The Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice is a group of women comprising lawyers, law researchers, a medical doctor, a journalist and women’s rights activists. The IWIJ started to conduct a case watch in the double rape and murder of Shopian on the intervening night of 29 May, 2009. Concerned at the manner in which the investigations were proceeding even three months after the incident, the team decided to visit Shopian and Srinagar on the 28th and 29th of August this year. They met members of the bereaved family, the Majlis-e-Mushawarrat, a Shopian based consultative committee, the Shopian Bar Association, visited the location where the bodies of the women were found, the hospital where the post mortems were conducted and the school where Asiya Jan, the school girl who was the younger of the two women found dead in unnatural circumstances, had studied. They also met doctors who conducted the first and second post mortems, police and administrative officials, the High Court Bar Association and the CM. They attended a High Court sitting of the Shopian case on the 29th of August 2009. They have continued to do a case watch of the Shopian investigations since then.
The following is the interim report of the IWIJ . It is based on the case watch and our visit in late August and is prepared by
lAnuradha Bhasin Jamwal
CASE WATCH OF A COVER UP
In the afternoon of 29 May, 2009, two young women left home for their orchard. Neelofar and Asiya were sisters-in-law. Neelofar had married Asiya’s brother Shakeel, and had an infant son. Asiya a school-going teenager aspired to become an engineer. In the evening Shakeel learnt that Neelofar and Asiya had not returned home. These are trying times in Kashmir, and there is much cause for concern when people do not return home before dark. Shakeel began his search with friends and family. As night set in, Shakeel 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 Rambi Ara Nallah that runs through is clearly visible to the lookouts in 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.
The police called off the search at 2.30 a.m. promising to restart at the crack of dawn. Around 5.30 a.m. Shakeel resumed the search. An hour later the local police joined and almost immediately the SHO Shafeeq Ahmed pointed out the spot where Neelofar’s body was found. Neelofar’s body was found at a shallow spot which is located about 100 mtrs upstream from Zavora bridge over the Rambi Ara Nallah. It was observed by Justice Jan in the First Spot Inspection that the depth of the stream around the spot would be 2 -2.5 feet, with reasonably fast flowing water, but certainly not strong current to drown an adult girl. It is pertinent to note that this exact spot had been thoroughly searched by the family and police till 2:30a.m.
Asiya’s body was found further downstream, 11/2 km from the army camp. The exact spot is 11/2 km down stream from Zavora bridge. The dead body was found at an elevated dry spot in the stream
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.
When the bodies reached the hospital, there were two post-mortems performed on them to determine the cause of death and any antecedent injuries. It was put out by the police that the deaths were caused by drowning although the first post mortem report itself had negated drowning as the cause of death of the two women.
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 2 young women in Shopian could have been unraveled by piecing together the clues. However at every stage those responsible for unmasking the culprit/s, have systematically and deliberately destroyed, tampered, diluted, the evidence and thus misdirected and obfuscated the investigation. The truth of this damning statement is borne out by the facts enumerated below:
"The spots from where the bodies of Neelofar and Asiya were recovered were not preserved or cordoned off by SHO Shafeeq Ahmed and SI Gazi Abdul Kareem and no instructions to that effect were given by the S.P. JavedMattoo. Evidence relating to vehicle tyre marks, footprints was not gathered, these could have provided a vital trail leading to the accused. The spots were not cordoned off. No instructions were given by the S.P or SHO to photograph the bodies. No detailed or accurate site plan of the spot was prepared. For instance the motorable approach road into the Rambi Ara Nallah is conveniently not marked. Again relevant details such as the depth, width of the stream and the speed of the current were left out. Neither the S.P. Javed Mattoo nor the Dy. S.P. went to the spot to supervise the investigation.
"The S.P.,Dy S.P. and SHO all three admitted before the Jan Commission that contrary to the settled position of the law they did not issue instructions for registration of the F.I.R.
"Clothes of the deceased women were not seized nor was any material collected from the spots where the bodies were found. The S.P also admitted that the visible injury of a large size on the head of Asiya was not measured.
The town rose as one to challenge what they saw as an attempt to cover up a crime. Shopian shut down for 48 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.
6 months later, the CBI reportedly claims that what happened that night was a case of drowning. No one is to blame.
In late August, a team of six women – the 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. IWIJ 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. IWIJ has been maintaining a case watch since then.
The drowning theory that the CBI is floating does not hold water, for the following reasons:
Neelofar’s body was found in the very place where the police and family had looked for them the last thing the previous night. That is, it was not there at 2.30 a.m., but was found at about 6 o’clock. And no one admitting to having seen it happen despite the high security in the area. Where were the women till then? In hiding? Why? Guard Commander B.B. Kumar and Pradeep Kumar admitted before the Justice Jan Commission that they had instructions to report any suspicious movement in the Nallah during the intervening night of 29-30thMay, 2009, but had noticed no suspicious movement of vehicles in the nallah from 2:00a.m. – 4:00a.m. There has been no report or "leak" of the CBI, further questioning these 2 night guards.
"The only test performed on both the bodies was the lung flotation test, performed by Dr. Bilal during the first postmortem on 30thMay, 2009, which negated the possibility of death by drowning. When 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 the officers of the department stood by the theory of death by drowning with full knowledge, and belief that no one in the recent or past history of Shopian has died due to drowning in River Rambi Ara"
" All witnesses who may testify to a cause of death other than 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 victimized and discredited.
" Dr. Bilal who conducted the first postmortem and established through the lung floatation test that the 2 women did not die of drowning has since been placed under suspension and his report made suspect. The IWIJ team met Dr. Bilal and he reiterated the finding noted in the first postmortem report.
"Dr. Nighat Shaheen Chiloo was called in to conduct a second post mortem and gynecological examination of the 2 deceased women in the face of strong public protest to wash away the deaths as a case of drowning. In her deposition before the Jan Commission she has described the injuries on the frontal region of the skull of Asiya, which she stated could not have been caused by a fall in the river.
"Dr. Nighat in her testimony before the Jan Commission stated that she took swab/vaginal samples in the presence of Dr. Gh. Qadir Sofi, Dy. CMO Pulwama and Dr. Mohd. Maqbool Mir, District Health Officer Pulwama. Members of the IWIJ team met Dr. Nighat 3 months after the incident and she described in detail how she had prepared the vaginal swabs at the hospital in Shopian and sealed and had them sent to the forensic laboratory. These swabs which could have provided evidence of sexual violence after almost all other pieces of evidence had been destroyed have since been mired in controversy. First news paper reports claimed that the samples sent did not belong to the deceased women. Dr. Nighat has since been placed under suspension and repeatedly examined by the Special Investigation Team and the CBI.
" Upon being examined by the CBI Dr. Nighat is reported to have "confessed" that she had prepared the slides from her own vaginal swab! With this "confession" leaked to the Press and all and any evidence of rape and murder rendered suspect, the next day i.e. September 28th 2009, the CBI proceeded to exhume the bodies of the 2 women from their graves in Shopian. Within hours of the exhumation the team of Doctors from Delhi accompanying the CBI is reported to have claimed that the hymen of Asiya was "intact".
"The IWIJ has been informed by forensic and scientific experts that since the hymen is a thin membrane, a soft tissue, it cannot be found intact upon exhumation 4 months after the burial of the body.
" In contrast to the investigation by the local police that was marked by negligence and dereliction, the Shopian Bar Association had during the course of it’s independent fact finding found 2 public witnesses viz. Abdul Rashid and Ghulam Mohi-ud- Din. On 29th May, 2009 around 7:30 -8:00 p.m., these 2 men just after crossing the Zavora bridge on Rambi Ara Nallah, saw a blue colour 407 police truck with khaki tarpal on the left side of the road, in which 2 girls were shouting ‘Mouji Mouji’. The eight uniformed men guarding the front and rear of the truck abused, threatened and forced these two witnesses to flee from the spot.
"Although the Shopian Bar Association did not participate in the Jan Commission Enquiry, apprehensive of the police, they had ensured that the 2 public witnesses first depose before the Jan Commission. Both the public witness narrated the above facts in their testimony before the Jan Commission. These 2 witnesses were thereafter kept in police custody for over a month and their statements under Section 164 R.P.C. recorded after a lapse of time.
" Members of IWIJ also met with Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Lone in August and he repeated the statement that implicates the men in uniform. The CBI too summoned the 2 public witnesses for examination and after sustained interrogation, it is reported that both the public witnesses have denied their earlier statements and claimed that they had made the earlier statement under the influence of the Shopian District Bar Association. The CBI has in a procedure alien to law recorded a second statement of the witnesses under section 164R.P.C., 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?
"7 members of the Shopian District Bar Association too have been detained for questioning by the CBI. These lawyers have refused to backtrack from their findings and there are reports that the CBI is indulging in personal blackmail to exert pressure on them.
"Through all this, the 4 policemen arrested after the High Court’s intervention, were held in a non-prison setting till they were released on bail, and there is no evidence that they have been interrogated. Interestingly the CBI has in its wisdom not summoned any of the 4 police officers who had been suspended viz. S..P Javed Matoo, Dy. S.P.Rohit Baskotra, SHO Shafeeq Ahmed and SI Ghazi Abdul Kareem who were in charge of the investigation of the crime and had been suspended. All the 4 police personnel had admitted before the Jan Commission that they had committed grave dereliction of duty and allowed important evidence to be lost and destroyed in the initial stages of investigation.
"In the meanwhile the CBI has examined almost every member of the deceased’s family a dozen times and scrutinized their bank accounts and tax papers. Shakeel the husband of deceased Nelofer and brother of deceased Asiya has been questioned twelve times by the CBI.
"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. To construct the theory of drowning the CBI’s probe will have to answer why the 2 women of Shopian went to drown themselves in a shallow nallah at that hour of the night. And of course where were the 2 women between the time they were seen leaving the orchard early in the evening till the bodies were found at 6-6:30 am on 30th May, 2009. No one knows where the women were the whole night, when the family and the police were searching for them.
"The CBI investigation report to be submitted on December 14, 2009 will have to tie up all these loose ends and provide credible answers to support the death by drowning theory being advanced by Press ‘leaks’ and reports.
As for accidental drowning, of two women, in such shallows, in a nallah where no one in recent or living memory has ever drowned – 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 and allowed to be destroyed, lest the tell tale signs point an accusing finger.
-(To be concluded)
A Violent End to Everyday Dreams, Everyday Aspirations
Asiya Jan, the younger of the two women who went missing on the evening of 29 may in Shopian and found dead the next morning, was a school student of class XI in the Greenlands Public School. She was a brilliant student who was desperately keen to become an engineer and though the family had a modest income she was being educated in the best possible way by her brother, Shakeel Ahmed Ahangar, to fulfil her desire. Among the most poignant moments for the team was to be shown her school identity cards right from the time she was in class one, as her sisters and friends wept at the loss of young Asiya, at the threshold of life.
We visited her school on our second day in Shopian. From her close class mates in school, one of whom we had met the first evening we were in Shopian and who had requested us to come to see her school and meet her friends there, it was clear that she was very popular. She had a reputation for studying hard but also being extremely generous with her time in order to help others who were struggling their school work. One of her friends wept as she recounted how even on the very day she went missing Asiya had stayed back in school to help her with her maths work. Another friend recounted an incident during a lunch break when Asiya continued with her studies instead of eating; her friend said jokingly to Asiya that she would waste away if she did not eat. Asiya’s response was "To kyahua. Mere rehne se koi inquilab to nahi aanewala’. Her friends now wept inconsolably as they said to us, Dekhiyena, Asiya ka naamab Kashmir mein inquilab ban gaya hai.’
No wonder then that large numbers of school students, particularly the girls, were out participating in the demonstrations in Shopian in the months of June and July demanding justice for the two dead women.
‘Normal’ everyday dreams, everyday aspirations, made impossible by the situation in Kashmir: That is the tragic reality of being a young woman in Kashmir today.
An Extraordinary ‘Agitation’ for Justice
The Majlis-e Mashawarat, the consultative committee of Shopian came into being a few days after spontaneous protests broke out in the town, its neighbourhood and the entire valley of Kashmir. The protests were directed against the manner in which the investigations into the rape and murder of Neelofer Jan and Asiya Jan took place on 29th may 2009 and continued to unfold through the first week after that day. Comprising a group of elders who met regularly to keep track of events, worked to ensure that the protests were peaceful over 47 days when the town shut town, and everyone was out sitting in a hartal to demand justice for the two women. It was a critical role, since all the main political leaders of J&K outside of the National Conference and the PDP were either under house arrest or in jail. Passions in the valley, as well as the town of Shopian, were inflamed at the flagrant and sustained attempts by the police and the administration, both at the level of the state and the centre, was to hide the truth and shield the guilty.
The Majlis did everything possible to ensure that the protests focussed on a single agenda: justice for the two women and steer clear of everything else. That has remained their focus through the six and a half months since the assault and murder of the two women. They have monitored the investigations, attended every single hearing of the case in the High Court in Srinagar, and co-operated with the investigative agencies, including the CBI which has an extremely poor record in investigating cases in J&K, despite a growing sense of frustration at the way the investigations have been proceeding. The CBI’s blatant attempts to complete the systematic cover up begun by the police the moment women’s bodies were found has been received with outrage. The sense of betrayal at the complete failure of institutions in J&K to provide justice has been compounded by the recent leak that the CBIs has allegedly given a clean chit to the four police officers who had been arrested in June. The policemen were arrested following their indictment by the Justice Muzzafar Jan Commission’s for wilful acts of omission and commission in investigating the case in the very first stage, leading to the destruction of vital evidence that could have nailed the culprits.
Today the hope that justice will be done in Shopian has not only been destroyed it has been replaced by outrage at the working of the criminal investigative agencies and the complete institutional failure in J&K. The Majlis and the bereaved families of Shopian are apprehensive that these investigations will not uncover the truth and have disassociated themselves from the CBI. There is also great cynicism for the press and civil society in India which has done little to ensure justice for Shopian.
The Majlis and the people of Shopian are still resolute in their challenge to impunity for sexual violence against women.