Kashmir Watch, June 17
By A. G. NOORANI
A young girl was gang raped by three men in Surat recently. The city was plunged in turmoil. A bandh was declared on 15 June yet the anger continued to simmer. In Shopian two young women were gang raped near the camps of the Police and security forces by personnel belonging to them, as the circumstantial evidence and desperate attempts at a cover-up clearly suggested. And they were murdered. How would we have reacted if the Chief Minister had instantly given a false explanation and then retracted under public pressure. This is what Kashmir’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah did. He needed prodding by the Centre even to order registration of an FIR. Its people yearn for a Chief Minister who would stand up to the security forces on their behalf. In the first test of his capacity and calibre since he came to office as CM only a few months ago, Omar Abdullah has revealed that he will follow the tradition firmly established by his father, Farooq Abdullah. Shopian will join Bijbehera and other such gory incidents in the last two decades of Kashmir’s history; if not earlier.
Kashmir is alienated from the Union of India. If its people are to be won over, not just the Indian State, but India’s civil society must reach out to its people and assure them that we shall strive to see that they also enjoy the benefits of India’s secularism and democracy. The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has striven valiantly in the cause and far more than any of his predecessors, Atal Behari Vajpayee included. He faced obstruction from the Home Ministry headed by the incompetent Shivraj Patil and bureaucrats in the Ministry.
Therein lies the tragedy of Omar Abdullah’s lapse. He ascended, he could have played the role of a bridge-builder, unlike Farooq Abdullah whose sole concern has been the loaves and fishes of public office; just any office. The tragic aspect apart, the gravity of Omar Abdullah’s lapse testifies to a mindset which cannot be concealed behind his florid rhetoric. The record speaks for itself.
On 29 May, Aasiya Jan (17) and her pregnant sister-in-law Neelofar Jan (24) went into their orchard at Degam, Batpora, across the Rambiara nullah, around 5 p.m. Neelofar’s husband, Shakeel Ahmed Ahangar told the press : “When they didn’t return till late in the evening, I went out to search them. I could not find them any where and a neighbour told me that the duo had left for home just when a patrolling party was passing through the area. I then approached the police. At 10 p.m., I along with a police party led by the station house officer, went out in search of Neelofar and Aasiya but couldn’t locate them till 3 a.m. after which we returned.”
On 30 May at 5 a.m., Shakeel said, he along with the police again went in search of the duo. “I saw Neelorfar’s body in the nullah and Aasiya’s body one kilometer away from her,” not far from a CRPF camp. Indeed the bodies were within the range of the lights of the CRPF and police camps. The road to the orchard goes past these camps which are visible from the spot where Nilofar’s body was found. It is a high security area patrolled regularly by the police as the Dy. Commissioner and other officials live there.
The Minister for Rural Development and Panchayats Ali Muhammed Sagar promised on 30 May that the truth would be out within 48 hours. But a press release issued by the police that day said “Post-mortem conducted revealed no marks on the dead bodies including private parts”. After some time, another police press release cancelled it but without admitting to any wrong doing.
Only on 7 June did third press release say : a “prima facie cognizable offence has taken place and a case has been registered”, but medical opinion on the cause of death was awaited. Desperate attempts was made to show that the rapists were not murderers. On 6 June a Forensic Science Laboratory report had confirmed presence of sperm in the vaginal smears of both women.
It was in this context that on 1 June Omar Abdullah called it “a case of drowning”. The nullah or stream only has ankle deep water. He added “The initial findings do not suggest either rape or murder, but now we want to get it cleared beyond doubt”.
There was ample reason for him not to accept the police version on 1 June. There was its retraction of a press note two days earlier; the state of the stream which ruled out drowning and the revelation of a suspicious circumstance on 31 May � till the evening of 29 May tents of Gujjar nomads and their flocks had existed for months on the spot. They had vanished by 2.30 a.m. on 30 May. Shakeel Ahangar came to know the reason � they had heard the shrieks screams of the women and were forced to vacate. Amazingly the police did not detect the movement of those who brought the bodies between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. on 30 May.
Nilofar’s father Syed Abdul Hai disclosed that as doctors started the post-mortem on 30 May, they waited outside only to find the Shopian S.P. Javaid Iqbal Mattoo barging in. They did not come out “for a long time” and were told that the doctors and the SP had escaped from the window. “As we entered the room we fund them missing. There was found a hand-written report which claimed the rape charge as negative. We got furious.” (Kashmir Times, 1 June). Mattoo has since been transferred; not suspended.
It was only on 4 June that the Chief Minister admitted grudgingly “something has happened there”. He claimed “Nilofar and Asiya were like my sisters”. That awareness was absent on 1 June. He decided to set up a judicial inquiry. The established norm is to ask the CJI to nominate the judge. The excuse he gave for not following this course and nominating instead a hand-picked retired High Court Judge testifies to lack of sincerity. “Supreme Court sanction would have taken at least two months to arrive”. This is untrue and a slur on the CJI Justice K. G. Balakrishnan. Justice Muzaffar Jan inspires little confidence.
On 6 June the former Union Minister Saifuddin Soz was summoned by the UPA’s Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and asked to go to Srinagar. Subhajit Roy of Indian Express summed it up neatly : “Under pressure, the J&K Government late on Sunday night (7 June) registered a rape case”. Soz revealed that he had “explained” to Omar that “the Police should lodge an FIR in the death of the two women”. The FIR on murder was filed on 10 June, three days later.
It was a series of inexplicable actions � instant exoneration, even an FIR only at the Centre’s behest a whole week after the crime, and a hand-picked judge. Add to it the absurd rhetoric and you get a sorry image.
It is no secret that the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram visited the State against the wishes of the CM and his father. He did not promise much “We would like to take small, baby steps one by one and no great leap in Kashmir” he said in Srinagar on 11 June. The local police will be brought to the fore. The Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor dampened hopes for troop reductions despite the fall in militancy. Sanjay Kak aptly remarked, the people do not care what uniform “the oppressive figure of the soldier” wears. The real issue is “the extraordinary and intolerable militarization of Kashmir”.
Chidambaram was close to the mark when he remarked “These problems require a political solution. .. We have to engage everyone in a dialogue.”
A. G. NOORANI, is an advocate, Supreme Court of India and a leading Constitutional exper
What Shopian Reveals By A G Noorani