Kashmir: Justice still eludes

Views from Srinagar

Gulzar Bhat

FINALLY they sought divine intervention by announcing special congregational prayers
on public address system. People, mostly with misty, and a few relatives with blood-hot eyes, across the length and breadth of south Kashmir’s Shopian township that had now witnessed de-peopled alleys and closed shops for more than two weeks came out of their homes and made a beeline for a nearby Eidgah. As hundreds of people gathered to offer the special prayers, the local cleric before leading the prayers gave a rather brief speech with words sticking in his throat. “Let us repose our faith in almighty Allah as He only knows our helplessness.” Soon after his address people stood up in rows and he led the prayers. After he recited some Quranic verses, the whole congregation raised hands in supplication. Gradually all of them broke down. Failed by the political establishment and fed up by the alleged covering up tactics by police and administration people of the town lost all hope.
On the fateful day of May 30, 2009 when the pleasant spring sun heralded a fresh morning, the peace and tranquility of south Kashmir’s Shopian town disturbed suddenly as the word about the murder of two young women spread. The dead bodies of Asiya (17) and her sister-in la-law Neelofar (22), missing from last evening were retrieved near a knee-deep Rambi Ara stream, at Shopian.
Both, on May 29, 2009, had gone to tend their orchard across that shallow Rambi Ara stream. When they did not retune till late, the family searched for them frantically for a few hours and finally reported the matter to police. Next day their dead bodies, with some deep wounds and tattered clothes, were recovered near the stream. Both the women as per the family and local residents were first ravished and then murdered in cold blood, allegedly by the forces. The area has a heavy presence of forces. It is dotted by the camps of CRPF, army and district police lines
Shakeel Ahmad Ahanger, husband of Neelofar and brother of Asiya, said that after reporting the matter to police, he along with a police party set off to search for them. They scanned the area but could not find any trace. Police called off the search effort around 2 in the morning, but he was asked to report as the dawn breaks.
“Next day on May 30, I along with a police party went to the spot after the small hours, a police officer, over the bridge of stream, told me there lays your wife pointing his finger towards a body lying on the boulders. I ran towards the body, she turned out to be my wife lying lifeless. She was dead.” he said. “How come it is possible that a body popped up out of nowhere ,that too next to a CRPF camp manned by always–alert jawans , when only a few hours ago we had searched the spot thoroughly ” asks Ahangar.
For Ahanghar the worst was not yet over. Destiny had another shock in store for him – his younger sister Asiya. Only after some time her body was also retrieved near Aarhama, more than a kilometer downstream. The bodies were taken to a local hospital for autopsy. As the public pressure mounted, a three member team of doctors comprising Dr. Ghulam Qadir Sofi, Dr Mohammed Maqbool and Dr. Nighat Shaheen was called in on the directions of district magistrate from a nearby district Pulwama to conduct the autopsy. The team confirmed that both the victims were violated. A forensic report issued by the Forensic Science Lab Srinagar also established the rape and murder on June 6, 2009. Following the reports, an FIR was registered after six days.
The incident enraged the people and massive protests were held demanding justice for victims. Soon the entire valley witnessed a complete shut down for a few days, the life in Shopian town remained crippled for full 48 days incurring economic loses worth crores of rupees .
The contradictory statements poured in from Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. On the very next day of the incident, he deemed it as a case of drowning, later budging from this statement. Finally Abdullah appointed a one man enquiry commission comprising Justice Muzaffar Jan to probe the case and even apologized people of the area for mishandling the case. The commission besides recommending administrative action against some police officials including the Superintendent of Police Javaid Iqbal Matoo for mishandling the case held :
“The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the death of both Neelofer and Asiya has not been because of any natural cause but the death of both the girls has been caused with the aim to destroy after rape by committing their murder”.
Meanwhile, Kashmir High Court Bar Association also filed a Public Interest Litigation in the matter. A Division Bench of high court while hearing the PIL ordered the arrest of four police personnel including the Superintendent of Police. However, later they were granted bail.
A special investigation Team (SIT) constituted in the matter also questioned the family members of victims and recorded the statements of few others including two witnesses. Both the witnesses were deposed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate who divulged that on May 29, around 8 in the evening they saw a TATA 407, police vehicle parked near the spot of crime. When they walked past the vehicle they heard the cries of women from the vehicle while some masked men in police uniform present there intimidated them and scared them off.
Finally on September 9, 2009, Jammu and Kashmir government handed over the case to CBI. CBI exhumed the bodies and took the samples afresh. After a few months of investigation the agency in its report held the cause of death as drowning and blatantly denied the possibility of rape.
The witnesses also backtracked from their statements allegedly under police pressure. Victims’ family members as well as the local residents refused to buy the CBI’s theory. They alleged that the CBI towed the official line of state government. Sources privy to investigation divulged that a sand bag weighing around 15 kg was put in the stream to check the intensity of water currents but the currents were too weak to move the bag an inch thus there was no possibility of drowning.
In 2010 when the valley witnessed another spell of violence devouring 112 civilians including an eight year old boy, the Congress led UPA II government appointed a team of three interlocutors comprising Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M Ansari on Kashmir to hold a sustained dialogue with all shades of opinion.
The team also visited the bereaved family of Ahanger and assured him of justice. Ahanger said that when the team expressed its wish to meet his family he asked one of its members why they wanted to meet his family when they were entrusted with a rather different job of holding a dialogue vis-à-vis Kashmir issue. Ahanger claimed that the team said that actually congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi wanted them to meet him. “They visited my home. I briefed them about everything. They met my seven year old son. Padgaonker himself went through all the case details and even he broke down.” said Ahanger. “But again it turned out to be a useless exercise as nothing came out of it,” he added

—Courtesy: Greater Kashmir
[Author is a fellow with National Foundation for India, New Delhi]

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