Shopian: the systemic collapse

Nothing could signify the systemic collapse more than the case of shocking rapes and murders in Shopian. More than three months after the gruesome incident, justice remains elusive. The progress on the case and the twists and turns that have taken place in this period only confirm ones doubts about both the lack of political will and the massive cover up operation, which does not originate at the mid rungs of the administrative and police set up but at a much higher level. That the four police personnel accused of deliberately tampering with the evidence have been let off on bail exposes the helplessness of the judiciary against an inactive Special Investigating Team of the police, which has only put its hands up in the case. Rather than making efforts to speed up investigations, it has only gone out of its way botching up evidence and clues that are available. The signals were evident right from the very beginning when the Jammu and Kashmir administration tried to project it as a case of simple drowning, the theory that was ruled out in the very first post mortem report. A mislead and ill-advised chief minister deciding to go ahead with a press conference on the issue without ascertaining the truth, the circulation of fake post mortem reports to the media with a copy of the same even being part of the files of the CID police, fudged up forensic evidence, ineffectual SIT and even more confusing report of Judicial Commission of Enquiry by a retired judge all fit in like a jigsaw puzzle pieces pointing out to major conspiracy.

Though one may like to exclude the top political executive , the State chief minister from the creation of this filthy mess, one cannot excuse him for his absolute naivete. He may have offered apologies on ‘being mislead’ in the very beginning but his initial mistake has not made him any wiser. Neither has he gone beyond the rhetoric of ensuring that justice will be done in the case, nor has he shown that extra initiative from his side, which could have made the difference. Rather, he has been handicapped in even uncovering the mystery of misleading information and even bringing to book those who mislead him.

According to media reports, it was former Divisional Commissioner Masood Samoon who was the first one to have come out to the press with the ‘drowning theory’. Without letting the public know whether this was the origin of chief minister’s gullibility, the man has only been awarded with a seat in the prestigious Public Service Commission after his retirement some weeks ago. Few days after his major faux pas, to prove his sincerity, the chief minister, who had announced the JCI in an arbitrary manner , while creating the furore over his drowning remarks, also instituted a Special Investigating Team of the police in the case. Both these teams, which had a different kind of mandate to probe the case, were supposed to co-ordinate with each other. In striking contrast, they were only working at cross purposes right from the very beginning and this was evident from the two different shades of the JCI report, its script writer Justice Muzzafar Jan distancing from some of the portions of the report only after it was released to the media. Right from the day the SIT started investigations, it failed to build up the confidence level of the people in Shopian and instead went out of the way to discourage anyone to come forward as a witness or offer any clues; much of these are available in plenty even till date but have not been pursued. The two eye witnesses who came forward were illegally detained for two months without even allowing their families to meet them. Words from officials that this was done to protect the eye-witnesses does not justify the act. Clearly, evidence in this case easily nails the men in uniform and where the police personnel are clearly guilty of misusing their positions of authority in tampering with the evidence. It is lucidly clear that the key to investigations in this cases lies in interrogating the four accused police officers who certainly know why they were tampering with the evidence. This is not a simple story of dereliction of duty. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead.

That the SIT has failed to interrogate them or investigate the case and that the top brass of the police has collected misleading post mortem reports is yet another pointer to the operation cover up. Rather it confirms the suspicion about the cover-up originating at the top level. There are several other indications of the case suffering from lack of transparency and providing fertile ground for conspiracies to be hatched. One instance is the whimsical order of selective suspensions in the case. Who ordered them and why? Every little step is mired in mystery and the intricate web of conspiracy is badly entangled that it is unlikely that the CBI can clear off any mist, unless it is lead by a team of efficient officers with impeccable credibility. Going by the past track record of CBI in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere in the country in cases where finger of suspicion is on men in uniform , its conduct has not been altogether above board.

Things cannot progress in this case unless there is a major political initiative. If the chief minister of the state is incapacitated to do so, the Centre must take the initiative and not get tempted into branding the agitation for justice in Shopian as an offshoot of separatist politics. By any yardsticks, the Majlis-e-Mushawarat Shopian, spearheading the campaign for justice is an apolitical body which has resisted temptations of siding with any political group, separatist or mainstream. This fact coupled with the solidarity in and outside Shopian that the MMS has managed to muster has alone sustained the agitation so far. Rather than condemning them, it is important to heed their voice. The politicians of all hues and saner elements within society who hold the issue of human rights very dear to their heart must stop playing politics on the issue and instead express their solidarity with the MMS, which has been wisely and patiently managing to sustain a peaceful and well organised movement. But more importantly, the government must take them seriously and begin a more earnest endeavour in undoing all the wrongs.

The Shopian case becomes significant for everything that it epitomises and not just the rapes and killings of two women, heinous and shocking as the crimes are. The brutal violations in this case are also coupled with abuse of authority to hide the truth and an even bigger cover up emanating from the top, demonstrating the virtual collapse of the system of justice. This does not augur well for any society, least of all an already bruised and alienated society of Kashmir. The significance of the Shopian case has to be weighed in this light, making it incumbent upon the political leadership to respond.