Rape of an investigation

The only bit of evidence on Shopian “rapes and murders” has been lost as CFSL report says that the vaginal swabs of victims have been tampered with. While the development renders prospects of nailing perpetrators highly remote, it also makes investigators’ role much more suspect. Justice, however, seems to be lost in the fudged tracks that run all the way from Pathribal to Shopian. Kashmir Life reports.

Ten weeks after Neelofar and her teenage sister-in-law Asiya were raped and murdered in Shopian, the drama of state investigation and various claims it throws now and then are getting murkier. Despite a judicial commission, a special police investigation, and the government assurances, no headway have been made in reaching to the criminals so far. Instead the focus has been on the destruction of evidence and the complicity of officials in the destruction.

From the beginning of the case, it was evident that police officers posted in the area had not just let the evidences go but also made efforts to wipe them off. There were no efforts to collect samples from the spots bodies were recovered, no efforts to preserve the crime spots, no leads followed, and the autopsies were botched up affairs.

The only credible piece of evidence that one thought had survived in the case was the vaginal swabs of the two women which were first sent to Forensic Science Laboratory Srinagar and later to Central Forensic Science Laboratory in New Delhi. It was on the basis on these swabs that a DNA test of accused policemen and suspects was to be conducted. Some 40 odd police and CRPF men, including the four officers who have been arrested on court orders, had been shortlisted for the DNA testing.

It now appears that the swabs, which through FSL examination had verified rapes, are not of the victims’ altogether. The disclosure comes ten weeks after the two bodies were buried, diminishing the chances of retrieving a fresh sample through exhumation.

The CBI-managed Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), where the slides from vaginal swabs of two women were sent, along with their blood and viscera samples, has reported that the swab samples did not match with the other two, indicating a fudged sample.

While it shows the extent of intervention that has gone in the cover up of the whole issue, the damage it does to the investigation process is probably irreparable. The influence and reach of the criminals involved in the crime is apparent enough. The police, as an institution is in the dock, so is the state, while the perpetrators of the heinous crime are taking advantage of the confusion.

All this comes on top of the helplessness various state agencies were finding themselves in.  On Wednesday, when Neelofar’s husband Shakeel Ahanger appeared before the division bench of high court hearing the twin rape and murder case, the court ended up asking him if he had any suggestions. “There is Azad Ahmad Turrey who says even if he is blasted (to death) he would not reveal anything,” a distraught Ahanger told the court. “I do not rule out even his involvement.”

After a judicial commission’s report and many periodic reports by the much-hyped Special Investigation Team (SIT), the division bench was keen to know if there were any suspects who could be investigated. “You suggest what could be done?” the Chief Justice flanked by Justice Mohammad Yaqub Mir asked Ahanger.

The fudging of samples sent for DNA finger printing has not only put a question mark over the entire investigation but also added to difficulties in proceeding ahead from now. Later, the defending counsels from the two sides were asked to meet and come out with some idea.

A few hours earlier, the situation was similar in the state legislature. As the lawmakers raised the issue of the sample mismatch, speaker Mohammad Akber Lone found the way out in suspending the question hour. The members debated the issue threadbare. To every speaker, Lone was asking – “please suggest what should be done?”

All of a sudden, it is not just the commoner on the Shopian streets who feels hapless and helpless. Various appendages of the system are wrangled in the same haplessness over the issue that already devoured three lives and left hundreds injured. Shopian, the shocked town remained closed for 49 days to seek answers for the fundamental questions – if the two were kidnapped, raped and murdered, why the police insisted on drowning and if finally the crimes were established, who the perpetrators are? “People in Shopian do not demand Azaadi, they want answers,” Ahanger told the bench.

We do not permit our kids to come out (of home) fearing they might be killed in an accident, Ahanger continued. “There is police repression. The two witnesses who volunteered to come forward and depose were detained. In custody, they were tortured and kept hungry as a result of which they are dispirited now.” He said, “Half of the locality knows who did it and what happened that fateful night but nobody is asking them.” As the bench insisted, he identified wife of Shakeel Salroo, a Shopian resident, and a few others.

It is back to square one. Earlier, the police had to investigate two cases – who kidnapped, raped and murdered the two women and why the police permitted destruction of evidence? Now yet another question is to be probed – who fudged the slides? The plot thickens with every new development. SIT has raided Pulwama hospital twice and seized some documents and slides. So far, there is no lead.

The vaginal swabs that Dr Nighat Shaheen had taken were the only piece of evidence after the circumstantial evidence was lost to the negligence of policemen on ground. The two slides – one broken – were prepared in Shopian Hospital amid chaos and confusion following the recovery to two bodies. The samples were taken by doctors to Pulwama where they were kept for a night in a locker. Later they were handed over to the FSL in Srinagar. It was on basis of these slides that the FSL said the rape had taken place. It was this slide that was later sent to the CFSL along with other samples for DNA profiling and other tests. Now when the samples have been certified as fake or fudged, the only piece of available evidence stands lost.

With the controversy deepening, doctors are also getting in the dock. They have to answer for the negligence and laxity in the collection of samples and its safety. On May 30, knowing that they were going to place where the atmosphere is surcharged and the hospital has been attacked, doctors should have taken basic requirements along. And then, swabs had to be preserved and only a part put on the slides for forensic examination. The process of preparing the slides should have been carried out in presence of a chief judicial magistrate. Right now, sources tell Kashmir Life, there is no swab preserved anywhere.

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