Natasha Rather speaks on mass rape, “there have been countless attempts to cover up the incident, despite many evidences in the case”
Gender justice is high on the agenda for 5 young women seeking to highlight the suffering of abused women in Kashmir. Natasha Rather is co-author of a newly released book “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” which is helping to address the stigma attached to rape. Twenty five years ago on the evening of 23 February, 1991, soldiers belonging to the 4th Rajputana Rifles conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the Kupwara district of Indian Occupied Kashmir carrying out mass rape and torture against residents of the twin villages of Kunan Poshpora. In a Question and Answer session, Natasha highlights the bravery of women who refused to remain victims and spent years fighting to hold the perpetrators to account.
1) Please introduce yourself and tell readers where you are based?
I am Natasha Rather and I am a development sector professional based in Indian Occupied Kashmir, currently working on rural sustainable livelihood issues. I am also a researcher with focus on gender justice and feminism in South Asia. I have been involved in the reopening of the Kunan Poshpora mass rape case as a co-petitioner and have also co-authored a book called “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” along with 4 other activists.
2) When did you first hear about Kunan Poshpora, please explain what happened there?
The first time I heard about the mass rape of women in Kunan Poshpora was during my college days when the infamous Amarnath Land Row happened back in 2008. The protests and the curfews confined me to my house and I happened to read a report on the internet about the case. In 1991, during the intervening night between the 22nd and the 23rd of February, close to a 100 women were raped by a battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Armed Forces, as the men were made to come out of their homes and tortured, during a cordon and search operation in Kunan and Poshpora villages in the remote district of Kupwara.
3) How did you and your 4 other co-authors first become involved in exploring this tragedy?
In 2012, the rape of a young girl in India’s capital made the entire country rise up in protest. Some of my co-authors (Samreen, Ifrah and Munaza) were working with the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) in Srinagar at that time and were examining cases of systematic sexual violence against Kashmiri women perpetrated by the Indian Armed Forces, especially the case of mass rape in Kunan Poshpora. The country wide demand in India for justice for the victim of rape in New Delhi led to discussions between my co-authors about how justice was an illusory thing for the survivors of sexual violence in Kashmir and how important was it to demand justice. I was asked if I wanted to be a part of the petition to reopen this case and I agreed. The petition was thus submitted in the High Court in Srinagar in 2013 by 50 women to re-open the case and this led us on the difficult journey of fighting for justice.
4) How did you gain the trust of the victims?
The unfortunate incident of Kunan Poshpora has served as an attention grabbing human interest story and has been reported in the media without any sensitivity for the survivors. These women have been portrayed as victims. The reports have been devoid of any recognition for the independent struggle that these people have put up for the last 2 and half decades. The people of these twin villages thus have a natural tendency to be wary of strangers. When we first visited Kunan Poshpora, it was to inform the people about the initiative of 50 women from various backgrounds to reopen the case, through the petition. It was after a few visits when the elders of the village were convinced that concrete work was being done and visits were not only to write reports and human interest stories, was how we really gained trust of the people.
5) What was your aim in writing the book?
The episode of mass rape in Kunan Poshpora has been falsified and denied by the Indian Armed Forces and there have been countless attempts to cover up the incident, despite many evidences in the case. The aim behind writing the book was to place the facts and evidences within the realm of public knowledge. We also wanted to highlight how the social life of these survivors was affected after this incident, despite which they never stopped their struggle. There have been other cases of sexual violence by the Armed Violence against not only women but also men. The aim was also to bring these facts to the fore and highlight how the impunity is guaranteed in such cases.
Additionally, in our struggle against occupation, it is important that we document each event and not lose it to memory. Kashmiri people need to author their own history to prevent cases like Kunan Poshpora from being forgotten or become an obscure part of a distorted version of our history.
6) What practical issues did you face researching an incident that occurred 25 years ago?
Researching and writing about an incident that took place 25 years back had us faced with many difficulties. To rely upon people’s memories for documentation can be a tricky thing, especially when those memories are repressed. It took us long sessions of discussions with the survivors to understand the situation back then. Even recreating a social map of the twin villages as they were in 1991 was a tough task. There were several reports to read and also some that we could not find or access and had to rely upon what we could obtain.
7) What reaction have you had from Kashmiris?
There have been mixed reactions from fellow Kashmiris but mostly positive. Initially, there were many people who tried to dissuade us from venturing into this highly dangerous domain. But we have mostly got appreciated our efforts in reopening the case and documenting the 25 years of struggle of the survivors. There has been a lot of encouraging response to our initiative and work.
8) How have you been treated by Indian authorities?
Since the time that we filed the petition the authorities have been checking our backgrounds. We have been treated as some miscreants who are trying to get into ‘human rights’. Receiving condescending comments from the authorities’ side outside the court rooms has been a regular thing. Just before the release of the book in Srinagar, the authorities made sure that we have issues with finding a venue that is spacious enough to accommodate the number of people that had shown willingness to attend the event.
9) You recently launched your book, “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” please describe this event and what you achieved?
The book was first launched at the Jaipur Literature Festival on the 24th of January this year where one of my co-authors Essar Batool, spoke about the book. The audience, which was mostly Indian, received the book very well. In fact, many people from India showed a lot of interest in knowing more about the struggle of Kashmiri people against oppression. The book was released in Srinagar on the 23rd of February by the survivors of the mass rape. The response was overwhelming, seen in jam packed hall where people chose to stand for close to 2 hours to be a part of the event (owing to the limited number of chairs in a small hall). We have received a lot of encouragement and appreciation for this work from many quarters. It was commendable that so many young people spoke their minds out about oppression and their own experiences.
10) How has the book helped the survivors of Kunan Poshpora?
The book, as mentioned above presents evidences in the case and references from official documents which proves that the incident took place and that this is not a “hoax” as has been termed by the Indian State. The book has helped in making known the nuances of the case, the incident of that night and the struggles that ensued. It has also led to discussions on issues of systemic violence in Kashmir and associated impunity. There has been an increase in the support for the survivors in their struggle for justice.
11) What do you hope readers will take-away from reading your book?
Apart from understanding the case of Kunan Poshpora, which the book highlights, the readers will also be able to understand the importance of writing narratives and documentation of memory. In the book, we also write about own experiences of coming out from ignorance into becoming conscious of the reality around us. I am hoping that the book will inspire more young people to read and write about our history.
12) How will you continue your fight for truth and justice?
The mass rape and torture of Kunan Poshpora is not the only one case of violence against the people of Kashmir by the Indian Armed Forces. The people of Kashmir have been targeted and violence has perpetrated in various forms. I shall continue writing and documenting to protest against this unwarranted treatment.
13) What would be the best outcome for survivors of this tragedy?
Ideally, the best outcome for the survivors of this tragedy would be that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Unfortunately, no case of violence or crime against a member of the Indian Armed Forces has been tried in civilian court. No prosecutions have been made so far. These Forces continue to be granted impunity under legislations such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The case which is in the Supreme Court of India is being treated trivially by the Indian State and all tactics have been used to delay progress. We hope that justice is provided yet we realize the improbability of this happening.
Thank-you for your time
“Kashmir: The Kunan-Poshpora Tragedy : Decades of Inaction “Mass Rape by Indian Army”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”