Dolores Chew


On the night of 23 February 1991, soldiers of the 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army cordoned off the two villages Kunan and Poshpora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district during a ‘crackdown’.  They took the men away and held them in barns and then gang-raped the women.


This is the start of the narrative of that terrible event, by Natasha Rather.  Girls and women ranging in age from 13 to 80 were raped.  Natasha continues and then Ifrah Butt picks up the thread.   Ifrah and Natasha are part of a group of five young Kashmiri women (that include Samreen Mushtaq, Essar Batool and Munaza Rashid) who have authored the book, “Do you remember Kunan Poshpora the Story of a Mass Rape?” – published by Zubaan, the Delhi-based  feminist press  (imprint of Kali).   It is part of an eight-volume series on “Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia”.  “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?  is a personal account of their journey, examining questions of justice, stigma, state responsibility, and the long-term impacts of trauma. With rarely heard voices and concerns, this book gives readers an opportunity to know the lives of ordinary Kashmiris in a state suffocated by thirty years of military rule.” (


Natasha and Ifrah were in Kolkata at the invitation of WSS (Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression) and over the course of a few days they spoke many times to small and large audiences.


Coincidentally their speaking engagements coincided with the killing a few days earlier of Burhan Wani the young Kashmiri guerrilla leader, by Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and 19 Rashtriya Rifles.  The killing of Burhan Wani  made their description of what happened in Kunan-Poshpora, the denial of justice, the impunity of the security forces, the utllization of women’s bodies to dishonour the men and life under military occupation very real.


Explaining how they took up the case of the Kunan-Poshpora, the young women said they were inspired by the movement that spread across India in the wake of the December 2012 gang-rape and death of  Jyoti Singh (Nirbhaya).  They took up the case and reached out to the survivors of Kunan-Poshpora.  They said there is no word in Kashmiri for ‘rape’. In order for the group of young women to file a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) case, they needed to provide the identities of the women.  Because of the stigma of rape some women didn’t want their identities in public documents, but, despite that , 50 women came forward and identified themselves.  Survivors said it was very important for them to speak, to prevent other rapes; to challenge the power of the army.  Women idenfied as martyrs, shahid.  “We suffered for the freedom struggle; it’s not our fault. The shame is on the perpetrators.”


The exchanges between the young women and the audiences were frank and free.  Mostly the audiences were sympathetic to the lives of Kashmiri people under military occupation.  In one instance there was a person from Manipur in the audience who recounted very similar atrocities and impunity at the hands of Indian army and para-military forces.  Comparisons were made to situations of colonialism.


The young women who have courageously taken up this case in a situation of armed occupation are part of a new generation. For them it is clear. They want azaadi, as they explained calmly, in the question and answer and discussion that followed their presentation,  to somewhat shocked audiences.  While the audiences were sympathetic in general and condemned the human rights and civil liberties abuses of state armed occupation, and the dangers of false nationalism, many were somewhat stunned when in answer to questions about the women’s position on referendum, autonomy within India, etc., the response came out clearly and without ambiguity, azaadi.


For this generation, youth like Burhan Wani are icons.   As they say, “Burhan was a brilliant student. If Burhan was a terrorist, who was responsible?”, referring to the thrashing and humiliation that Burhan, his brother and a friend received at the hands of security forces.  It left his brother unconscious.   Burhan Wani was 15 years old then.  As he left the scene he said, “Iska badla main loonga.” (I will take revenge for this). This was the day the student Burhan died and Burhan the commander was born.


During the discussions it was also said that Kashmiris resist in different ways; that they are not under the control of religious fundamentalists and they are not communalists; that they see Pandits as Kashmiris. Religion does not enter the picture.  Hindu pilgrims have never been attacked.  However, they oppose attempts to build ghettos for Pandits; this smacks of the ‘settlements’ built for Israelis in Palestine.


The young women appealed to their audiences, “We as Kashmiris request you…our generation is getting wiped out.”


When asked what they wished they said “Azaadi”.  This made some in the audience pause.

Top - Home