23rd February, 2020 marks the 29th anniversary of the mass rape and torture in twin villages of Kunan Poshpora in Kupwara district of Kashmir. This is the largest recorded incident of sexual assault in South Asian history. This case stands to be a chilling example of the political and judicial impunity enjoyed by Indian Armed Forces in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, under the facade of Indian democracy.
Every year since 2014, 23 rd February is commemorated as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day, inspired by the struggles of the survivors of mass rape and torture Kunan and Poshpora, on the night of 23 rd February 1990. The two and half decades–long struggle of the survivors from Kunan and Poshpora is a part of the larger on-going struggle in Jammu and Kashmir, against the institutionalized and structural violence of the Indian state in the region.
The Union of India filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court of India in 2014 challenging the interim orders of the J&K High Court of 2014 to pay the compensation to victims and of the Kupwara District Court for the reinvestigation in this case. The judiciary stayed the reinvestigation and the payment of compensation. Even the order passed by the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) was stayed by the High Court, which had also recommended for holding the reinvestigation and payment of compensation. There are five petitions regarding Kunan Poshpora case pending before the High Court and the Supreme Court of India since 2014, three of which have been filed by the Indian army, which has denied justice to the victims till date. Presently the matter is stuck between the two Courts. In the process 6 survivors/witnesses have already died.
Indian judiciary has otherwise remained very sensitive towards cases of sexual violence. In a case of rape of a Bangladeshi woman which was filed by Adv. Mrs Chandrima Das, a compensation of 10 lakh Rupees was paid to the victim. The 2012 Nirbhaya rape case was put on trial in a fast tract court and the perpetrators were awarded death sentences within one year of the incident. But the mass rape case of 1991 seems not to be a priority for the judiciary because of the involvement of Indian army.
It seems it is very unlikely that the Kunan Poshpora victims will get justice within their lifetime as the investigation has been stayed and after investigation the sanction is an issue before the Indian Defence Ministry which has not granted sanctions to a single case so far. Kunan Poshpora mass rape and torture case was reported widely by more than 300 HR organizations and journalists all over the world, despite that justice seems to be a mirage for the victims.