Kashmir: Shopian double murder and rape High Court directs arrest and blood-test of four top cops but protests still refuse to die down

A case of rape and murder of two young women in the Kashmiri town of Shopian at the hands of a group of police officers, and the subsequent attempted cover-up has brought to the surface the simmering anger of the masses.

Jammu and Kashmir High Court today (July 15) directed the special investigating team probing into the rape and murder of two women in Shopian, 17-year-old Asiya Jan and her 22-year-old pregnant sister in-law Neelofar, to arrest and produce the four suspended police officers in the court and get their blood samples to ascertain if these officers were involved in the crime.

This has come in the wake of unrelenting and violent huge mass protests in Srinagar by the people of Kashmir. The situation seemed to be getting totally out of the control not only of the local administration but of the armed forced deployed there. The bodies of the two young women were found near a stream in Shopian on May 30 triggering massive protests and strikes in the Kashmir valley.

The Jan Commission appointed to probe into the case had in its interim report, submitted on June 21, recommended action against the four police officers, including the then SP Shopian, Javid Iqbal Mattoo and his deputy Rohit Baskotra. It observed that the four officers had not only failed to follow the set procedures after the bodies of Neelofar and Asiya were recovered, but had conspired to destroy the evidence. In its interim report, the commission had recommended suspension of the four police officers, two doctors and a forensic officer for negligence and destruction of evidence. The dubious autopsy and forensic report prepared by these medical experts was a clear attempt to distort the evidence.

"The doctors who were to conduct the post-mortem could not complete their report because of hostile atmosphere”, the post mortem report said. While confirming the presence of semen on both the bodies, it deliberately did not draw a firm conclusion on murder saying, “the probable cause of the deaths was haemorrhage and neurogenic shock."

Even after the clear interim report of the inquiry commission, none of the officials, police or doctors, were arrested, but only suspended on June 22, to cool down the nerves of the public. The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his cabinet members, with the help of the bureaucracy, continued to aid the culprits, insisting that the women had died due to drowning. In view of this hush-up by the government, the people intensified their protests.

On 4 July, the division bench of the High Court, comprising Chief Justice Barin Gosh and Justice Mohammad Yaqub Mir, acting on a Public Interest Litigation filed by the Kashmir High Court Bar Association, noted that neither DNA samples of the bodies were collected by the investigators, nor was the post-mortem carried out in a proper manner, and directed exhumation of the bodies of the victims, to collect their DNA samples and for a fresh post-mortem with the consent of their parents.

While appointing the principal of the Srinagar medical college to set up a team of doctors to perform the post-mortem, the Court had observed, “This is a sensational matter. Every man on the street, irrespective of caste or creed, is praying for the culprits to be caught". The court appointed inspector general of police (CID) Farooq Ahmad as special officer of the inquiry and DIG Rouf-ul-Hassan as his deputy to monitor the proceedings of the special investigation team (SIT) inquiring into the case. Ahmad is also carrying out an internal departmental probe into alleged negligence of duty by four suspended police officials including the former SP, Shopian, whose results have not come out till date.

The court also directed the SIT headed by SP Shah Din Malik to interrogate and carry out narco-analysis test of four suspended police officials and two witnesses. It asked the SIT to submit its progress report every week to the Court.

However, the protestors, becoming ever more aware of the involvement of very high-ups in the crime of rape and murder of these young women, saw all this as insufficient measures, that were leading nowhere, and continued with their protests. With the protests intensifying, the situation continued to become more and more grim leading to the rapid loss of legitimacy on the part of the civilian government and the central and state armed forces.

The one man Jan Commission, headed by Justice (Retd) Muzaffar Jan, that probed into this double rape and murder case, which triggered violent protests across the Kashmir valley, on July 9, submitted its 150-page final report, directly indicting security forces for the crime.

The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was forced to order the registration of the crime of rape and murder and appoint the inquiry commission after angry protests over the rape and murder of the two women had rocked the Valley.

In view of the situation fuming more and more, the government on 14 July, directed the transfer of more than 50 officials of the civil administration and police, but this came too late in the day. The people are not ready to be wooed by these tactics of the government. And more protests have continued today.

Taking note of the gravity of the situation on the streets, the High Court had once again issued directions today, wherein besides directing the SIT to get the blood samples of the four officers in the presence of the court registrar, it has ordered that no relief including bail should be granted by any court to these four suspended police officers and all such requests be sent to the High Court.

The court also requested the Central government to provide facilities for narco-analysis of the four police officers. It also appealed to the people of Shopian to end their strike and co-operate with the investigating team, which is hardly the business of the High Court.

The repression by the armed forces of the protests has left five people dead and more than 400 injured. The government’s initial insistence that the two had drowned, and its conscious efforts to shield the perpetrators of the crime, has further fuelled the protests with the town of Shopian observing a complete shutdown for more than one and a half months now. The city of Srinagar remains under siege of the protestors.

Apart from Srinagar and Shopian, all of the towns in the valley are burning with anger and there are continued protests. The streets of the major towns in the Valley have a deserted look. The family of the women victim is continuing with its hunger strike, until the culprits are caught.

The government and its authorities are delaying the matter as far as possible, awaiting the anger of the people to die down, to return to the normal course as before.

The PDP and other opposition bourgeois parties, trying to derive petty political advantage out of the situation, are not able to answer the question that the same repression at the hands of the State and its armed forces existed when they were in power.

This is not the first such case in Kashmir. There have been continuous complaints against the officials of the armed forces deployed in Kashmir, from fake encounters of people to gang rapes and the murder of women. Agencies like Amnesty International have time and again published such gory incidents, which have become routine affairs in Kashmir, where civilian rule collapsed long ago, and which is reeling under the unrestricted and unbridled rule of the armed forces. This yoke of the rule of the military has become unbearable for the people in Kashmir and hence such violent protests. The protests and the hand to hand fighting by the people with the armed forces, shows that the people are losing the fear of death in the face of more dehumanising repression by the Indian State and its armed forces. Their faith in the state however was lost long ago.

(15 July 2009)