Kashmir, the world’s largest militarised zone, holds the record for another dishearteningly prominent incident that occurred there 26 years ago, something which has always been a source of great embarrassment to the Indian State.
On the night of February 23, 1991, the members of the 4th Rajputana Rifles were engaged in a cordon-and-search operation of two villages, Kunan and Poshpora. What was meant to be a cordon-and-search operation turned into a horrid gangrape of at least 23 women, and many estimates place the number beyond 100.
After tiring and snail-paced progress of the case for nearly 22 years, a group of 50 Kashmiri women petitioned the Supreme Court in 2013 to reopen the investigation into Kunan-Poshpora, reinvigorating the need for justice in every victim again.
After another round in the Kashmir High Court, the case is pending in the Supreme Court. If the age-old adage of "justice delayed is justice denied" has any credence, than for the victims of Kunan-Poshpora justice is but only a mythical far-off idea, probably forgotten.
But then again, so is the case for Kashmir entirely with the apathy of the Indian State and its people. Apathy is a most dangerous phenomenon and the forerunner of crime and injustice.
The fact that the victims are yet to receive a glimpse of justice, and that for 26 long years there has hardly been any catharsis for them, shows the extent to which the Indian State is insecure in accepting that its forces do commit crimes in the Kashmir Valley.
There is a deep sense of insecurity in acknowledging the countless rapes, murders and enforced disappearances in the Valley, as has always been the case (and there are countless reports testifying to these statistics).
Sexual violence is a common warfare strategy to crush the opposition and break the morale of the enemy, so as to remain powerful and predominant, something that the Indian Army regularly propagates in Kashmir to create an atmosphere of fear and an environment of subservience.
It is a tragedy that we celebrate the Indian Army for its achievements, which is fair enough, but are never critical of the forces when they wreak havoc. We want Kashmir to be a part of India but we will keep them by force because they resist the rapes, murders and disappearances committed by our forces. Even if they are only civilians without any militant connexion at all. Forceful and violent subjugation is a terrible art which the Indian forces seem to have a doctorate in.
When the petition was made to the Supreme Court in 2013, it was an important incident that made the 50-odd young Kashmiri women take initiative to get the case reopened. The nation was under the grip of anti-rape protests soon after the Nirbhaya case. The outrage and anger over what had happened to Nirbhaya provoked the young women into filing for justice again.
This was not only an endeavour for justice for this one case, but something much more. It was an aspiration and effort to speak truth to power. To let the all-powerful state know that the women of Kashmir will not put up with sexual violence committed by its forces. To let the Indian Army know that it cannot be immune to the crimes of its cadres. To engage with all of this and fight back against oppression, violence and subjugation. To challenge their own patriarchal society (wherein talk of sexual violence is a taboo).
Even recently, when a delegation from Kashmir was set to visit the United National Human Rights Commission to apprise it of the countless violations committed by the Indian Army in the state, members of the group were held back from travelling and activist Khurrum Pervez was arrested (in contravention to procedure established by law).
Human rights and civil liberties activists in Kashmir are constantly hounded by the forces, in a perpetual effort to detract them from raising questions. It is this kind of constant monitoring that has made Kashmir an undemocratic Orwellian martial land.
February 23 is commemorated as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day keeping in mind the resistance and undying spirit the victims of Kunan-Poshpora have so marvellously held. It is imperative that the struggle of these women is recognised by everyone for the great source of inspiration that it is. Selective empathy is a disaster for the idea of justice and if one engages in such an exercise, then justice for sexual violence shall always remain elusive.
Einstein’s words against Hitler’s propaganda become most important for the Indian State to acknowledge in the context of Kashmir - “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”.
Sabarish Suresh -The writer is a law student at OP Jindal Global University in Haryana. He is interested in criminal law and human rights and actively writes on gender and sexuality.