Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The scars of Kunan-Poshpora live on

Courtesy: Daily Rising Kashmir dt Feb., 24th, 2010 by Shahjahan Afzal(Kunan-Poshpora) Kupwara, Feb 23: From a distance Shah Begum (name changed) looks like any other inconsolable survivor of Kashmir turmoil. But when one approaches her and tries to talk to her, the pain within her simply erupts.

The pain of a trauma that was unleashed by the drunken troopers of Rajput Rifles exactly 19 years ago on village Kunan-Poshpora, 114 km north of Srinagar and some 10 km from Kupwara district headquarters.

Shah is seated on the verandah of her house, combing the hairs of her handicapped daughter, who is said to have lost her limb after she jumped from the first floor of the old house to save her chastity from the clenches of drunken troopers on that fateful night, the night intervening February 23-24, 1991.

When approached, she unfolds the trauma to yet another woman, this time round a social worker accompanying this reporter.

“First it was Nas…, then Jan… and finally it was the turn of Sha…,” Shah begins but stops shifts to hysterical screams.

Already in the autumn of her life, Shah (70) would easily qualify as one of the worst-hit survivors of the ghastly incident that has shaken the psyche of not just Kunan-Poshpora but all Kashmiris for almost two decades now.

Dozens of women reported that they were gangraped by the troops that night. “The government has shelved the case after ordering an inquiry, which rather bruised the character of the victims,” says Ishaq, a local.

Nineteen years after the gory incident, no one seems willing to reopen the old wounds, this elderly survivor being the only exception. Shah, then 52, told the lady social worker that she resisted "them" till her worn-out muscles gave way. “I resisted them for nearly 15 minutes,” she told the visitor. Shah, according to her relatives, isolated herself for a long time after the incident. She preferred to stay away from hordes of visiting journalists during her self-imposed confinement in a dingy room of her shabby house. She is now in her 70s but still eager to see "the rapists behind the bars".

Another victim, who is scared of looking into the mirror eversince the incident, remained mum. According to villagers, she loses her nerves the moment a mirror comes in sight.

Apart from the trauma, the people of the area face problems on all fronts, including social, economic, development and also on educational front. This, the villagers say, mocks at the tall claims of government and the NGOs of raising lots of funds for the "overall upliftment" of the tragedy survivors here, thereby misleading the international community.

Most of the people are still residing here in ordinary houses, with most of the local youth working as labourers or doing other menial jobs.

Kunan-Poshpora village is flood-prone and each year the whole area is inundated by the swollen Nallah Kahmil, flowing alongside the village. Villagers accuse that no measures have been taken by the government or any other agency to help the affected.

The only Middle school here has not been upgraded since and local children have to tread miles to attend their high and higher secondary classes. This is said to be the main factor responsible for the educational backwardness of the people here.

People are still reluctant to send their wards outside the village, fearing social stigma and a scare of another 1991-like tragedy.

Nineteen years hence, whenever journalists and social activists frequent the Kunan-Poshpora hamlet to assess the present situation, an eerie silence greets them. People are out on their usual assignments, not uttering a word and afraid of speaking openly. Perhaps disappointed by one and all, they now feel it better to bury the scars of the tragedy deep in their hearts.

But Farooq Ahmad, a senior citizen, expresses surprise over the "silence" maintained by the human rights agencies in India. He terms the silence of these agencies as "biased and criminal" and urges immediate reopening of the case.

Says a local youth, "I was thrice interrogated by troops for raising voice against the incident." According to Bashir A Chogly, a local social worker, “Some usual hue and cry was made but no serious efforts were made to gauge the severity of the insulting incident.”

Salt To Injury

The mass rape had evoked strong resentment, sparking massive protests and condemnations for weeks together from different corners of the world and Kashmir, in particular. Public anger forced the government to register a case and order a probe. But the case was hushed up.

On the request of Indian army, the probe held by then Chairman Press Council of India, bailed out the troops and sprinkled "salt on the wounds" of Kashmiris by instead castigating the character of the victims.

The report, said to have been compiled in some army camp in Pattan area of Kashmir, threw to winds the final report of then Deputy Commissioner Kupwara S M Yasin, who visited the village on March 7, 1991 to investigate. In his report, Yasin stated that the soldiers "behaved like wild beasts ... gang raped 23 ladies, without any consideration of age, married, unmarried, pregnancy etc…."

Kunanposhpora mass rape victims remember ordeal

Courtesy: Daily Greater Kashmir dated February 23rd, 2010 by Umar Maqbool
Kupwara, Feb 22: Nineteen years after, the victims of mass rape by troopers in Kunanposhpora village of district Kupwara are struggling to come to terms with life.
It was on intervening night of Feb 23 and 24 in 1991, when drunk troopers of 4 Raj Rifles C/O 68 Brigade entered the Kunanposhpora village and raped 42 women and girls.
Residents told Greater Kashmir that on fateful night troopers cordoned off the village and ordered the men to come out of their houses for parade and searches.
“They entered into houses and asked us to come out. We heard the screams of women and tried to save their chastity but we were ruthlessly beaten by troopers. It was only the next morning that they left the village not before they forced villagers to give them NOC,” said a villager Fayaz Ahmed.
The victims wept while narrating the ordeal of the fateful night when troopers tarnished their honour.
“I was in my home that time. Seven to eight troopers broke the door and forced their way in. They tore off my clothes. They continued to rape me one by one throughout the night. I cried but nobody listened. The soldiers gagged my mouth and I fell unconscious,” says Nazima (name changed).
Another victim Sara (name changed) was nine months pregnant when troopers raped her. “I was raped by seven to eight soldiers throughout night. My mother tried to save my honour but she was thrown out of window. They also kicked my stomach which resulted in giving birth to a baby with fractured arm,” she adds.
“The armed forces had turned violent and behaved like beasts. I feel ashamed to put in black and white the kind of atrocities and their magnitude brought to my notice,” the then District Magistrate Kupwara wrote to Divisional Commissioner Kashmir.
After the shocking incident, an FIR was lodged in police station Trehgam bearing number R-1/1387/88 under RPC 376-452-342, but till date no charge sheet has been presented.
But 19 years down the line, the victims are living a miserable life, facing social stigma. “Lives of our womenfolk have been ruined. Their husbands left them and many of them have psychiatric disorders,” village elders said.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Flashback February 21st, 2009: Bomai shuts on youths' killings

Courtesy: Daily Rising Kashmir dated February 22nd, 2010 by Asem Mohiuddin/Mir Tariq
Sopore, Feb 21: As Bomai observed complete shutdown on Sunday to commemorate the death anniversary of two youth killed by troopers on February 21 last year, the family members and relatives of the slain youth have demanded action against the men in uniform, who were indicted by the government probe for killing the civilians.

On February 21, 2009, two youth Javed Ahmad Dar and Mohammad Amin Tantray hailing from Muslimpir Sopore were shot dead by army personnel at Bomai without any provocation. Another youth was seriously injured in the troopers firing. An FIR number 73/09 under section number RPC 302, dated 21-2-2009 stands registered against 22 RR in police station Sopore.

The locals formed Bomai Coordination Committee and pressed for action against the troopers involved in killing of Tantray and Dar and shifting of army camp from the area. Caving to the public press, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah ordered a magisterial probe while army initiated a court of inquiry. On March 24, 2009, the government shifted army’s infamous Rajinder Post from the area to Wadoora.

“After the two youth were killed by troops, the government had assured us that prompt action would be taken against the guilty troopers. Unfortunately, the government has not kept its promise and nothing has happened,” said Mohammad Ismail, father of one of the victims, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

He said troopers involved in the killing have been identified but no action taken against them so far. “Two army men and an SOG personal have been found involved in opening indiscriminate and unprovoked firing on the youth on the fateful day. The same has been found by the government team that probed the incident. The investigations were led by then Deputy Commissioner Baramulla Baseer Ahmad Khan,” he said.

Sources said that the inquiry reported forwarded by the inquiry team to Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah and union home minister had clearly indicted the troopers for killing the youth.

Ismail urged the chief minister Omar Abdullah to restart probe into the incident and punish the guilty troopers. “The government should arrest the troopers involved in the killings. The guilty men should be punished severely so that such incidents don’t recur in future,” he said, adding, “The Chief minister should fulfill his promise of acting tough against the erring troopers”.

Sopore Bar association President, Mohammad Maqbool Mir said they will approach the court if government delays deliverance of justice and fails to take action against the guilty troopers.

The Bomai area observed complete shutdown on Sunday to commemorate the death anniversary of two youth killed in troopers firing. All the shops and business establishments in the area remained closed. People in hundreds visited the graveyard, where the two are buried and prayed for peace to the departed soul.

Hundreds of people with banners and placards gathered in front of Jamia Masjid on the call of Bomai Coordination Committee (BCC).

“We gathered here to remind CM about his promises. Though the camp was relocated but the killers are yet to be punished,” said BCC President Hakeem-Ul-Rehman

He said that instead of punishing killers, police charge sheeted 65 people of the village for taking part in protest demonstrations.

He demanded Nishat-like prompt probe into the incident and severe punishment to the killers of the youth.

“We agitated peacefully, held demonstrations and sit-ins consistently. Our peaceful agitation forced government to relocate the camp from the area. But unfortunately the government is not daring to punish the army men found involved in the killing,” Hakeem said.

He accused government of betraying the Bomai people. “We have not given up our demands and will continue to agitate peacefully till the guilty troopers are punished,” he said.

“We observed the shutdown today to remind the government of the killings. We will wait for government response till Tuesday and chalk future strategy afterwards,” added Hakeem