Wrong turn on road to new Kashmir

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | Updated: Jun 16 2009, 04:04am hrs
As the mass anger that had spilled over into the streets across the Valley over the rape and murder of two young women at Shopian starts to slowly dispel and the facts are revealed, a story of a complete mishandling of the situation by the Omar Abdullah government can be told. At a time when tourism was returning to its past glory this season in Kashmir, this incident and the response to it have become part of an older tragic pattern.

The mishandling began with police callousness. It tried to disregard the intensity of the tragedy and rushed to close the case as a drowning incident, summarily ruling out rape and murder. As the bodies were recovered from a place close to a J&K police and CRPF camp, public suspicion regarding involvement of security forces was not even considered.

Instead of a prompt investigation, the police acted in ways that led to the loss of crucial evidence; the administration subsequently delayed even the registration of an FIR. The victims family was not provided with the initial findings of the team of doctors who were smuggled out of the hospital even before completion of the postmortem.

The circumstances surrounding the twin rape and murder suggest that the superintendent of police, Shopian, Javaid Iqbal Matoo consistently misled the administration. Chief minister Omar Abdullah, however, failed to grasp the magnitude of the incident as well as the levels of public anger and mistrust. His first mistake was to rush to conclude that the two women died by drowning based on the initial inputs from the superintendent of police and the deputy commissioner of Shopian.

The next blunder was to avoid filing a FIR. The polices reason is that as the mysterious complexities surrounded the case surfaced, they did not find it proper to file a rape and murder case immediately and wanted to conclude the preliminary investigation first. But the most important aspect of the botch-up is the unprofessional manner in which the police party acted when they finally found the bodies. The spot was not secured and essential evidence was lost when the public and not the police removed the bodies from the stream. Then the bodies were handed over for burial even without a complete post-mortem.

Though the J&K Government set up a Judicial Commission and a separate Special Investigation Team (SIT) and promised a free and fair probe into the case, it had already damaged its credibility. As the probe moves ahead slowly, it is likely the Commission may not be able to nail the culprits soon. Thus like dozens of such cases in past, this rape and murder of two young women may also add to the pile of unresolved cases of brutality in Kashmir. But this time, its ramifications could be more serious than ever before.

Nelofar (22) is survived by her two-year-old son, a distraught husband whom she had married against the wishes of her family and a hope that she would reunite with her estranged parents and siblings who had recently reconciled to her decision to marry a young man from a different caste. Seventeen-year-old Asiya had recently passed her class 11 with a distinction and was planning to go to college.

Though mystery shrouds the culprits, people are asking pointed questions. When the police party accompanied by Nelofars husband Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar (Asiya is his younger sister) searched for the two women till 2.30 am on May 30, they did not find anything. The bodies were, however, found in the morning and there seems to be no doubt over the fact that the bodies were dumped into the stream after the search party returned from the scene. How could anybody bring two bodies and dump them in the stream at a place that is under constant gaze of the two camps The investigators are now probing for an answer to this question and have already secured the guard duty roster as well as details of the patrol parties sent out during that night.

The public protests against this tragic incident may die down soon but the scars have again pushed Kashmir to a familiar brink. Omar Abdullahs five month-long honeymoon may have come to an end. If his government fails to expose the culprits and bring them to justice, there is every likelihood that the public mistrust will trigger another cycle of agitation here.