and scare tactics.
Prevalence of Sexual Violence in Kunan Poshpora
Located in Kupwara district bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Kunan and Poshpora are twin villages which catastrophically gained wide recognition for the mass rape that occurred in this territory (Batool et al., 2016). On February 23, 1991, soldiers from 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army stormed the households of Kunan and Poshpora on the grounds of searching for militia. The men were separated and tortured at interrogation centres located inside the village, while at least thirty-one women and girls were gang raped by the soldiers inside their own homes. The men faced various forms of torture, encompassing beatings, electrocution, forcing the men to remain barefoot in the cold snow, and crushing their bones using large heavyweight rollers. The girls and women were threatened at gun point, stripped of their clothing, and raped by multiple intoxicated army men (Batool et al., 2016). The first information report filed in the police station after a visit by the local magistrate reported the number of women alleging rape as 23. However, Human Rights Watch (1991) asserted that this number could be between 23 and 100. Borpujari (2018) noted that around 300 army personnel raided the village, 150 girls and women were raped that night and 200 men were tortured; only 40 women who were raped stepped forward to seek justice.
Basis of sexual and gender-based violence:
The survivors of Kunan and Poshpora were attacked for their identity, as they belonged to the state of Kashmir. Apart from using weapons to silence any expression of mutiny, state authorities tactically utilized sexual violence to establish mass silence and limit any form of militancy. Rape and other forms of sexual violence were used to further settler colonialism and military occupation, to target women to bring shame and familial humiliation, and to target men to cause physical and psychological harm. Consequently, these forms of aggression are used to threaten the citizens of Kashmir, punish them for perceived betrayal towards the state, reprimand uprisings, and force the public into compliance (Batool et al., 2016).
A couple of days following the horrific incident, the villagers attempted to register the cases of torture and rape by collectively submitting a letter to the Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara and the police authorities. However, no immediate action was taken to investigate the incident (Batool et al., 2016). On March 8, 1991, an official First Information Report (FIR) was recorded at the Trehgam Police Station, ensuing which the police investigated the case for seven months. The investigation included recording the statements of survivors, conducting medical examination on the survivors, and documenting the statements of the offenders. During the enquiry, the survivors were constantly accused of dishonesty, their actions suspected of being motivated by militant pressure. Furthermore, officials dealing with the inquiry at the time were constantly withdrawn from handling the case, resulting in no legal action being taken against the offenders for twenty years (Batool et al., 2016).
In 2011, the case was announced to be reopened by the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a judgement that continued to be overlooked by the Indian government authorities. Two years later, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to proceed with the case was filed by fifty Kashmiri women, a decision supported by the Kupwara sessions court magistrate who called for further investigation to take place.
The case has received extensive attention from the public - the tragedy termed a plot created by the survivors to slander the Indian army and the women survivors referred to as voiceless victims by the Indian media. It has been thirty years since the mass rape and torture occurred in these twin villages but justice continues to appear a dream far from reality for the survivors at Kunan and Poshpora (Batool et al., 2016).
Batool, E., Butt, I., Mushtaq, S., Rashid, M., & Rather N. (2016). Do you remember Kunan Poshpora? Zubaan.Retrieved from https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Do_You_Remember_Kunan_Poshpora.html?id=z5VKDQAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
Kazi, Seema (2015). Gender and Militarization in Kashmir. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t343/e0165?_hi=0&_pos=1
OHCHR (2018). "OHCHR | First-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir calls for international inquiry into multiple violations". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 14 June 2018 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23198
Human Rights Watch (1991). Abdication of Responsibility: The Commonwealth and Human Rights. pp. 13–20. https://books.google.com/books?id=_QTz5PCDvjEC
Adams, Brad (21 September 2006). "Pakistan: 'Free Kashmir' Far From Free". Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/20/pakistan-free-kashmir-far-free
Chang, I-wei Jennifer (9 February 2017). "China's Kashmir Policies and Crisis Management in South Asia". United States Institute of Peace. https://www.usip.org/publications/2017/02/chinas-kashmir-policies-and-crisis-management-south-asia
Borpujari, Priyanka (24 February 2018). "All These Years Later, Do Not Forget the Kunan-Poshpora Mass Rapes". International Media Group. https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/all-these-years-later-do-not-forget-the-kunan-poshpora-mass-rapes/
BBC News. (2019, August 8). Kashmir: Why India and Pakistan fight over it. https://www.bbc.com/news/10537286