In the month of February 1991, units of the Indian army belonging to the 4th Rajputana Rifles, of the Army’s 68th Brigade launched a search and interrogation operation to find grenades, in the two villages of Kunan and Poshpora which are part of Kashmir’s Kupwara district. During this operation, the army pulled men out of their homes and tortured them and raped the women belonging to the two villages. Twenty years later, in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape case of 2012, a Kashmiri woman called up a friend and asked her the question, ‘Do you remember Kunan Poshpora?’ In seeking to answer that question, five Kashmiri women all involved in social activism came together to reopen the case and in March of 2013, 50 Kashmiri women filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition and the cumulative efforts during this period led to the eventual publishing of a book under the same title.
Book: Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora
Author(s): Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Munaza Rashid, Natasha Rather, Samreena Mushtaq
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Published as a part of Zubaan’s series on ‘Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia’, the book takes the reader through the events of the night when the incident occurred and the aftermath of events that followed. The book is divided into seven chapters which are titled as follows: Kunan Poshpora and Women in Kashmir, Sexual Violence and Impunity in Kashmir, That Night in Kunan Poshpora, Life in Kunan Poshpora Today, Inquires and Impunity, People Who Remember and The Recent Struggle: An Insider’s View.
The first chapter gives an overall view of the role that women have played in Kashmiri resistance and is followed by a very unique style where the five women involved in the writing of the book recollect their memories of Kunan-Poshpora. The distinct memories of each of the narrators allows for the reader to get varying perspectives on the incident and yet at the same time, build a coherent narrative of the same. This is followed by the presence of a detailed chronology of every event that forms a part of the Kunan-Poshpora incident.
The second and third chapter begin by placing the environment in Kashmir before the reader. Sexual violence is a systemic military tool that has been used by the Indian army in Kashmir. This is followed up by a climate of impunity wherein, intimidation, threats and terrorising the local population have all played a role in making sure that cases do not reach any sort of trial. The two chapters taken together detail the location of the two villages within the geography of Kashmir gives the broad layout of the villages and then goes on to explain the systemic way by which rape is used as a tool by the army and then there is complete impunity to the incidents. Further, the incidents of that night are reconstructed in great detail to give the reader a feeling of what actually transpired. This is also the chapters where the authors analyse key documents pertaining to the case, including the case diary submitted by the police, statements which were made by the rape survivors to the State Human Rights Commission and most importantly, the personal interactions of the authors with the victims of that night. The greatest strength of the chapter lies in exposing the lies, cover-ups and the shoddy investigations that went in to trampling any form of justice for the victims.
The fourth chapter takes a grim look at life in the two villages for the survivors today. Social ostraczation of the victims and their family is rampant even today and very few victims have been to continue their education as a result. The book also has a detailed section which highlights the effects the incident has on mental and physical health of the victims and their families even today, with multiple cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms being present. No form of treatment has been offered in any way, for these conditions. The chapter however, ends on a positive note reaffirming the spirit of resistance that Kashmiri women show particularly, with regard to opening up and speaking about an incident which is a source of great trauma.
The fifth chapter deals with the legal technicalities and the various reports that formed a part of the later judicial process and the continued impunity which made sure that the case was trampled upon. This was done by a combination of people who furthered the army and state narrative along with distortions, cover-ups and lies. Part of this chapter is the scathing attack by the authors on the Verghese report written by the Indian journalist BG Verghese, who in addition to dismissing the entire incident as a hoax, also wrote extremely insensitively about the survivors and vilified them.
The sixth chapter titled ‘People who remember’ is probably the most ambitious chapter in the book. It seeks to recreate the events of that night and after, by interviews with multiple people involved in some way with the incident. These include the former tehsildar of Kupwara, Sikandar Malik, block medical officer, Dr Mohammad Makhdoomi and whistle-blower S M Yasin, ex-DC of Kupwara whose report became the basis of the FIR. There are two things that stand out about this chapter and make it my favourite chapter of the book. Firstly, the primary aim of this chapter is to demolish the state narrative and it does so by creating an alternate oral history of sorts, of the incident. In addition, the chapter interweaves beautifully, the legal aspects of the case into the narratives that are put forward. It reaffirms the need of counter-discourses in the understanding of history.
The seventh chapter details the recent efforts at seeking justice for the victims particularly through the PIL that was filed in 2013. It gives an insider view of the events that happened post the PIL being filed and how the case has been re-opened and brought back the question of justice for the victims of Kunan-Poshpora.
By the end of the book, the answer to the question ‘Do you remember Kunan Poshpora?’ becomes very clear to the reader. It lives on in as memory, in the people of Kashmir and it is this which offers a crucial counter to the state narrative. The events of Kunan-Poshpora are not a singular event of sexual violence in Kashmir. Sexual violence is employed in a systemic manner by the state and its apparatus in Kashmir and Kunan-Poshpora is merely one of the many incidents that have come to light but yet, it is a defining instance in the recent history of Kashmir. It serves as reminder of the moral bankruptcy of the Indian state, in first sanctioning and committing these atrocities and then going to the greatest of lengths to deny them and covering up for the people perpetrating these atrocities.
Secondly, the book serves as reminder of the dangerous nexus between patriarchy and the state. The victims of that night were not only women but also men. The sort of violence and torture inflicted on men is further proof of how patriarchal constructs are equally harmful to everyone in society. In spite of all this however, the greatest strength of the book is in demonstrating the capability of the Kashmiri people, in particular, the women of Kashmir, to resist. This is perhaps the most emphatic of responses to the question that is asked by the title of the book and the book itself. The women of Kashmir not only remember Kunan-Poshpora but also frame a discourse of resistance around it. It is a discourse that challenges state narratives and the hegemony of the state, it is a discourse that challenges the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian state but above all, it is a discourse that also challenges the very patriarchy that runs so deep in our society today.
Featured Image Credit: Cover image of Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? | Zubaan Books