One year after the rape and murder in Shopian: The guilty must be punished!

One year after the brutal rape and murder of 17 year old Aasiya Jan and 22 year old Nilofer Jan by men of the security forces in Shopian, Jammu & Kashmir, on May 29, 2009, the guilty remain unpunished. Inspite of widespread protests in Kashmir as well as in other parts of the country, demanding justice, conviction and punishment of the culprits, every effort has been made to systematically tamper with evidence in order to cover up the crime and shield the guilty.

Over the past year, women’s organizations have been repeatedly demanding justice and punishment of the perpetrators of this heinous crime. They have written to the Chief Justice of India, Chairperson, National Commission for Women and Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, demanding justice. In the letter they have pointed out how various agencies of the state, including the CBI which has conducted a probe into the incident, have systematically tried to protect the guilty and obstruct the truth from coming to light. They have pointed out that the CBI, which took over the inquiry on August 17, 2009, has now declared the deaths were due to “drowning”. However, several issues remain unexplained in the CBI report, which have been raised in the letter.

For example, the Rambi-ara Nullah, the stream in which the women are alleged to have drowned, has only ankle deep water. The CBI report fails to explain how a search party consisting of police, family and friends, scouring the area for more than four hours could have ‘missed’ finding Nilofer’s body where it was found the next morning – barely hundred yards away from the bridge in a floodlit high security zone. When the post mortem was conducted for the third time, after exhumation of the bodies, the CBI did not call upon the doctors who had conducted the earlier post mortems, as is normally done. In fact, the CBI did not heed the direction of the High Court to call a post-mortem team from the Medical College, Srinagar and choose instead to call a team from AIIMS, New Delhi, consisting of hand-picked members whose credentials have been questioned. The CBI used the medical examination of the bodies conducted after exhumation, i.e. after having been buried for four months in summer, to ‘prove’ that there had been no sexual assault, even though doctors and several eye witnesses had reported injury marks on the bodies of both the women immediately after they were found. It may be recalled that Gujjar nomads who had been residing in tents in the area with their flock, who reportedly claimed to have heard the screams of the women on the night of May 29, had been forced by the security forces to leave the area the same night. The CBI report has not taken cognisance of the fact that the police and SIT (Special Investigation Team) has failed to follow the High Court directive to trace residents of the neighbouring Gujjar settlement who could have provided vital information about the victims and the crimes.

Further, the CBI has charged all those who have expressed their view that the events pointed to sexual assault and murder– including doctors, public prosecutors, members of the Bar Association, witnesses, and family members of the victims -- for having acted under the influence of “separatists”, of “falsifying evidence”, or “intimidating witnesses”. Family members and friends of the victims have been hounded by the police. Agitations by residents of Shopian and lawyers who have been investigating into the case have been branded “separatist” and attacked by the police.

On the other hand, the CBI has requested the High Court to drop all charges against the police personnel who had destroyed/neglected crucial evidence at the site, failed to register FIR on time and committed other lapses. Even while the case is pending, the presiding judge, who was responsible for the arrests of the policemen, has been transferred out of the state.

The conclusions of the CBI report are in stark contradiction to the findings of three independent fact finding teams as well as the Justice Jan Commission appointed by the Chief Minister J&K, as well as the J&K High Court, which have all concluded that the two women were victims of sexual assault and murder.

In Shopian district, mass protests were held on May 29, with women carrying black flags and wearing black armbands, demanding justice to the victims’ families. In many parts of Srinagar and Islamabad in south Kashmir, protestors denouncing the state cover up and demanding justice for the victims of Shopian clashed with the police.

The reported ‘encounter’ killing of three innocent persons by the army in Kupwara district in April, in which the bodies were buried by the army personnel and later exhumed on May 29 due to public pressure, has also been the cause for large scale protests in many parts of Kashmir in May and early June. These protests were brutally attacked by the police. According to latest reports, the army has suspended two officers in connection with the incident. The three victims were lured by the officers to work for the army, and then killed as “terrorists” in order to collect rewards and receive promotion. Such ‘encounter’ killings and disappearances as well as rape and murder of women and girls by the security forces is commonplace in Jammu & Kashmir and people are much enraged by these activities of the security forces.

For more than 60 years now, the Indian ruling class has refused to address the concerns of the Kashmiri people. The Indian ruling class does not treat the demand for self-determination as a legitimate political issue to be resolved in a political manner.  On the contrary, the official line is to keep repeating that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” and treat any Kashmiri who questions this premise as being a “threat to national unity and territorial integrity of India”. Thus, a political problem has been turned into a “law and order” problem by our rulers.  By conducting elections periodically, under the shadow of the gun, the rulers of India try to make out that there is democracy and a civilian government in place, but this is completely belied by the day-to-day experience of the Kashmiri people. The strategic location of J&K is always used to justify the heavy army presence under the pretext of "threat from Pakistan" and "threat of terrorism".

Mazdoor Ekta Lehar condemns the attempts of the state to cover up the criminal role of the security forces in the rape and murder of the women in Shopian a year ago. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar fully supports the demand of the Kashmiri people that those guilty of the rape and murder of the women in Shopian, of the murder of innocents in ‘encounters’, should be immediately convicted and punished, that the armed forces should be withdrawn from the Kashmir Valley, that AFSPA should be revoked and human rights violations of the Kashmiri people should be immediately ended. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar demands that the central government address the concerns of the Kashmiri people, including their legitimate political demands, and stop using force to crush their aspirations.

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