Interview: Remembering Kunan Poshpora Mass Rape
He was the first government official to visit Kunan after the mass rape in 1991 and his report resulted in his immediate transfer. In a candid conversation with Saima Bhat, Syed Mohammad Yasin reveals details of the gruesome act.
Q1. Some people are accusing you of not speaking about the incident all these years. Your response?
SM Yasin (SMY): I am very disappointed with the media which is alleging me to have remained silent for all these 23 years. As a government official I did what I was supposed to do. Besides, I am not saying any new thing. This is what I reported back then and this is what I am telling now. Many publications including a book, ‘Kashmir the burning of a paradise’ written by senior journalist, Ghulam Nabi Khayaal have quoted my report produced by me soon after the crime was committed. What rekindled my part in the whole scheme of things was that I was recently approached by a Human Rights groups to talk on Women’s Resistance day, which I did. There was a reason for me doing that. I feel justice has not been done to the victims. I like every other Kashmiri want justice to be done, and I should also contribute my bit for their justice.
Q2. What bearing did the ‘mass rape’ had on your stint as a bureaucrat? Are you satisfied with your response back then?
SMY: I was posted as Kupwara Deputy Commissioner in 1990. In 1991, Kunan-Poshpora happened and soon after the incident I was transferred to Auqaf in Jammu. I felt government was not pleased with me to have reported the facts. The Bar association here did file a stay order against my transfer. However, being a government employee I preferred to oblige the orders. If I had not accepted the transfer orders that would have affected the Kupwara district, like the development and other works, which I didn’t like. Administrations don’t work like that.
I believe I was too miniscule a part in the system. In Kashmir, even the Chief Minister cannot take a stand then how do you expect a district officer would have done something. You see the debate of AFSPA, CM Omar Abdullah, had to succumb to pressure put up by New Delhi.
Q3. You were the first government official to visit Kunan-Poshpora. Can you share the experience with us? Any particular thing you remember about that day?
SMY: It had snowed heavily in whole valley that day, all roads were blocked. I was living at my official residence in Kupwara and we used to walk up to our offices. That day I remember I was sitting in my office and a Chowkidar/ guard of Kunan village came to my office and informed me about the incident, which had took place some days back. Some other government officials including SHO Trehgam, which is a nearby police station, accompanied me to the villages. When we entered the village, I was astonished to see the condition of people and that of the village. People were in a state of shock and mourning. The people there showed me the homes where soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Army’s 68 Brigade had raped. They had come in village around 11 pm of February 23 and cordoned off the village. While the men folk of the villages were kept restricted to two different spots, the women were repeatedly gang raped by the Army personnel inside their houses. My finding was that there had been no consideration of victim’s age while the Army men gang raped.
Statements were recorded. Torn and blood stained clothes were put forth. The villagers alleged that the Amry men were drunk. Liquor bottles were found in the village. I got them collected and handed them over to SHO. Only after I was convinced that the heinous crime had indeed taken place, I filed my report. I sent it to the then divisional commissioner and a copy of my report to then DIG Kashmir, special DIG in Kupwara and SP Kupwara as well. After that I was never questioned or approached, not even once!
Q4. As per your findings how many women were raped in Kunan?
SMY: I recorded the statements of around 24 ladies, but there were many more who did not come forward given the fact that many of them were unmarried. At least 100 army men were there in Kunan on that night so one can very well imagine the magnitude of the crime.
Q5. What followed? How did the Army and the media respond?
SMY: Army officers came and said I have reported wrongfully and the allegations were baseless. Soon Press Council of India sent BG Verghese along with other two officials to probe the incident. He came to meet me for not more than 10 minutes and he had by then already made up his mind. He was staying with army there and was enjoying their boarding and transport so how can he have done justice with the victims? Interestingly the then probationary officer, DSP Dilbagh Singh, soon got promoted as SP, most probably because he reported what state wanted him to. The then SHO Trehgam transferred as well for the same reasons I was.
Q6. You have talked about being threatened. What kind of threats you received and from whom? Did your successor also receive any threats?
SMY: Threats are of two types implied and expressed. Implied: I was transferred and everybody was against me except the then divisional commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah. He agreed with me and he sent his report, accordingly to the then chief secretary. But recently I came to know that Wajahat Habibullah has written in his book that some paragraphs were lifted from his report. My successor was given extension, may be because he remained passive and did what state ordered him to.
Q7. Do you feel things would have been different if it was not for the governor’s rule in Kashmir then?
SMY: No. Even if we had a chief minister, things would have remained the same. The policies of unionist politicians in Kashmir change with their location. You will find their tone different in Kashmir, in Jammu they will say something else and then you will find them singing altogether a different tune in Delhi. If the government is really bothered they can start a probe now. In Kashmir everybody knows what happens. Pathribal fake encounter is an example. The Army got away with it despite the CBI findings being against them.
Q8. Do you blame the state government for being instrumental over the years in hiding the facts regarding Kunan-Poshpora?
SMY: No. I think state government is not so powerful in Kashmir. It’s the Army that rules. Democracy is nothing but a farce here. Army in connivance with the then Governor were responsible for distorting reality. Kashmir is a victim and nobody is doing anything. It was proved recently when a girl was raped in Delhi and how whole India was against the crime but what about Kashmir where a whole village was raped.
Q9. Were there any other efforts put in by the State or the New Delhi government to at least come closer to the truth?
SMY: I don’t know about the events and committees that came to the village after my transfer because I was sent to Auqaf Jammu where I was very busy. I had a feeling that government will do justice but they didn’t.
Q10. The victims say it was you in 1991, who helped them to file the case with the then SHO Kupwara. What happened to that case, did you ever follow that up?
SMY: I was not allowed to be there then how was it possible to follow up the case. Otherwise I would have followed it. Legally I was not allowed to interfere. I didn’t have any powers.
Q11. You are working as a lawyer now, a part of the Indian Judicial sysytem; shall these victims keep any hope with it?
SMY: We are a part of this society and we know everybody has his own interests, their children need to get adjusted in medical colleges, some want their promotions.
Now the Kunan case is with sessions judge, I hope the judiciary will do justice. Even if it doesn’t happen, Allah will bring justice to them!