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Need for a Paradigm Shift?

Sexual Violence and Culture of Impunity in Kashmir

The present discourse addressing the culture of impunity regarding sexual violence by security forces in Kashmir suffers from a structural limitation - its fixation on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990, and the institution that this law protects. The experiences and fate of many cases of sexual violence, where survivors have attempted to access the justice system, suggest a more complex structure of violence and impunity; AFSPA is only a small cog in this giant machinery of institutionalised repression.

What followed the public interest litigation (PIL) in the ­Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) High Court in April last year, demanding the reopening of and reinvestigation into the infamous Kunan-Poshpora “mass rape” case, is a déjà vu of sorts for Kashmiris, for it echoes a familiar series of responses which the survivors of sexual violence from the villages of Kunan and Poshpora had witnessed in 1991 – that investigation process had been handled with much callousness and inherent ­biases. Twenty-two years later, in keeping with the “culture of impunity” which remains inherent in the justice system of Kashmir, the high court quashed the PIL and sent it back to the jurisdiction of the sessions court in Kupwara. Hope was ­rekindled when the ­local court refused to accept the closure report of the police and directed them to reinvestigate the allegations within three months.

That hope, however, died soon, for a familiar pattern ensued, wherein the ­investigation process became a practical joke played on the rape victims. When they reached the police station with their counsel to record their statements on the date decided by the superintendent of police in Kupwara, they were kept waiting for hours, only to be told in the end that the schedule for recording statements had been changed. They were sent back without any alternate date being announced. Later, the time period for investigation was extended by three months. As per media reports, in an apparent attempt to interfere with the process of investigation and intimidate the plaintiffs, a few army and intelligence officials visited the twin villages in June; villagers also alleged that a ­government official had offered them money to stay silent (Greater Kashmir 2013). Till date, in contempt of the court order, no investigation has been carried out. In an apparent attempt to further delay the process, the army has filed a review petition before the Kupwara sessions court, challenging its order. In one of the hearings on the review petition, the army counsel calls this process “a pre-planned, politically motivated game against army”, and that the “statement of victims are stereotyped and like recorded rotten stereo sounds that play rape all over again” (Rising Kashmir News 2014).

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