Shopian Rape-Murder: Ten Years on, Family Still Awaits Justice

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Shakeel Ahangar, a relative of the victims in the Shopian case, sets ablaze a copy of the CBI findings, in Srinagar on December 4, 2009, in protest against an alleged cover-up. — Photo was published in The Hindu

EXCLUSIVE | ANATOMY OF INJUSTICE 

On 30th of May 2009, two Kashmiri women were found dead in the vicinity of a high security zone. The post mortem report indicated rape and murder. A commission and Special Investigation Team were set up to probe the case and their findings indicted police officers for “not doing their duties”. Later, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was handed over the probe declared the death cause to be drowning. The bodies were found in a shallow stream and there had been no case of drowning in recent history. The CBI, instead of finding the perpetrators charge-sheeted the doctors who did the postmortem and the lawyers who represented the family. Ten years on, justice still eludes the family and people of Shopian.

Ishtiaq Wani & Raashid Hassan | Caravan Daily

SHOPIAN (Jammu & Kashmir) – Shakeel hasn’t given up, nor have the people here, the tragedy of Shopian rape and murder is still etched in the collective memory of the people.  On May 30 every year, the district shuts down in civil protest in their memory.

Unlike, the “Wall of Memory”– a hoarding with the names of all the victims of rape and murder in the Kashmir Valley, installed after the incident, reduced to an iron frame on the periphery of their graveyard, the memories are still etched in the collective memory of the people of Shopian and Kashmir.

On May 30 in 2009, in the gentle sunshine of the morning, people filled the streets to protest, what they called the “rape and murder” of the two women, their dead bodies were carried in blankets. What happened to them?

17-year old Asiya Jan (left) and her sister-in-law Neelofer Jan

The answers elude even after ten years and so is the justice for the family, who moved from pillar to post for justice. The travails not standing, the family hasn’t given up, even in the face of “state institutions going against them”.

Previous afternoon, around 4 to 5 pm, Asiya Jan, 17, along with her sister-in-law, Neelofer Jan, had gone to their recently purchased orchard for work. Nearly 2.5 kilometer from their home in Bongam area of the district. They didn’t return, forcing the family members to search for them.

“After offering Friday prayers, I had lunch at home and returned to my shop. Around 4-5 PM, they went to work, after Asiya returned from the school,” remembers Shakeel, Asiya’s brother.

The way to the orchard passes through a shallow nallah (stream), having a considerable CRPF and police presence on the two sides, who monitor the area. Around 10:30 PM, Asiya’s brother, Shakeel informs the local police station about the missing duo. He kept searching and was accompanied later by around eight policemen, headed by Constable Mohammad Yasin.

“They first searched in the orchard and then “traversed the area from the orchard to Shopian town, using the searchlights and handheld torches/ flashlights. They also searched in the nullah around the bridge. The area where the search was undertaken falls between the police and the CRPF camps and police residential buildings and Rashtriya Rifles and is considered a ‘Red Zone’ (high security zone),” reads a report by the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir. They end their search at around 2:30 AM, without finding them.

Cover up?

Next morning when the family resumed the search in the same area they had searched last night along with the police, they find Neelofer Jan’s body, face down, eyes open, hands outstretched, scratch marks on her neck, arms, and buttocks. There were scuffmarks on her face and chest, neck and wrists and the gold jewelry she was wearing was intact.

“The spot we were at 2:30 in the night, in the morning the SHO pointed out the body of Neelofer at the same spot,” says Shakeel.

Downstream around 1.5 kilometer, Asiya was found too – face down, on two boulders, clothes torn and blood-stained. Marks of physical violence on the body, a fracture on the forehead and blood discharging from her nose.

The news spread. The previous year, Kashmir valley had witnessed a prolonged protest following the proposal to transfer the Amarnath pilgrimage land to Amarnath Shrine Board. This had divided the Jammu and Kashmir regions along religious lines. The incident too snowballed into public protests across the valley.

That evening around 8 PM, two men while passing through the same way had heard cries for help and a police vehicle, (Tata) 407, and masked personnel on the bridge on the nullah threatened them to not reveal anything they had seen or heard.

There still is no answer to the appearance of two bodies in the area that was searched a few hours ago and was within the reach of vigilance towers of the security personnel stationed there. Who put the bodies there?

The family initially suspected that someone had murdered them, going by the physical appearance of the bodies. However, that suspicion didn’t remain for long.

Even after a hue and cry in the area, police didn’t file an FIR, which is a set procedure, neither did they cover the crime spots, which will prove detrimental later in the case.

Two bodies were taken to the district hospital for post-mortem, conducted by doctors: Nazia, Bilal Ahmad Dalal, and Bilques.

The SP reportedly was present during the procedure and quipped to Shakeel, “Aap himmat mat haro, aisse qisse hote rehte hain”. (Don’t lose heart, such incidents keep taking place.)

“What was SP doing there in the post-mortem room, why had he asked for a meeting with doctors?” asks Shakeel.

The doctors pronounced them dead: due to drowning. No one in recent history had died due to drowning in the area as the water level could barely reach ankle in the nallah.

This contradicted those who had recovered and seen the bodies. If the reason for their death was drowning, why were the clothes still dry? Blood and foam were visible on the bodies. Public protests ensued. They carried the dead bodies to the DC’s office, passing through the main chowk of the district.

Deputy Commissioner, Mohammad Ramzan Thoker summoned another group of doctors, Dr. Nighat Shaheen, Dr. Ghulam Qadir Sofi, and Dr. Mohammad Maqbool from the adjacent Pulwama district hospital to carry out another post-mortem.

“Yeh janwaro ka kaam hai. Gang rape hua hai” (This is the work of animals. Gang rape has been committed), reportedly stated the crying Dr Shaheen after being asked to conduct a gynecological examination. She would be punished for saying this later, along with other doctors.

The dead bodies were taken for the ritual bath and those who performed it, “confirmed what in their estimation were the appearance and presence of markers of sexualized violence”, as the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir report notes. The family members by this time too were sure of “rape and murder”.

Reportedly at this time, the SP threatened the family members. Protests intensified. Rumors on their character were spread.

Even after two days, no FIR was filed and the CM, Omar Abdullah declared their death “a case of drowning”, without offering how he had arrived at the conclusion. He later amended his statement, declaring that “something has happened there.”

Following the furore over the mismanagement from the outset and the public rallying against the district authorities and the police, on 1st June the CM appointed a public inquiry commission headed by retired judge, Muzaffar Jan, “flouting the settled practice of asking that Court or the Supreme Court to name the Judge” as veteran author AG Noorani later noted. He was given one month to carry out the investigation. His report would later be damning for the CM, who was elected after the PDP-Congress government split in the state in 2008.

On the same day, DC Thokar was replaced for mishandling of the situation. The family suspects that this was done to pave the way for the cover-up in the case.

Earlier on 5th June, J&K High Court Bar Association had filed a PIL in High Court seeking the registration of an FIR of the incident and preservation of evidence.

Writing in Frontline, AG Noorani notes that the CM had to be forced by his alliance partner Congress to file an FIR and finally on 6th of June police filed a case under Section 376 of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC). Offences under sections 302, 326, 342, 201, 102-B of RPC were added on 8th of June.

On the same day, DGP, Kuldeep Khoda formed an SIT, which was later accused by family members of “intimidation and harassment on one pretext or the other.” Shopian Bar Association too accused SIT of threatening the two eyewitnesses who had recorded their statements before the Chief Judicial Magistrate.

The mandate of the Jan Commission was later changed into a joint inquiry with the SIT by the CM, Omar Abdulla. This raised questions on the integrity and independence of the process. Earlier in the interim report, the commission had raised questions on the working of the police and noted the failure to file FIR’s in a timely manner and the loss of critical forensic evidence.

In its final report made public on 10th of July, the commission ruled out death by drowning and stated that the bodies of the deceased must have been placed on the two locations, adding that civilians were unlikely to enter the high-security zone to depose the bodies.

He further indicted the police for the number of errors, “deliberately done to destroy the evidence and disobey the police manual”. Involvement of some agency of J&K police in the incident can’t be ruled out, the commission noted. The SP in his testimony before the commission had accepted the negligence in carrying out his duties.

However, the report was not received well owing to some horrendous and controversial portions that carried out allegations against the deceased and their family members.

It included libelous and unsubstantiated statements about the character of Asiya Jan, Neelofar Jan, and Shakeel Ahmad. The report manipulated the distinctions in class status between Neelofar Jan and Shakeel Ahmad to speculate about the involvement of Neelofar Jan’s brother, as well as Shakeel Ahmad, in the rape and murder of Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan. (International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir)

The Judge disowned the portion and accused police of manipulating it, however, the police denied the allegations, saying that there was his signature on every page of the report.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on July 15, 2009, ordered the arrest of four police officers, Javed Iqbal Mattoo, former SP, Rohit Baskotra, DSP, Shafeeq Ahmad, SHO, and Sub-inspector Gazi Abdul Kareem, and the collection of their samples for DNA profiling, and prescribed the use of the narco analysis. Next day, on 47th day of the incident the continuous civil protest and shut-down in the district was called off.

Abdul Rashid Dalal of Majlis-e-Mushawrat, a body of prominent civilians in the district that spearheaded the civil protest in the aftermath of the incident said that “it was called off after the assurance of the High Court”.

The police officers moved the Supreme Court for bail. It ordered them to approach the court having the jurisdiction in the case and with the failure of the police to file the challan against them in the set time. The court granted them statutory bail.

FSL samples fudged

The case was transferred to CBI following the disclosure by a newspaper that the FSL samples were fudged with. The Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice report on the issue notes that “the CBI was brought in to cover-up the initial cover-up, just in time for a political initiative to be announced”. At that time back channel diplomacy was going on and the Shopian issue was proving to be a bottleneck, reads the report.

It shouldn’t be hard to notice the same from the final report of the CBI.

The two witnesses changed their statements before CBI and accused the doctors of fudging the samples that were sent to FSL. Family members believe that both the doctors and the witnesses were harassed to change their statements.

“We allowed the CBI to exhume the bodies only for justice,” says Shakeel, adding that now he has lost trust in all the ‘institutions of the state”.

Instead of finding the perpetrators, the CBI filed a charge sheet against the six doctors, five lawyers and two civilians, including the brother of Asiya, accusing them of trying to malign the image of security forces by fabricating evidence. The case is still sub-judice.

“Based on the CBI report, the High Court in Srinagar disposed-off the PIL filed by the Bar Association at the onset of the case, closing down the case’” says Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer in the  district, sticking with the initial theory of “death by drowning” in a stream with no history of drowning in recent history.

Shakeel in the struggle for justice has sold most of his property and his business is dwindling. The calendar behind his back in his shop is set to May. In the last ten years, his hairline has reduced and beard going white. Has he any expectations of justice? “Only if an independent international organization probes,” he says, looking to the street outside, the one that he had walked that night to inform the police.

 

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