On the night of October 10, 1992, an army unit of the 22nd Grenadiers entered the village of Chak Saidapora, about four kilometres south of the town of Shopian, district Pulwama, on a search operation for suspected militants.
During the operation, at least six and probably nine women, including an eleven-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman, were gang-raped by several of the army soldiers. Asia Watch and PHR interviewed a gynaecologist and assistant surgeon at the Shopian District Hospital who examined seven of the women on October 11 and the remaining two on October 12.
The doctor stated that seven of the women were brought to the hospital at 1:30 PM by the Station House Officer (SHO) of the local Jammu and Kashmir police station in Shopian.
She told PHR/Asia Watch: All of the women were weeping. They told me that “something bad” had happened at about midnight, that 25 army men had come into the village and into their homes. They told me that the soldiers had accused them of feeding and sheltering the militants, and asked them how many militants stay there.
The doctor conducted sperm tests and examined the seven women separately that day. Because the SHO had mentioned nine cases, the next day, October 12, the doctor went to the village where the rapes reportedly occurred to locate the other two, Nusrat (name changed), 20, and her sister Afshana (name changed), 18. She examined both of the young women, but did not conduct a slide test for sperm at that time.
On October 14, the Assistant Sub-Inspector of the Jammu and Kashmir police station in Shopian, Ghulam Nabi, brought Afshana and Nusrat to the hospital for complete examinations.
The doctor described to PHR/Asia Watch the following findings for all nine women: Zainab (name changed), 11, had abrasions and bruises on her chest and face. Her vaginal area was tender, and she had a ruptured hymen with a one half centimetre vaginal tear. Blood from the tear had coagulated. The sperm test was positive.
Saleema (name changed), 60, had no marks of injury elsewhere on her body but was very tender around the vagina. The sperm test was positive.
Haseena (name changed), 30, had abrasions and bruises on her face and in the genital area. The sperm test was positive.
Nusrat (name changed), 20, was also tender around the vagina and had a torn hymen.
Parveena (name changed), had marks on her chest and abdomen. The sperm test was positive.
Afshana, 18, was very tender around the vagina. Her hymen had been torn.
The sperm tests for Gazala, Shahida, Afreen and Bisma (names changed) were negative, but they exhibited similar tenderness and some marks of injury.
The doctor told Asia Watch/ PHR that she gave a copy of the medical report to the local police Station House Officer.
On October 12, an army official came to the hospital to ask about the incident and she told him the findings of the examinations. Asia Watch and PHR interviewed the nine women, who narrated following accounts: Saleema, about 25, testified that on the night of October 10 she was in the house that was owned by her father in law, who is about 70, and his wife. Both of her in-laws in the house at the time. Saleema’s father-in-law told Asia Watch/PHR that during the night, there was knocking at the door and three soldiers entered and asked, “Where are the womenfolk?” Saleema continued, I told them they are sleeping. They went into that room to search it and as they started searching they told me to get out. I was taken away by other soldiers.
Saleema told Asia Watch/PHR: One soldier kept guard on the door and two of them raped me. They said, “We have orders from our officers to rape you.” I said, “You can shoot me but don’t rape me.” They were there about half an hour. Two raped me and two raped [her sister-in-law] Haseena. Then they left.
Their father-in-law was released about half an hour later.
Afreen and Nusrat told Asia Watch/PHR that they lived nearby and were asleep around midnight when about eight or nine soldiers came to the house. Their brother went to the door and said, “The army has come to search our house.” Four soldiers entered the house and ordered the father and brother to be taken out of the house. The soldiers entered a room where the women were sleeping.
Afreen and Nusrat told PHR/Asia Watch: They did not say anything when they came in but they were talking among themselves but we could not understand. They covered my eyes and mouth with cloths and told us to lie down.
Afreen and Nusrat said they had been raped by each of the soldiers. The soldiers struck their 10-year-old sister-in-law with rifle butts and sent her out of the room.
Parveena told PHR and Asia Watch that there was a knock at the door of her in-laws’ house at about midnight. When my father-in-law answered, he was sent away. Three soldiers came into the room and told me to put my daughter aside. When I refused, he picked her up and put her in a corner. I told him not to touch me and he said, “We have orders, what can we do?” All three of them raped me.
Zainab told Asia Watch and PHR that four soldiers came to the house, but only two came inside while two remained outside. She said that when her father opened the door, the soldiers kicked him and sent him away. At that point, Zainab broke down and was not able to continue. Gazala stated that three soldiers entered her house and took her husband outside.
Only one came into her room. He told me, “I have to search you.” I told him women are not searched, but he said, “I have orders” and he tore off my clothes and raped me.
Shahida stated that three soldiers came into her room and told her to take off her clothes. When she protested that she was an old woman, one of them kicked her in the chest and she fell. Then he put one hand over her mouth pulled off her salwar (loose trousers), and raped her. In response to requests by Asia Watch and PHR for information from the government about the incident, authorities have stated that the army unit, normally stationed in Chak Saidapora, “conducted search operations in the village on specific information that some militants were hiding there.” They stated that the search was carried out “from 0010 hours to 0145 hours during which seven houses were searched in the presence of an elderly man.”
Senior government officials have also admitted that the search was carried out in violation of military regulations prohibiting soldiers from entering villages after dark. In the statement provided to PHR/Asia Watch, Indian authorities claimed that “the residents of the 7 houses identified and confirmed that the same 3 army persons had entered and searched each house and hence it is difficult to believe that the same persons could have indulged in acts of rape in different houses within an hour and 35 minutes.” The government statements adds that, “Two of the women who have been alleged to have been raped were wives of terrorists viz. Takub Hussain a Platoon Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen and Mohammad Yakub, a Group Commander of the same militant group.”
The women did not identify the soldiers as being the same three in each case. As we have noted above, one of the ways security forces in Kashmir use rape is as a weapon against women suspected of being sympathetic to or related to alleged militants.
While Asia Watch/PHR do not know whether such suspicions motivated the soldiers responsible for the rapes of these women, it is clear that the authorities intend to use the accusation that the women associated with “terrorists” both to discredit the women’s testimony and -implicitly at least – shirk responsibility for the abuse.
Moreover, even if the women were affiliated with any militant group, that in no way justifies the use of rape by security personnel. In response, the government has claimed that, “the statement that two of the alleged victims in the Shopian case were wives of terrorists is by no means an attempt to shirk responsibility. The Government’s intention in bringing this fact to light was to caution Asia Watch about the possible motivations behind the allegations which would be to malign the security forces.” The government statement also claims that only four of the women were medically examined, and have questioned the credibility of their testimony on these grounds. PHR/Asia Watch were provided with specific medical evidence and testimony on all nine cases. Hospital authorities also stated that the evidence was also provided to army officials and was, presumably, a significant factor in the government’s decision to order a police investigation into the case. The government statement has specifically attempted to discredit the testimony of the 11-year-old Zahida, stating that “During the enquiry she was not found to have any visible signs or marks of injury or any physical excesses nor did she display any fear or anger and appeared to be oblivious of the alleged incident.”
In fact, the doctor who examined Zahida (11) the day after the incident confirmed that her hymen was torn, that blood had coagulated around the tear and that she was very tender around the vaginal area. When Zahida described to PHR/Asia Watch how she was raped, she broke down and was unable to continue speaking.
According to the English language daily, Kashmir Times of October 14, 1992, police in Shopian registered a criminal case of gang-rape against the BSF on October 13.
After Asia Watch/PHR published this case in the report, Rape in Kashmir: A Crime of War, the government of India provided a statement claiming that The case was enquired into by a senior officer of the army as well as by an officer of the level of Senior Superintendent of Police M.M. Rafiqi who concluded that the complaints and the evidence were both unreliable and the allegations could not be sustained. Two independent enquiries thus came to the same conclusion, exposing the efforts of the militants to make false charges and terrorise or otherwise use innocent citizens to discredit the security forces. This statement provides no explanation for the claim that the evidence – presumably including the medical report – was “unreliable.” Neither of the two investigations were “independent,” since they were conducted by the army and the police. Under Indian law, the government should have insured that the investigation was conducted by a judicial magistrate.