Kashmir is observing the third anniversary of the Shopian double rapes and murders, which have become a test case in the vast tapestry of human rights abuse in Jammu and Kashmir. The incident symbolises brutality, travesty of justice, a systemic pattern of abuse of power by the security forces that goes beyond unjustified laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in a Valley that already stands psychologically alienated from the rest of the country.
On May 29, 2009, two women, Asiya and Neelofar went missing from their orchard around 7.00pm in Shopian. Th eir bodies were found in the wee hours next morning in the Rambiara nallah, a small trickle of a stream, between their home and their orchard. The area is ensconced between three security camps, all of which have a commanding view from their watch towers over the spot where the bodies were found. The two women were alleged to have been raped and murdered by men in uniform. But till date there has been no justice, not even a fair investigation that would unravel the truth.
The Shopian incident was followed by an unprecedented campaign for justice launched by the people of Shopian under the banner of Majlis-e-Mashawarat and the Shopian Bar Association. It was totally peaceful and apolitical. The government response to the same during this period was marked by lies and deception. This trajectory of deceit is what makes the tragedy of Shopian graver.
After the two bodies were found, two post-mortem reports confirmed sexual assault and ruled out death by drowning. Their deaths sparked anger and protests, culminating in a two-month-long shutdown in Shopian and sporadic incidents of violence and hartals in the rest of the Valley. The anger was fuelled by the police’s deliberate bid to tamper with evidence and the government’s total refusal in acknowledging the wrongs. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s ill-advised press conference four days after the incident, acted as an agent provocateur. Omar admonished journalists for using the word ‘rape’ and not ‘alleged rape,’ informed that preliminary findings said that the two women had drowned but in the same breath announced a one-man commission headed by retired high court judge, Justice Muzaff ar Jan to probe the incident. Two parallel investigations by the police’s Special Investigation Team and the Justice Jan Commission of Inquiry began. The first made precious little effort, besides sprucing up the entire controversy with rumours, fed mostly through willing sections of the media. The second came up with a report within a month, confirming rape and murder and also indicting police officers for tampering with evidence and maintaining that this was deliberate. However, it did not name any culprits. Based on these findings, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court stepped in and sought the arrest of the indicted policemen, observing that they either knew who had done it or they themselves were the culprits. The court also asked the SIT to complete investigations. Anger in Shopian continued to build because the SIT was simply dragging its feet over the probe, coupled with reports of DNA samples of the victims being fudged. The government, instead of ensuring that the SIT began some investigation, decided to call in the CBI to investigate the entire case.
The CBI cover-up started with the exhumation and autopsy of the bodies, four months after they were buried and culminated in the charge sheeting of 13 persons including the doctors who confirmed sexual assault and ruled out drowning, as well as members of the Shopian Bar and a brother of Asiya. The Shopian rapes and murders were offi cially declared cases of ‘drowning’. The cops indicted with tampering with evidence have been given a clean chit. The CBI was clearly guided by a misplaced sense of justice: ignore the wrong and punish the whistleblowers. If you can’t quieten voices of resentment, intimidate them, gag them and demonise them by using a willing media. That appears to have been the inspiring tagline of the CBI during its Operation, Lies in Shopian.
‘If you can’t convince someone, you confuse them.’ That was American President, Harry S. Truman half a century ago. This is precisely how the official response to the Shopian rapes and murders (of May 29, 2009) and the campaign for justice that followed can be summed up. From the very beginning, the government response to one of the biggest controversies ever in the history of Kashmir, has been marked by inconsistency. The official investigating agencies – right from the Special Investigation Team of the Jammu and Kashmir Police to the CBI have been busier spreading canards of lies, spinning rumours and using the media as a tool to leak misinformation, rather than clearing the cobwebs.
It wasn’t just evidence that was destroyed in Shopian. It was the last remnant of people’s faith in the Indian democracy and its legal justice system that was fully destroyed. Exactly a year on from the Shopian experience, a Valley long since disenchanted by the gun and dismayed by the brazen pattern of impunity, found stones and stone pelting as its new weapon of resistance and protest but these resulted in 130 deaths during a five month long period. These killings, despite the government acknowledging that the victims were innocent boys, have not been investigated till date. Ever since, the two-year lull, replaced only by the presence of tourists, has been projected by the government as normalcy. Amarnath land row in 2008. Shopian in 2009. Summer agitation in 2010. Together these three successive summers explain the present fatigue. And, fatigue doesn’t last forever! Once it ends, anger is bound to manifest itself in one way or the other. But those in power would remain just as ‘sensitive’, inspired only by the need to protect the existing patterns of travesty of justice at any cost, happy with fairytales and blissful ignorance like the owners of birds in cages, unmindful that when caged birds lose their fatigue and begin to sing, they may not be happy, they may only be complaining.
(Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is Executive Editor, Kashmir Times and a human rights activist. She was part of a six member Women’s Initiative for Justice in Shopian Rapes and Murders. Extracts from her previous articles published between May 2009 and May 2010 in Kashmir Times have been included in this article.)