Shopian ight again
If the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has already pronounced its verdict on the Shopian double rape and murder case ruling out both the rape and murder of the victims why did the interlocutors meet the affected family? The question has generated suspense among the observers after the interlocutors’ panel on Kashmir visited Shopian yesterday, reportedly on the instructions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minster P Chidambaram.
While justice still eludes the family of Asiya Jan and Neelofar, allegedly raped and murdered by men in uniform in May 2009, the interlocutors’ visit to Shopian hasn’t enthused anyone—not even Shakeel Ahmad Ahanger, the husband of Neelofar and brother of Asiya Jan who told the media that he had “no expectations” from them.
If their visit to the area has done anything, it has renewed the focus on the gruesome case which triggered massive protests across Kashmir, leading to a CBI probe. “I was surprised to read that the interlocutors met the family of the Shopian victims when the Central government itself has closed the case and failed to ensure justice to the victims,” said a political scientist, insisting not to be named.
“It indicates that the case still haunts the Government of India, given the fact that it marked the beginning of unrest in the Valley when the present government led by Omar Abdullah took over.” In December 2009, the CBI filed a charge sheet against 13 people including six doctors and lawyers for allegedly “fabricating” evidence in the aftermath of the recovery of two bodies. The CBI informed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that a charge sheet had been filed before a Chief Judicial Magistrate against 13 people for allegedly creating false evidence and witnesses.
But notwithstanding the verdict, which was duly endorsed by the state government, the interlocutors’ panel led by journalist Dilip Padgaonkar visited Shopian on Tuesday and met Shakeel Ahanger.“The Home Minister is well aware of all the facts about the rape and murder case, which was hushed up by the CBI. The culprits are roaming free while the victims were made the culprits,” Shakeel told the interlocutors, who had to leave the place in a state of dismay, though they reportedly told him that they had been sent by the Prime Minister and Home Minister to get “their side of the story.”
A member of the Majlis-e-Mashawarat, which is fighting for justice to Shopian victims, questioned why the government of India was bothered about “their side” of the story when the facts were known to all.“So far countless agencies and organizations visited Shopian to ascertain the facts. But at the end, the CBI gave clean chit to the accused and made victims appear like culprits. Now which side of the story does the GOI want to hear? Some credible agencies have already reported that rape and murder took place. But the GOI has been in the state of denial,” the member said. “This is just adding salt to the injuries of the victims’ relatives and family. Either the GOI must ensure justice to the families, which it doesn’t seem to be interested in, or it must not send people to hear the stories which it ultimately ignores.”
It is not only the interlocutors’ visit but a statement by noted writer and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy that has renewed focus on Shopian tragedy. “Yesterday I travelled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get Insaf—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope,” she said in a statement yesterday.
Pertinently, an autopsy report had confirmed that the women were raped and the government-appointed commission said that four police officers were involved in destroying some of the key evidence following which they were suspended and arrested. The case was then handed over to CBI which concluded that the women “died of drowning”—a ruling which evoked severe protests in Kashmir after being rejected by one and all, including Majlis-e-Mashawarat.
The drowning theory corroborated the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s initial statement on the case, though he later said he had been misled by the Shopian district administration and police.
The Delhi-based Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice (IWIJ), which had sent its team to the valley on a fact finding mission, in its report said that the Jammu and Kashmir government was involved in a major hush-up of the case. The report argued that as for “accidental drowning of the two women in the nallah (stream), where no one in recent or living memory has ever drowned, we would need to be more than merely credulous to believe that”.
The IWIJ said that during its team’s visit to Shopian in August 2009 it found that the water in the stream was only ankle-deep -- not enough for anybody to drown in it.
In September this year, the state government reinstated the four police officials allegedly involved in the incident.