‘Govt used my name and standing as a defence against the out cry over Kunan-Poshpora’

Wajahat Habibullah, divisional commissioner of Kashmir investigated allegations of mass rape by the Army, speaks to Arun Mohan Sukumar about the incident.

Wajahat Habibullah, who as divisional commissioner of Kashmir investigated allegations of mass rape by the Army, speaks to Arun Mohan Sukumar about the incident, subsequent inquiry and why the govt deleted portions of his report.

The Indian Express story on the Kunan Poshpora rapes investigation suggests…
There was a cover up.

The story quotes the then deputy commissioner (Kupwara) S M Yasin as having received both threats and promises of promotion during his investigation. Were you similarly approached to turn in a favourable report?
No. Though my report left a number of questions unanswered, inquiry by me was only a preliminary one. But nothing further was done and the case was closed. It is quite improbable that a crime of that magnitude took place as alleged. I would not go so far as to agree with Yasin when he says “it is the biggest blot on the face of democratic India”. Yasin was carried away by emotion, he is a Kashmiri himself. I did not tell him I had not given the government my report yet they have “published” it. It is true that I had submitted it but the government only published part of my report — a critical portion of it was excised.

Why do you think the government did that?
Well, obviously, the government wanted to use my name and standing as a defence against what it saw as an international outcry against the alleged incident.

Why would a village, comprising ‘simple folk’ as you say in your report, complain about a mass rape rather than hush it up?
Is it because militants put pressure on them?

At the risk of attracting stigma that has stayed on for decades?
They were terrorised. That said, I agree such a complaint would not have been made unless there had been some incidents.

Surely, one or two (incidents of rape) could not have compelled the government to redact some portions from your report?
They had to show the commissioner was a man who was looked up to by the public has rejected the allegation.

What was the government’s attitude towards the investigative process?
When I first said was going there, Governor G C Saxena tried to discourage me. He said “no need to go (to Kunan-Poshpora), let the Army report.” Saxena was under a lot of pressure from the IG of the Border Security Force, (A K) Patel and others.

But you didn’t give them a clean chit
The ‘ifs and buts’ in such circumstances never pay off. Kashmir and India were on trial in those days.

When you raised the deletion of some portions of your report with Saxena, what did he say?
He said nahin, let the whole controversy settle down, then we will clarify the matter.

Did you get the impression, going in, that the investigation could be manipulated by the government?
It always was. But that was not my concern. I was a much younger man then. Wouldn’t you have looked at the consequences? A lot of Kashmiris have criticised me for not disclosing (the fact that the government had deleted parts of my report) earlier. I couldn’t embarrass the government.

Where do we go next on Kunan-Poshpora?
If there is still an opportunity to re-probe this case effectively, it should be taken up.