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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

Kashmir: Manufacturing a Suitable Story

Saturday 26 December 2009

The following is the press release issued by the members of an all-women’s fact-finding team that recently visited Kashmir to probe into the Shopian tragedy that has rocked the Valley. It was circulated at a press conference the team held on December 10, 2009. It needs to be noted that this is a press release and not the fact-finding team’s report on the incident that runs into 34 pages.

On the evening of May 29, 2009, two young women, Neelofer Jan and her young school-going sister-in-law Asiya Jan, who aspired to be an engineer, who had left home for their orchard earlier that afternoon, were reported missing. These are trying times in Kashmir, and there is much cause for concern when people do not return home before dark. A search was launched by the family and friends of the two women. As night set in, the family sought the help of the police and together they scoured the countryside.

The way to the orchard is crowded with the security forces—the District Police Lines, an Army outpost and a CRPF camp, with night lights. The Rambiara Nallah that runs through is clearly visible to the lookouts ih the CRPF camp, under the glare of the search lights. Before the Justice Jan Commission, the night guards stated they had seen the search party, but conveniently noticed nothing for the rest of the night, and had no explanation for the mysterious appearance of the bodies.

Those who helped retrieve the bodies of the two women saw enough to suspect that this was a case of rape and murder. The photographs taken of the bodies as they were recovered from the nallah showed visible signs of injuries and wounds. Yet the police announced that the deaths were caused by drowning and the chain of cover-up began.

Whenever a crime occurs, what leads the investigator to the accused are a series of material, forensic, scientific, medical, circumstantial and ocular evidence. The diligent collection and professional analysis of these pieces of evidence enable the whodunit to be solved. Similarly the mystery surrounding the killing of the two young women in Shopian could have been unravelled by piecing together the clues. However at every stage those responsible for unmasking the culprits, have systematically and deliberately destroyed, tampered, diluted, the evidence and thus misdirected and obfuscated the investigation.

The town rose as one to challenge what they saw as an attempt to cover up a crime. Shopian shut down for 47 days. The government had to set up a Commission of Inquiry, an SIT and the High Court had to interest itself in the matter before the town resumed a semblance of the everyday. Majlis-e-Mashawarat, comprising of the elders of Shopian, led the demand for justice to the victims, their families and for the assurance of safety to all women of Shopian. The Valley joined the call for justice.

Six months later, the CBI reportedly claims that what happened that night was a case of drowning. No one is to blame.

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In late August, a team of six women—belonging to the Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice (IWIJ)—went to Shopian and Srinagar to do a case watch into the death of the two women. By then, the fudging of material evidence and the non-seriousness of the police investigation in finding out who was responsible was plain, and the High Court too had been castigating them. The IWIJ team visited the site, met the family, relatives, the school, the police including the DGP Khoda, the CID-DIG Mir and DG Rajendra Kumar, the doctors, the Chief Minister, the witnesses, members of the Majlis and Shopian Bar Association. The IWIJ has been maintaining a case watch since then.

The drowning theory that the CBI is floating does not hold water as our case watch report shows.

• The only test performed on both the bodies was the lung flotation test, performed by Dr Bilal during the first post-mortem on May 30, 2009, which negated the possibility of death by drowning. When the IWIJ met the CB-CID, at their insistence, a post-mortem report was flaunted before us, which did not bear the endorsement that drowning had been conclusively ruled out. Why did the police and Shopian administration announce drowning as the cause of death despite medical evidence to the contrary? Why were senior officers trying to convince us of drowning even after three months through an uncertified post-mortem report? The drowning theory however continues to resurface and the CBI leaks are once again trying to resuscitate it.

• All witnesses who may testify to a cause of death other then drowning have been systematically compromised. Significantly, witnesses who did not support the drowning theory have reportedly, under sustained interrogation from the CBI, changed their stance.

Since medical evidence stood in the way of the drowning theory the doctors who had conducted the post-mortem have been victimised and discredited.

Members of the IWIJ also met with Ghulam Mohi-u-din Lone, one of the two public witnesses, in August and he repeated his statement under Section 164 of the RPC before the Magistrate and to the Jan Commission that implicates the men in uniform. The CBI too summoned the two public witnesses for examination and after sustained interrogation, it is reported that both the public witnesses have denied their earlier statements. The CBI has in a procedure alien to law recorded a second statement of the witnesses under Section 164 of the RPC, statements that suit the CBI leaks of framing Shopian as a case of drowning and no rape or murder. The two public witnesses are petty shopkeepers. How much heroism is it fair to expect of them?

Anyone visiting the site is struck by the proximity to the security camps all round. They can also see the shallowness of the stream. And they would have to doubt that the women could have gone there to drown; for which, of course, there is not even a sliver of a motive. As for accidental drowning of the two women in such shallows—we would need to be more than merely credulous to believe that possible!

While available evidence has been manipulated and distorted, crucial material, circumstantial, ocular and forensic evidence was deliberately never collected by the police and allowed to be destroyed, lest the tell-tale signs point an accusing finger.

Why has there been such a sustained effort to hush up the crime from the very beginning? Is it that a culture of impunity protects perpetrators of wrongs and injustices when there are other agendas such as ‘national security’ at stake? Or is it that justice for the two women of Shopian must be sacrificed at the altar of the ‘peace talks’ on Kashmir which would be jeopardised if the truth were to come out?

IWIJ—Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice—team members Anuradha Bhasin, Jamual Ajita, Seema Misra, Uma Chakravarti, Usha Ramanathan, Vrinda Grover

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