Last week, the SHRC recommended a fresh investigation into Kunan mass rapes and compensation for the victims passing serious strictures against the investigators. Mudasir Majeed and Iymon Majid visited Kashmir’s the battered frontier village in Kupwara to understand how the tragedy changed the lives of its inhabitants.
Of all the secrets of conflict, there is one that is so well kept that it exists only as rumour. The perpetrator usually denies it and for the victim it is a social stigma. Governments usually try to cover up and the media exploits the word rape at large. The past of this village is marked by incredible hardship, horrific violence and social isolation.
Surrounded by tall poplars and walnut trees, Kunan, a village of gushing fresh water streams in frontier Kupwara district, lives in trauma for its women-folk met the extremity of cruelty allegedly at the hands of the soldiers, the security forces.
A spell of biting cold and snowy weather felt normal for that part of the year in 1991. But it turned into an alarm of ill omen on intervening night of 23rd and 24th of February. As the wick of lamp was dying and people of Kunan were losing themselves to sleep, so was Rahet Daed.
Unaware that she might be caught in a situation where her honor and chastity would come under attack, Rahet Daed, then 50, woke up to the banging and breaking of windowpanes. Daed became the first victim, she claims, of the “Kunan mass rapes”, allegedly by the army.
“We had no one at home among men. Army appeared at around 10.30 Pm to 11pm, breaking windowpanes and doors, lit up a fire outside our house and barged in. I was offering Nafal (non-compulsory prayers). They were six and I was alone. What they could do, they did with me. I resisted but they did not listen. ” Recalls Rahet Daed, housed in a shack with rags covering the floor sparsely.
The anguish has given birth to a poet in her. Words flow out of her mouth in a poetic tune whenever she talks about that fateful night.
“Maji yeli zayes khoni keth mooriye; sone daayei asam khoni sulwaan”
When Mother gave me birth, I was nurtured as a princess.
Military aayem kahi baji (11pm) tchooriye, baran meanin korham soor
Military came at 11 sinisterly; they broke my doors into ashes
Wanha Pakistanas tum aes doorie, wanha Malis Maji tum ti aes doorie
I would appeal Pakistan, they were far away; I could shout for my parents, they too were far away
Keansi mo raeye shoorey paan
No one should lose childhood.
Rahet Daed is not the only story. There are many more, even more pathetic and haunting, Rukaya (name changed) was17 then. “I had come to my in-laws home for the first time. It was just 11 days, after my marriage. I was taken by army 2 Kms away from this place, to a village, Pazipora” Rukaya pauses mid-sentence, dumb to narrate the horrors of that night. “And no FIR is lodged in my case
“My FIR could not be lodged because there was hue and cry all around. We were in deep shock. The village elders went to file the cases. Everything happened in a hurry. I thought that my FIR was also lodged, but later I found my name missing. There are many other victims who too are unsure whether they are named in FIR or not,” said Rukaya.
The story does not end here. There was 95-year-old Jana begum, who too was not spared. She died six years after the incident.
The night of the rapes opened up a vast account of miseries for the people of Kunan. Ready-to-wed girls were just left with two options; either to marry with the grooms thrice of their age or just stay unmarried.
“It became difficult after that infamous day to get our daughters and sisters married off to the grooms of their choice. In a way, we had to forcibly marry them off to avoid the scolding from the society. Only five women, by a cat’s whisker, from the village could find grooms outside but they still face problems,” said Abil Dar, a Kunan villger. “Marriage of our women has since been an issue of serious concern. Finding a perfect match for them in the locality is again a worry. So, whatever the match they get they have to accept blindly.”
The stigma on Kunan has affected the marriage prospects of the young men of the village as well. Samad Dar, the Sarpanch, says the attempt is always to settle the marriages within the village.
With most of the rape victims settled within the boundaries of village to avoid social disdain is no relief. Whenever there is a scuffle in the village, the families of rape victims have to face curses and abuses like “army waleo kyah korho, so govai mushit besharmo (have you forget what army did with you? Shameless!)
The incident has not spared even the children who were born in the months after it took place. Their births are being doubted as illegitimate. They have to face the taunts of being fornicated ones.
The educational system of the village has suffered a major setback, for its children, especially of that period were mentally tortured. Their classmates would often subject them to cuss-words forcing many to quit education.
“We could not shut anyone’s mouth. The only thing we could do was to choke our own voices. Our women were raped. There are not no two opinions about that,” said Muhammad Ashraf, a victim’s son. Samad Dar, the recently elected Sarpanch, maintains that about fifteen boys had to quit education who either sit idle all day or make little earning.
Stigma often forces victims to think of extreme steps, like suicide. Such tendencies were witnessed in Kunan also but the village elders managed to prevent the victims from taking to such extremes.
“The heads of this village and other neighboring villages have been instrumental in bringing the victims back to somehow relatively normal life. They would accompany them (victims) to hospitals and fetch medicines for them. Also, they would often console them by giving them hopes of justice,” said Samad Dar.
Abil Dar, 60, whose mother and daughter-in-law were amongst the victims, says he still has to spend Rs 1500 to 2000 on the medicines every month.
“In the last twenty years, the government has not made any effort to rehabilitate the victimized families. If any family has any kind of job, it is prior to mass rape incident,” said Samad Dar.
The people here deny that a large number of NGOs are working in the village, as is often being claimed. But two, Save The Children Fund and Help Foundation have been working here for the last four years.
Residents complain that no one raised a voice on their behalf in the government. The “biggest justice” delivered to the village so far is the lodging of FIRs against the 4th Rajputan Rifles but that too in just 23 cases, when there were more than 30 cases, as the victims themselves claim.
The Kunan villgers despise mention of a probe by Press Council of India (B G Vergese) but have high regard for S M Yaseen, the then District Magistrate of Kupwara, who had concluded that soldiers “behaved like wild beasts” on March 7, 1991, after getting the compliant regarding the case on March 5.
The recent SHRC recommendations in the Kunan case, which had gathered dust for 20 years, the villagers are expecting some sort of balm now. The SHRC has asked the government to reopen the mass rape case and has called for proceedings against the then director prosecution, who recommended that the case be closed.
The families of rape victims demand that stern action must be taken against B G Vergese holding him equally responsible as the army for “endorsing their claims”.
“Honour can’t be compensated by money. We want the punishment for the culprits,” says Samad Dar. “We want India to punish the culprits according to the laws of its own constitution not the Shariah law”.
As the SHRC report has again brought Kunan on the media agenda, there is a strong dislike for the journalists and media in the village.
“If our case files were again shelved then no journalist or filmmaker should dare step into this village. Enough of drama has happened till now,” Said Samad Dar. He said, recently a documentary filmmaker had come to meet the victims but he was shooed away amid hooting by the villagers.
Twenty years of living ‘injustice’ has made the Kunan villagers pessimistic, but they have not given up hope. They seem to believe that for every dark cloud there is a silver lining.