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J&K ‘gang rape’ admission hope

Srinagar, July 1: Jammu and Kashmir High Court today asked the state to explore the possibilities of compensating victims of the alleged 1991 gang rape by the army at Kunan Poshpora, in a boost to their families and rights activists fighting for justice.

Scores of soldiers had allegedly gang-raped dozens of young and old women on the intervening night of February 23 and 24, 1991, which later triggered massive protests in Kashmir.

The army and the Centre claim the rapes never happened. The Press Council of India, invited by the army to investigate, dismissed the villagers’ allegations as a “massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathisers”.

A division bench of the high court, hearing the petition by survivors of the alleged mass rape and torture, asked the government “to explore the possibilities of payment of compensation (to the victims) within three weeks”.

Khurram Parvez, a joint spokesperson for the Kunan Poshpora Village Committee, Support Group for Justice for Kunan Poshpora and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society today said it was a sort of admission that the crime had taken place.

“Compensation (to be) paid by the government is an acceptance that the crimes actually took place and should be followed by prosecutions of the accused army personnel and all those responsible for the cover-ups over the last 23 years,” he said.

“After 23 years and countless judicial and extra-judicial attempts to cover up the Kunan Poshpora case, today’s high court order is an important moment in the process of remembering, resisting and ensuring that the crimes and the lies of the state are contested.”

Salman Khurshid had stirred a hornet’s nest last year when, as then foreign minister, he expressed “shame” at the alleged incident and “shock” at being unable “to do anything about it”.

In September 1991, the state police’s then director of prosecution had written in a closure report that the case was “unfit for criminal prosecution” as the “incident was stage-managed”. He said witness statements were “stereotyped” and had “serious discrepancies and contradictions”.

However, the police made the closure report public only in March last year, filing it before a Kupwara court after a public interest litigation asked Jammu and Kashmir High Court to order a re-investigation.

The families challenged the police report and asked for a re-investigation. On June 18 last year, the Kupwara court ordered an investigation.

Earlier, the state human rights commission (SHRC) had also recommended compensation for the victims and ordered a re-investigation.

“The high court order is an important judicial determination that the SHRC recommendations on the rapes are fully supported by evidence on record,” joint spokesperson Parvez said.