Investigation gets eyes, agitation continues

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(Blood soaked dead body of Asiya Photo: Javid Dar)

Investigation into the Shopian gang rape and murder is narrowing as eyewitnesses point to men in uniform. SHAH ABBAS reports.

After two key witnesses recorded their statements before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), the investigations in Shopian rape and murder cases are gradually heading towards perpetrators. It is clear now that people behind the heinous crime were from one or the other security agency.

Informed sources in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the one-man Inquiry Commission told Kashmir Life that concluding investigations in the case is still a challenge because of loss of evidence.

“Every crime leaves its imprint one or the other way, but in this case the criminals have acted cleverly leaving little behind,” one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “Police inaction wiped out whatever the criminals might have forgotten.”

So far, neither the SP Dr Haseeb Mughal, who is assisting Justice Jan Commission, nor the SIT chief SP Shah-Din Malik have succeeded in getting a trace of the slain women’s footwear and scarves. The rapes and subsequent murders have already been established by doctors and forensic experts.

While the process of establishing the crime is over, the commission and the SIT are convinced that the case was about abduction, raping and murders. Now the task is to identify the perpetrators. Once that happens, there would be a hunt for evidences, senior police officers in Srinagar said.

(File Photo of Asiya and Neelofar)

The eleventh grade student Asiya and housewife Nilofar went missing while returning home on May 29. Their bodies were recovered next morning. As the protests started, police quickly termed it a case of drowning. It infuriated masses and valley wide protests started, forcing the state government to retract its earlier statements.

After the one man enquiry commission led by Justice (retd) Muzaffar Jan started functioning and the SIT moved into the town, the two investigating bodies were headed nowhere. As the frustration started manifesting itself, investigators found a breakthrough. Two witnesses came forward. First they deposed before the Commission and then approached the SIT. On Thursday, SIT finally escorted them to CJM Sham Lal and the Judicial Magistrate Shabir A Malik where their statements were recorded under section 164 (A) of CRPC. The statements get the investigating agencies much closer to the criminals than they ever were.

Ghulam Mohiuddin is a resident of Geerwad, a satellite of Degam hamlet on the other side of the Rambi-aar stream. He has a small provision store on the town side bank of the stream. The evening the two women went missing, Mohiuddin’s neighbour, Abdul Rashid Pampori comes to his shop to buy something. The two then walk home together as Mohiuddin closes his shop for the day. The two told the CJM that on their way home, they noticed a 407 vehicle that was covered with tarpaulin. They had no idea of its registration plate but could see ‘uniformed men’ guarding it from front and rare. As they were passing through, they heard cries for help emerging from the inside the vehicle. They left without mustering courage to ask the ‘uniformed men’ who were crying inside.

The emergence of witnesses is an interesting story. Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, who heads the Shopian Bar Association’s fact finding committee, told Kashmir Life that witnesses had approached them soon after the bodies were found. “We recorded their statement then only,” said Bhat. For many days, the information about witnesses was kept a secret by the Bar as well as residents who are spearheading the agitation, now over three weeks old. As the SIT and the Commission reached a stage where they required it, the witnesses approached.

The two deposed before the commission and later they voluntarily approached the SIT on June 14. There was no action for subsequent days till news about witnesses in ‘police custody’ broke and the two were presented before the CJM. “But for all these days, the SIT made no headway. There were no arrests at all,” said a member of what is now being termed Shopian Majlis-e-Mushawrat (Shopian Advisory Committee).

But SIT insiders told Kashmir Life that they were facing a different problem. “No investigations could take place because town was disturbed. And then the judicial commission became the focus of attention. Anybody having any information went to see the commission first,” one official said. As far as delay in presenting the witnesses to the court goes, he explains, “The witnesses came to us voluntarily as we did not know about them. So the requirement under law is to check if they had any compulsion. Once we were convinced, we went to the court.” The two are still with the SIT. CJM has directed the police to ensure their safety at all costs.

Now the entire attention has shifted towards the vehicle – the TATA 407 model. These vehicles are being used by police, SOG and CRPF. But police and CRPF use two different colours.

Sources tell Kashmir Life that CJM asked the two witnesses about the vehicle. In their reply, the two were categorical, “The same kind of vehicle in which we were driven (by police) here (to the court).” Not many details are available about the witnesses’ ideas of whether they can identify the accused or not. Instead of pointing fingers towards any particular agency (CRPF, SOG, or routine executive police), they have said they were ‘uniformed’. Interestingly, police’s SOG, police station and District Police Lines, all use vehicles of same model and colour. There are reports that the vehicle was roaming around in the area past midnight.

Instead of tracing the criminals in the town, people in Shopian say that SIT must look within first. Apart from police station, J&K Police has two detachments in the town – the SOG in Gagran and DPL near the spot of crime. “The former SP holds answers to many questions,” a lawyer told this correspondent. The Commission, and probably the SIT as well, have already got the cell-phone call records of many cops and super cops. The transcripts, however, are a tightly guarded possession.

But the interesting and almost unreported reality of the Shopian case is the organised agitation which forced the government to investigate a meticulously planned crime. The town has been suspending business for three weeks.

The town has a history of sticking to defiance and protest. They did it in 1979 for six months to force their demand for a hill district. In fact, one Kashmiri Pandit boy was killed in police action and hundreds were injured. They did not get the district then even though the agitation took two and a half years to fizzle out.

Shopian chose to continue to protest despite the fact that rest of the valley resumed normal life after eight days of protest. Relief was distributed among needy families in the town symbolically. Convoys of relief from villages surrounding the town started pouring in. But a day later, when photographs appeared in the local newspapers, it triggered a reaction. Residents in Shopian prevented any further relief from reaching the town.

A meeting was called in the local Jamia Masjid. An apple grower vowed to contribute five million rupees for feeding the population, insisting the audience to continue the shutdown till justice was done. Another trader raised the bar to twenty million provided there was no let up in the protests till “basic demand of getting justice goes”. The traders were infuriated by the photographs published by newspapers to announce the magnanimity and philanthropy of people who had poured in with relief.

The National Conference as well as the state government stayed away from Shopian. Right now, it is the cop and the paramilitary man that represents the government in the town. CRPF is already accused of damaging over 300 houses in the township.

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