“It was not rape, it was war”—that night in Kunan Poshpora

By Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Samreena Mushtaq, Munaza Rashid, and Natasha Rather

Follow us on InstagramFacebook and Twitter. 

We are a not-for-profit 501 (c)3 collective, and  if you like what we do, please support us here or through Patreon

Every now and again, in the life of a feminist publisher, a book comes along that moves beyond the world of words, into real battles and real campaigns. Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora, written by five young women from Kashmir, is one such book. Since it came out, and indeed while it was being written, it became an important tool in the battle for justice for the victims and survivors of the infamous mass rape by the Indian army in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in 1991. In this, the book achieved what it set out to do, but it did, indeed it does, much more. In many ways the experience of researching and writing it transformed the lives of the writers, for whom the act of retrieving memory and of seeking justice for a forgotten historical moment, melded seamlessly into each other. Equally, it became for us, as feminist publishers, a process of creating collective knowledge, and of producing it together with its creators and with its subjects. We’ve been proud, and fortunate, to publish this book and to send it into the world for the voices within it to be heard and attended to.—Urvashi Butalia.

Women Victims/Survivors

According to the women, ‘rape’ is not an adequate word to describe what was done to them. It was not rape—it was war. Women were caught and held by a minimum of 5-6 army men as their husbands, fathers and sons were forcefully separated from them. Pushed to the walls, they shouted and screamed for help, for mercy. Their screams were not answered. Guns were pointed at their chests and mouths. They were told not to shout or else they would be shot. Army men were drunk, and were seen drinking during the operations. They smelled of liquor. They tore the women’s pherans (long traditional gowns worn over the clothes). They pulled down their trousers and raped them. While raping them they continued to consume liquor. They took turns, and sometimes took two rounds of a particular house. The women resisted but in vain.

Minor girls, those dumb and deaf, the physically handicapped, and the pregnant women were not spared either. Mothers were raped in front of their daughters. Grandmothers and their granddaughters were raped in the same room. The survivors said that they had bite marks on their chests, everywhere on their body, even on their hips. Many of them described bleeding from the mouth, from their private parts and from other injuries.

One of the survivors in her statement to the police given in March 1991, narrated to JKCCS/SGKP that she heard a knock on the door at 11 p.m. As the door was opened army men barged in and took her husband and brother-in-law with them. Some remained behind and searched the house. As they found nothing ‘objectionable’ they caught hold of her and raped her. “They were having liquor while raping me. My children screamed but there was no one to help me”. She fainted and only regained consciousness in the morning. Her husband and her brother-in-law too returned in the morning. Her brother-in-law was bleeding and was in a critical condition. Some days later, the police came to record her statement along with the Deputy Commissioner. She handed over her clothes as evidence. They were provided medical treatment, she states. She also recollects that she saw police constables with the army that night but says that, “they could not help me. They had themselves been beaten by army men”.

All houses had similar stories, some concerning one or two and some concerning entire households of women. Many of them told us that the minor teenaged girls who were in the house were also raped, but that they collectively decided not to mention their names to the police. In many of the statements, the survivor mentions only her own name or that of married relatives. Often they mention that all the ‘vulnerable’ women other than themselves were away from the house that night, perhaps to protect them. Chasfeeda recollected to a team of researchers from JKCCS/SGKP: “I remember at 11:30 p.m., there was a knock. There were 20-21 army men. Some entered the house”. After half an hour of her husband being taken away, some army men came back and raped her in the dark. “They had kept the weapons on the ground while raping me. I refused to be examined by the military doctor and gave my statement to the police only, who came after seven days. I also produced leftover liquor bottles.” She stated that her older son was also badly tortured, given electrical shocks in his testicles, and chilli powder inserted in his anus. His condition was critical and he remained bedridden for weeks after his torture.

Minor girls were also raped, but only three—one of them a Polio patient—dared to get themselves examined. This reluctance was very likely due to the social stigma attached to rape and the fear that it would become difficult to get them married. The attempt at hiding the rapes of the minors ultimately did not protect them. The stigma of rape got attached to the names of the village women–minor, married or old, whether they officially spoke about their rapes or hid them.

There are heart-rending stories of a deaf-and-dumb girl and pregnant women being raped. Tamana was in an advanced state of pregnancy, nine months pregnant, when she was raped. Due to the rape she delivered a baby with a fractured arm, a few days after the incident. Another toddler was snatched from her mother when she tried to hug the baby to her chest. The baby was thrown out of the ground floor window. In case of Tamana, her father narrated to me, how his grandchild became part of war even before coming into this world.

My family consisted of my old father, an eldest son working in the police department and his wife aged 20 years, my second son, aged 15 years, my third son, aged 12 years, three daughters, my wife, Ufaq and my stepmother. We lived in a two and a half storey house. Both the storeys consisted of four rooms each. Tamana my eldest daughter was pregnant at that point and was at our place i.e. her parental home when she was raped.

Tamana’s mother, Ufaq is a survivor herself. She (Ufaq) had a clearer idea of what happened, as she was at home with Tamana when she was raped. They had both been asleep for about an hour in a room on the ground floor. Ufaq’s father- in-law was sleeping in the next room while her husband was sleeping with their two sons on the first floor. She narrated:

I heard an unusual sort of noise and thought it was a cat. After sometime I went out of my room and saw three army men through the windows of my father-in-law’s room. I was able to see their uniforms in the moonlight. They were wearing helmets and jackets as well. My aged father-in-law was paralyzed and bedridden. He was unable to do anything. I lit a lantern, opened the door and ran upstairs with my daughter to the second floor. I opened the door to the porch, and was planning to jump out as I realized there was no other option. I told my daughter that we should leave. My daughter, who was nine months pregnant, was terrified. She gripped my hair tight, and started screaming, ‘don’t leave me alone at their (the army’s) mercy’. When the army men entered, I saw they had zips of their pants already opened and they had clearly come with the intention of raping us.

They asked for keys to the other rooms. Her husband had already had been taken away by the army. Her daughter Tamana had been separated from her. Tamana was taken to another room and raped there. According to Ufaq:

Three army men caught hold of me and 8-10 army men raped me in turns. They had huge battery torches with them and they used them to see my naked body, while making lewd remarks. They raped me for several hours. After sometime I fell unconscious because of the pain.

Tamana gave birth to a child, who had a fractured arm, after three days of the incident. The Medico-Legal Certificate of Tamana’s son, dated 21.03.2014, confirms his birth and the injury to his arm, “due to manhandling by soldiers”.

One of the survivors was 13 to 14 years of age (as per the SHRC judgment), and about 16 years old according to her own statements to JKCCS/SGKP, but she was not included among the ‘minors’ in the police record as her hymen was ruptured; she had been married 11 days prior to this fateful night. On the night of 23rd and 24th February she was in her in-law’s house when the security personnel of 4 and 24 Rajputana Rifles forced their entry into the house. The men were ordered to move out of the house and 4-5 army men entered her room and raped her. In the morning, she was rescued by the villagers when army had left the village and was taken to a doctor for treatment and examination. In her police statement the same survivor states that she raised an alarm but no one came to her rescue. She had resisted hard but was unable to overpower the army men.

The soldiers ignored the small children who were crying and screaming as their mothers, sisters and grandmothers were raped. Meanwhile, the Commanding Officer of the army was at the interrogation centre, barely a few yards away. He was clearly aware that there was something ‘unusual’ going on, as several witnesses report that he shone a powerful torch on the window and shouted at the soldiers to keep the noise down, during the rapes. It does seem like—as the women have said—the soldiers had orders to rape them. A toddler was thrown out of the window by soldiers from the ground floor of the house, and later rescued by the police constable Abdul Ghani in the early hours of 24th February, when he was taking rounds of the houses of the village. The child had been lying on the snow for several hours. The constable picked him from the garden area and kept the child on the verandah of the house. He went into the house and, as he had done in other homes, covered the naked, barely conscious survivor of sexual violence he found there with a blanket. He told her that her child was on the verandah and was slightly injured, but was otherwise fine. But the mother was unable to move and could not get her child back into the house, till her husband returned.

The Knock on Durri’s Door

My sister and I hugged the kangri even closer. We were scared of that knocking. It seemed someone wanted to break down the door of our house. My grandfather quickly got up and opened the door. I heard few words “Kitnai admi ho ghar mai” (how many men are you in the house). “Koi nahi sahib bas mai hun” (no one, just me). I tried to stand up. I was stopped by someone. It was Amina, she held my hand tight. As I turned towards her, I could see the disapproval on her face. Now I tried to hear more clearly. I noticed Amina and Fatimah were doing the same. In middle of all this I could hear a female voice. My mother was pleading with someone. Suddenly ‘toth’ screamed “Haa Khudayo” (Oh God!). Within no time an army soldier appeared infront of us. I could smell something awful from him and then I saw that he had a bottle of alcohol in his hand. My throat was dry. I could not even scream. I could not even stand, it was as if the earth had gripped me. My sister Fatimah and Amina held me tight from both sides. I could feel their fingers digging into my arms. From one the soldiers became six as others joined the first one. I wanted to scream. I could not hear my grandfather speak. I didn’t know where they took my mother. One of them gripped my hair. I held his feet. I remember begging him, “khuda kai liyai humai chhod do, hum nai kuch nahi kiya’ (for god’s sake please leave us, we are innocent). I even bowed my forehead onto his shoes. He dragged me to kitchen. My mother was already there. I screamed with all my energy, “Mouji meh bachaay tii” (mother, save me). How could she, I don’t want to share all that I saw and remember happening to her. My pheran was torn and with that my whole life.

When I regained consciousness, my head was blank and I felt numb. My face was wet. I realized I was weeping. I was naked, not just my body but my soul. My mother was in that room with me. She was unconscious or pretending to be. She had turned her face away from me. I heard someone crying. It was my brother, he covered me with something. I don’t remember clearly what it was. I haven’t asked him till now. We never spoke about that night again. But I remember I could not feel my lower body.

That one night has become my life. No matter what I do, where I go or what I think. That night never leaves me. It’s with me all the time, when I pray, when I cook, when I clean myself. I curse them (the army) all the time and will curse them all my life. People console me. They say you must forget and move on. But that’s easier said than done. It’s difficult; it’s like losing your eyes and believing you never had them.

I did not give a statement to police. My family feared no one would marry me. I never married. It’s not that I don’t want to but my health does not allow me. I am not fit to marry. I don’t want to ruin someone’s life. Besides when I saw how girls from my village were being treated by their in-laws, I chose not to marry. We never spoke to anyone about my friend Amina being raped. When we met after that night, we cried and cried. We are still friends but we have an unspoken rule—never speak about that night. I am a rape survivor from Kunan and Poshpora—I am breathing but not alive”.

Excerpted with permission from Do you remember Kunan Poshpora?, Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Samreena Mushtaq, Munaza Rashid, and Natasha Rather, Zubaan.

Urvashi Butalia is founder, Zubaan.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.