The brutal rape and murder of two young women in Shopian, Kashmir in May 2009 in an area teeming with military and paramilitary forces had led to widespread strikes and demonstrations which continued for over two weeks, in which people demanded that the crime be properly investigated and the guilty servicemen be brought to book for their dastardly acts. (See MEL, June 2009)
The case was subsequently handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in September 2009. The CBI has recently declared that it has concluded its investigation and that the two women were not raped and murdered, but had actually died by drowning in knee-deep water! Moreover, it has started persecuting the people, who were in the forefront of the protests, as well as the lawyers who took up the case on behalf of the bereaved family as well as doctors who conducted the post-mortems, etc.
From day one, the Shopian events point at viciousness by the armed forces of the state, of denial of justice and covering up by the different agencies of the state and central governments. The road from the orchard to the women’s homes, on which they would have passed on the fateful day, is particularly crowded with armed and paramilitary forces – with the district police lines, an army outpost and a CRPF camp. Yet the security forces deny having noticed anything. One of the bodies was discovered the next morning at a spot which had been searched by relatives of the women just a few hours before.
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, were forced by the security forces to leave the area the same night. Only after sustained protests on the streets, a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged on June 7, 2009 more than a week after the incident. The post mortem report as well as a FSL report on June 6, 2009 had established that the women had been raped and then murdered.
The Bar Association of Shopian had alleged that the prime eye witnesses are in the custody of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the police, but the investigating officials (IOs) had not produced them before the chief magistrate for recording their statements till June 17, suggesting that attempts were made to silence the witnesses. Following the mass protests, a judicial enquiry was set up, but it has been pointed out that this lacks credibility among the people because it is headed by a retired High Court judge selected by the Chief Minister, instead of a judge nominated by the Chief Justice of India which is the normal procedure.
Rape, torture and murder by the armed forces are common in Kashmir and the North East - areas which are under the occupation of the armed forces. The fascist ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA) confers immunity from prosecution to the military and paramilitary personnel who indulge in these horrendous acts. Naturally the people of Kashmir like the people of Manipur and other areas of the Northeast which are occupied by the military and paramilitary forces are up in arms against the AFPSA and other fascist laws. Every incident of rape and murder which is publicised however has the effect of uniting the people in their anger and bringing people out onto the streets, defying the very armed might of the forces sent to suppress them. Hence the authorities try to pass off such incidents as accidents, or “drowning” as in the case of Shopian.
On June 1, 2009 the J&K Chief Minister called it “a case of drowning”, even though the stream in which the bodies were found had only knee deep water. No one has drowned in living memory in the rivulet, and the two young women in this case had no earthly reason to want to drown. Moreover the lung floatation test performed by a doctor during the post-mortem on May 30, 2009 had clearly negated the possibility of drowning. Now it has been revealed that the CBI has systematically pressurised all the witnesses who did not support the drowning theory and made them change their stance.
After having made the doctor who conducted a crucial test confirming sexual violence to “confess” that she had fudged it, the CBI proceeded to exhume the bodies of the women on September 28, 2009. Hardly had the bodies been removed from the grave that the CBI declared that there was no evidence that the women had been sexually assaulted! Every member of the deceased family was examined by the CBI at least a dozen times. But the four police officers who were initially in charge of the case, and who admitted before the court of enquiry that they had committed grave neglect of duty and allowed crucial evidence to get lost, were not examined even once by the CBI! It is reported that in addition to persecuting the doctors who had conducted the initial truthful post-mortems which had pointed to rape and murder, the CBI is also persecuting, formally and otherwise, members of the Bar Association of Shopian and several others who have been in the forefront of demanding justice.
The concerns of the Kashmiri people have been disregarded for over sixty years now. The central government has steadfastly refused to recognise the national rights of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future. Right from the time of Partition of India, one part of Kashmir has been occupied by the Pakistani military and the other part by the Indian armed forces. Instead of treating the demand for self determination as a legitimate political issue, the Indian government has been repeating ad nauseam that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” – and labels anyone who disputes this as antinational, terrorist and worse. A political problem has been turned into a “law and order” problem by the policy of the Indian rulers. Due to this suppression of national rights, the national liberation struggle, the striving for azaadi has continued in Kashmir.
The cover-up of dastardly crimes and frame-up of innocents in Shopian is yet another sequence of events which justice-loving people in India and elsewhere must condemn with full force. Those involved in the dastardly crimes must be brought to justice! The attempts to muzzle those who speak the truth must be denounced. The armed forces must be immediately withdrawn from Kashmir and fascist laws like the AFPSA must be revoked at once all over the country!