Harbour: Port of Kashmir was a series of events organised by Karnataka for Kashmir Forum (KKF) in Bangalore. This article is an interaction with Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer from Shopian who is associated with the campaign for justice for Asiya and Nelofar – victims of the 2009 Shopian double rape and murder case. He was invited by KKF to talk in Bangalore. In addition to revisiting the Shopian double rape and murder, Habeel also sets forth how institutions play their part in systematically denying justice to the people of Kashmir.
It has been seven years since the brutal gang rape and murder of Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan, aged 17 years and 22 years respectively during the year of the incident, in Shopian District of Kashmir. Seven years of enquiries, legal processes, statements by Justices, police officers and bureaucrats which have led to nothing. Another seven years of using security related legislation to militarise Kashmir with impunity. Ironically, the legal institutions which keep the ‘occupation’ in place are the same that one needs to engage with when faced with an incident of this gravity, in the pursuit of justice.
“In Kashmir where violence is institutionalized and safeguarded by the Court, justice is a corrupted word”, remarks Mahum Shabir, a legal researcher and sculptor from Kashmir, who was also here for the ‘Port of Kashmir’ series. Mahum is a part of the “Solidarity for the Handwara Girl” campaign and has worked with the legal team for the release of the Handwara Girl from illegal police detention. She is a little too familiar with the tactics the State employs when the havoc it’s wreaking comes out in the open. She has witnessed how the dignity of the Handwara minor girl was maligned and how she had to face humiliating questions from the officers of the Court, the officers of the State and the officers of the Police force.
A mention of the Shopian double rape and murder probably brings back memories of similar schemes of the Indian State for Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer from Shopian district of Kashmir who has been a part of the justice for Neelofar and Asiya campaign. Habeel has similar opinions on justice. The inaction of the state apparatus and police aided by judicial complacency is the perfect formula for obstruction of justice in Kashmir, he explains. Be it the mass rapes of Kunan Poshpora by the personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army in 1991, the killing of 35 sikhs in Chittasingpora in 2000, or the indiscriminate killing of 120 kashmiri youth by the Indian Army in 2010, each incident calls for the application of the ‘obstruction of justice’ formula.
“When Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of J&K at that point, announced a day after the incident that the cause of Neelofar and Asiya’s death is drowning, the entire district of Shopian was up in arms. Anybody who has lived in Shopian will know that the depth of Rambi-Ara nallah is not even knee deep. Children cross this river without supervision and a death by drowning while crossing the nullah is unheard of in Shopian, let alone drowning of two fully grown women. How does one trust the State when the Chief Minister himself donnes the role of the master story teller?”, questions Habeel.
Going into the details of the double rape and murder of Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan, Habeel describes what transpired on the intervening night of 29th and 30th May, 2009. When Asiya and Neelofar didn’t return from their everyday visit to the family owned orchard, Shakeel Ahmed, the husband of Neelofar and the elder brother of Asiya, set out on a lookout for them. When he couldn’t find them, he proceeded to seek help from the Shopian Police Station. After searching for them through the night along the length and breadth of Rambi Ara Nallah, adjacent to which their apple orchard was located, he was sent away by the officials promising that they would restart the search at the break of dawn. Surprisingly, the police officials located the blood soaked bodies early the following day in the same area which they had searched the previous day. The bodies were found along the Rambi Ara Nallah placed 1.5 KM’s apart. The area where the bodies were found falls between the police and the CRPF camps and police residential buildings and Rashtriya Rifles, and is considered a high security zone, access to which is highly restricted. Both Asiya and Neelofars bodies were found with their clothes blood stained and torn, with multiple bruises, fractures, scuffmarks and scratch marks all over the body. The condition in which the bodies were found, the place where the bodies were found and the behaviour of the Police was reason enough for the people of Shopian to get wind of the situation.
To further aggravate matters, the Superintendent of Police, contrary to the findings of the doctors at the District Hospital who on performing lung flotation tests were of the opinion that the cause of death couldn’t be drowning, persisted that the cause of death is drowning and even tried to fudge the report in their favour. Not only did the SP try hushing up the matter but in the process he ensured that all investigation procedures like collection of samples from the scene of crime weren’t carried out. In short, the SP and his colleagues in their bid to cover up the incident were instrumental in destroying physical evidences. After massive protests, the Deputy Commissioner constituted another team of doctors from the adjoining district of Pulwama which comprised of a gynecologist. The second team after examination of the bodies and a gynecological examination also concluded that the cause of death wasn’t drowning and that both the women have been raped, by more than one person. This sparked off a 47 day long shutdown of the District of Shopian, coordinated by a committee called Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an apolitical representative body set up exclusively for seeking justice for the rape and murder of Asiya and Neelofar. “The Majlis-e-Mushawarat was constituted in such a way that every mohalla had a representative. All the decisions were taken unanimously and the M-e-M was the driving force for the struggle to continue for so long. The people of Shopian wanted the State to answer for the crimes of its personnel and it’s silence”, explains Habeel.
The protests ensured that within a day, the Chief Minister woke up from his delusional phase and a one man Judicial Enquiry Commission headed by Justice Muzaffar Jan was constituted on June 1, 2009. Soon after, a Special Investigative Team (SIT) was also constituted by the Director General of Police.
“The Indian State is marvelous in its deception. These setting up of commissions and teams has fooled nobody. Rather, they are set up with the purpose of obliterating the truth further. The SIT’s first direction to their officers was probably to get the rumour mills rolling. We call these officers ‘SP-Rumours’. Every other day, various rumours which varied from character assassination of Asiya, Neelofar and their families to probabilities of local people being involved in the double murder and rape were unleashed on the people of Shopian. But the people of Kashmir are so used to these games that the people hardly believe what the State has to say. If one theory is promulgated by the State, we always believe that the opposite is true. Take the drowning theory for instance. We knew what the truth was because it was right in front of us. These attempts by the State to break our resolve hardly worked. The struggle continued despite these efforts to compromise the movement”, recollects Habeel.
Predictably, both the Jan Commission and the SIT did nothing more than obliterate the truth further. Though Dr. Fareeda Noor, Head, Department Of Forensic Medicine, Government Medical College, Srinagar deposed in front of the Commission confirming the presence of multiple spermatozoa after examining the samples collected from the bodies of Asiya and Neelofar, her observations didn’t find place in the Commission’s findings. Nor did the report discuss the findings of the gynecologist from Pulwama and the conclusions she put forward. Infact, the Commission was completely silent about the nature of sexual violence inflicted on Asiya and Neelofar. The findings of the Commission did point the fingers at officials of the police force for mishandling investigations and aiding in covering up what transpired on the 29th of May but who didn’t know that already? The findings implicated the Police personnel only for mishandling investigation but it’s surprising how the Commission conveniently overlooked the presence of military and paramilitary forces in the area from where the bodies were recovered. Infact, there is no mention of the CRPF or the Rastriya Rifles in the findings at all. Instead the Report went on to make defamatory, unwarranted statements about the character of Asiya, Neelofar and Shakeel Ahmed and went on to speculate Shakeel Ahmeds involvement in the double murder. Justice Jan distanced himself from the Report stating that nowhere in his findings had he mentioned anything about the character of Asiya and Neelofar or their families or their involvement. It is not entirely difficult to guess who would be behind this doctoring.
Meanwhile the High Court of J&K ordered the arrest of four police officers on the basis of an interim report submitted by the SIT. The Majlis-e-Mushawarat called off the strike seeing renewed hope in the order of the High Court of J&K. Soon after, the SIT cast aspersions on the competence of the doctors who conducted the post mortems and alleged that the vaginal slabs which were collected were doctored. Almost on cue, the State Government handed over the investigation to the CBI and what followed thereafter is predictable. When the CBI swooped in with its ‘highly qualified experts’ from AIIMS, the Majlis-e-Mushawarat were still hopeful that the glitches in the Jan Commission’s findings would be fixed. Their hopes were short lived and quite the opposite happened. After discrediting the preliminary findings of all the experts, the CBI proceeded to exhume the bodies of Asiya and Neelofar after a period of four months for examination.
Immediately after the examination, Habeel mentions how the examining officer proclaimed “mubarak ho, rape nahi hua hai, aapki aur hamari izzat bach gayi hai”. “The CBI and the State kept trying to suggest to us that the women were pious and hence the bodies weren’t decomposed which is how they arrived at the conclusion that the hymen was intact. Infact, the CBI expected us to buy their story and thank the heavens that rape hadn’t happened”.
The ‘expert team’ concluded that in the case of Asiya, her hymen was intact thus dismissing the probability of rape and in the case of Neelofar, a conclusion cannot be arrived at as she was married. The cover up was complete. The CBI had done what it had set out to do, which is corroborate what the Chief Minister had said in his very first press conference about the incident. “Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan had drowned to death”. “When the CBI filed the report in the High Court, the first remarks of the Chief Justice of that time, Justice Barin Ghosh while trying to convince the Majlis-e-Mushawarat to be a part of the presentation of the CBI’s findings, was that the CBI Report isn’t the gospel of truth. Justice Barin Ghosh, had tried everything in his power to be of help to the Majlis-e-Mushawarat in its quest for justice. Predictably, he was transferred to the Sikkim High Court and we know what such a transfer means. Anybody who toes the line set by the State in Kashmir has always been suitably punished”, notes Habeel.
Following the submission of the CBI Report, the Police filed a closure report and all legal proceedings connected with the double murder and rape ended there. The doors of the judiciary had closed its doors once again to the people of Kashmir.
The conversation comes back to justice and whether going through the process of dealing with the State and its institutions in the aftermath of every institutional rape, disappearance or killing is redundant. Habeel’s concluding remarks pushes one to reflect on where ‘the collective conscience’ of the Indian State and its people are headed if one continues to ignore the kashmiri civil society dissent in the face of the shocking and untold human rights violations which are being committed on an everyday basis in Kashmir, “For a kashmiri, the notion of justice is non-existent. For us, justice isn’t bringing the perpetrators to book because like in the case of Shopian, that might never happen. Our trust has been broken by the Indian State multiple times and in all probability, it will remain this way for the years to come. But the process of seeking justice brings the community together like it did in the aftermath of May 29th. Shopian saw a complete shutdown for 47 days and every move, every lie of the Indian State was called out by the people of Shopian. In the process of approaching the system and engaging with the system, the truth is brought out in the public domain which is the most important part of our struggle. Exposing the system this way time and again is an act of defiance and resistance by itself.”
(Greeshma Aruna Rai is practising lawyer working with Manthan Law, Bangalore)
- Militirization with impunity: A report on Rape and Murder in Shopian, Kashmir compiled by International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK) (http://www.kashmirprocess.org/reports/shopian/toc.html)
- Shopian: Institutional Denial of Justice, report by the Consultative Committee, Majlis-e-Meshawarat (http://www.jkccs.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Shopian-Institutional-Denial-of-Justice.pdf)
- Preliminary Fact-finding report put together by the J&K High Court Bar Association
- ‘Jan Enquiry Commission Report’ compiled by Justice Muzaffar Jan Enquiry Commission
- “Justice (retd) Muzaffar Ahmad Jan has charged the J&K government with messing up his report on the rape and murder of two Shopian women.” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Cops-fudged-Shopian-report-says judge/articleshow/4770491.cms?
- Shopian: manufacturing a suitable story, compiled by the Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice (http://www.kashmirtimes.com/shopian-report.pdf)
- “A flawed enquiry”, by A.G. Noorani (http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2617/stories/20090828261703500.htm)
- “Fire in the Valley”, by Shujaat Bukhari (http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2613/stories/20090703261301700.htm)
- “Exhume this investigation”, by Parvaiz Bukhari (http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main42.asp?filename=Ne101009exhume_this.asp)
- “Shopian: CBI On A Spree Of Manufacturing Lies”, by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal (http://www.countercurrents.org/jamwal161209.htm)
- Shopian, the CBI and the ‘Politics of truth’, by Aijaz A Wani (http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/gk-magazine/shopian-the-cbi-and-the-politics-of-truth/65526.html)