Wande Magazine: As a lawyer what were the legal and technical hitches you faced in dealing with this case?
Munaza Rashid: As a lawyer the first challenge was learning to draft a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), for which I had to read various documents including the BG Verghese report Crisis and Credibility and the SHRC report. We finally drafted a long PIL mentioning the facts and what we wanted from the court. Before the hearing of any PIL, the document has to be sent to High Court to be registered, so we sent it. The court responded by directing us to furnish the names of all the petitioners and their addresses, signatures and photo copies of the identity cards. Till then there were a hundred of us but eventually the number of petitioners went down from 100 to 50 because some women were not comfortable in revealing their identities and they thought it would create problems for them – so they withdrew. This was the first hitch and I had to draft the entire PIL again and it took me one more month.
I remember the first date of hearing and they asked us what our locus standi is and on what basis we were filing the PIL and that we were not one among the victims and have the victims authorized us to etc. The judge asked us where have we been for the last twenty years and he didn’t listen to us. He just threw the file to his clerk and said that we should first find out what’s our locus standi. He asked the clerk to get him a law on that.
On the next day of hearing, we gave him the judgment where we proved that as a people of the state, we can file a PIL if we think it’s important and we need court of law to work on it.
It took considerable time, some five or six hearings for them to declare that the matter is still open in the lower court of Kupwara. Till that point, we had no idea about it and we now started getting to lower court Kupwara to pursue the case.
WM: Taking up a rape case after two decades is a legal challenge as evidences, witnesses, documents, etc may not be available. How did you get around it?
MR: One of the strangest things about this case is that everything is available – every statement is available. It’s a case where each piece of evidence is available. The only difficulty was that once we went through these documents, we realized that some of the documents are missing. Either they must have lost these, or they are deliberately trying to hide these documents. We went to meet this doctor who had examined these women. He said that he had submitted an MLC at that time. But he said that when he went to the village, he gave an MLC to each woman but there is no MLC in the file. Either they have destroyed these, or lost or whatever.
They have really worked hard to hide and destroy the evidence but there is still lot of evidence to implicate them.
WM: Tell us about your court experiences while handling this case?
MR: I was closely observing the case, even though I was not pleading the case - Parvez Imroz was pleading it. During the hearings I observed that even Army realizes that there is considerable evidence against it, but what they were trying to was to prolong it as much as they can. They knew that if this case is treated in court of low or like any other criminal case, and Army men are brought to court, examined and cross examined and legal evidence is taken into cons if this case is treated in court of law or like any other criminal case, and the army men are brought to court, examined and cross examined and legal evidence is taken into consideration – they will be implicated. We knew it from day one that they want to prolong it and exhaust us.
I also think this it’s not just media or us who has to follow the case. I think lawyers in the court should see this case, especially female lawyers. The next generation of lawyers should look at the case and not leave it like the Army wants us leave it.
WM: Are there any incidents you would like to share while pursuing this case?
MR: There is one interesting thing that I will share. I was reading the Crisis and Credibility report for the PIL that I had to draft. I remember the way the report was written and what effect it had on me. It is said that if you repeat a lie enough times, it will become truth. And that exactly happened with me. When I went through the book, I actually thought that the Army’s version is correct because it’s a very well and deftly written report. But when I started looking the other way round I realized how cunningly they have fabricated it. The report is written by best minds of their country. They have fabricated it so well that everyone had started believing it.
However, if you read it carefully, there are a lot of things that are missing in the report, like it doesn’t mention that there was a crackdown for three days and they also don’t mention that there were two police constables who were accompanying the army. They only mention the time gap which is later contradicted in the statements of the army. So there are a lot of contradictions.
WM: Getting the survivors to relive their ordeal must have been hard for you as well for these women. Tell me about that and how you managed it?
MR: When we went to Kunan Poshpora, we told them we don’t want to listen to what happened that night. For a rape survivor to narrate their story is to put them again through that trauma. That is very bad, no one should do that. Instead we asked them to tell us what happened after wards. We had thoroughly gone through the documents; we had already analysed and visualized what had happened during that night. Also the male members of the village and the committee formed in the village had been very active throughout in telling us what had happened.
WM: How did this case and your interactions with these women change you at a personal level?
MR: The experience with this case and the book has changed my perspective. I no longer believe what’s out there and what’s told to us. I try to analyse things myself; what has been happening and how it has been happening. Working on this case made me look deep into nature of things in Kashmir. We have a problem in Kashmir. We read Indian authors and readily believe their story. We should be reading Kashmiri authors to understand what they have written because they are the ones who faced it at first hand.
WM: You have been pursuing this case against the second largest army of the world which can go to any extent to silence you. What fears did that create in you and what made you to stand your ground?
MR: I don’t why but I wasn’t much afraid. I think Kashmir today has the world media attention so the Army wouldn’t do much harm. There are other factors. We live in a city; the condition here is very different from a rural Kashmir. I would fear more for the girls who live in the rural areas because something like this can happen in a village and we would come to know about it next day.
WM: How would you comment on the society’s approach towards women who have faced sexual assault?
MR: First of all, the society should stop calling them victims, they are survivors and they have tremendous amount of courage. Rather than victimising them, we should understand that they are living normal lives and are individuals. The society has largely victimised them. A girl from the village told us that whenever she used to go to any marriage functions in the neighbouring villages – other women would point her out and whisper things. That should not happen.
There was also this guy from Kunan Poshpora who had topped 12th class exam but look at how the media reported it – ‘A guy from the village that was mass raped by Army has topped’. Can we just stop labelling them? They know what has happened to them. It’s not our job to remind them.