Scandal returns to haunt Valley

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | Updated: Aug 4 2009, 04:17am hrs
The story of the 2006 Srinagar sex scandal that has shaken up Kashmir politics again in the last few days begins in the remote village of Ijhara in Uri. A village girl, Sabina, wanted to make it big and took to the flesh trade as a short-cut. She shifted to Srinagar and married Abdul Hameed Bhulla, a low-rung employee in the health department in the Habakadal locality of downtown city in 2000. Sabina had already established contact with Riyaz Ahmad Langoo, who later became her closest associate in developing a sex abuse ring.

Sources say that Sabinas first contact with police and security agencies was through sources and counter-insurgents introduced to her by Langoo. And thus started an era of official patronage for her activities. Soon she would supply girls, most of them teenagers, to police, officers of the security forces and politicians.

The first hush-up

On October 7, 2000, the police received information that a man was escorting a group of three girls to New Delhi for prostitution and they were about to cross the Banihal tunnel. A police party from Qazigund police station laid an ambush near Glass Tower chowki on the national highway and the group was arrested.

As soon as the girls identities were ascertained, the policemen knew the case was sensitive. One of the girls, Gulshana Akhtar alias Pepsi of Kaw Mohalla in downtown Srinagar, who was working as a special police officer, repeatedly dropped the name of a senior police officer. The other two girls were identified as Tahira and Bunty, also working as SPOs. All refused to cooperate with the cops.

As the investigation repeatedly took them to a few senior police officers, one investigator informed his superiors. The young sub-inspector received a surprise order: Dont pursue the case.

The second hush-up

Nobody knew the true story of the extent of the scandal and its top level official patronage till 2004 when J-K polices intelligence wing unearthed it by sheer chance. Sources said that the then intelligence chief of J-K Police had been receiving inputs about the existence of a well-knit prostitution racket in the city.

In August, the officer learnt that a young woman driving a white Ambassador car had been dropping his name and intimidating traffic cops. The officer immediately asked his sleuths to check the antecedents of the woman.

Intelligence reports suggested the existence of a well-knit sex racket being run from several places across Srinagar city. An elaborate covert operation was launched and surveillance of the mobile phones of the suspects led the J-K Polices sleuths to Sabina.

After raids across the city. Sabina was arrested along with her husband Abdul Hameed Bhulla, two businessmen from Jammu and a Kashmiri trader, besides four girls.

Surveillance of Sabinas mobile phone had already turned the complexion of the case. It was no longer flesh trade alone. Sabina had been running a prostitution ring with an exclusive clientele of powerful politicians, security force and police officers. Support from the law enforcement machinery and access to lawmakers had ensured that Sabina and her ring enjoyed official patronage.

Once the investigations established the links of Sabinas network to powerful people, police investigators were ordered to halt the probe. Sources say the J-K Polices intelligence wing had informed the state government, especially the then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of involvement of ministers, legislators, police and security force officers.

Sabina was not disturbed till March 14, 2006 when a group of elders from Habakadals welfare committee approached the Shaheed Gunj police station with two porn CDs and filed a complaint. The police began routine investigations and identified a 15-year-old girl from Drebyar, Habakadal, who was called along with her parents and questioned. The story of the 15-year-old victim was linked to Sabina and her powerful clients.

Once Sabinas name popped up, the top police brass sought a report from the then sub divisional police officer Javaid Koul who was investigating the case. The investigating officer sent a written confidential report to his superiors, outlining the involvement of Sabina in what was an organised rape of a minor by top politicians, police and security force officer. Immediately, there were verbal orders not to proceed further.

When The Indian Express exposed the powerful racket on April 29, quoting this confidential report, the police swung into action and arrested Sabina. The expose led to a massive public outcry forcing the government to hand over the investigation to the CBI.

The final hush-up

The CBI initially went after the sex abuse scandal with full force. But then there was a sudden halt. Though the expose and subsequent investigation into the sex scandal had also turned into a business of slur and a tool for blackmail, the reason why the investigating agency lost interest was what a senior official termed as implications on the larger politics and the integrity of the country.