THE SHOPIAN LABYRINTH

(Women protesting in Shopian – Photo by: Bilal Bahadur)

The Shopain “rape and murders” have not only kept Kashmir on boil, but also buried many careers and reputations. Kashmir Life revisits some of the institutions and the individuals stung by the Shopain serpent.

Four months after the bodies of Asiya and Neelofar were recovered from the Rambiara banks in Shopian, the mysterious rape and murder case has by now damaged careers and credibility of many people. While the case remains unsolved it keeps on moving like a serpent biting every foot it finds.

The case itself has seen many twists, changing the direction of the course, many times over. Investigations have thrown a trail of surprises and shocks. Fresh revelations negate new theories over and over again. The shocks seem to vindicate the sections of the population who believe the whole investigation process to be a huge conspiracy. But there are many who say the failure in the initial stage on part of the police triggered such a huge reaction – that killed two protestors and injured hundreds – that now nobody is able to pick up the threads fundamental to the case.

As the CBI is investigating the case for the last three weeks now, a similar pattern of new theories negating older theories is developing.

And again many a credibility buried and reputations tainted.

Omar Abdullah

The young chief minister Omar Abdullah became a major causality of the Shopian case. His clean slate of governance was tainted. His image of a professional administrator was dashed. Two days after the recovery of bodies, Omar declared the setting up of one man judicial commission to probe the case. But to a reporter’s question about the preliminary findings Omar replied that the two women had died due to drowning (by preliminary findings).

Since then Omar has repeatedly sought apologies for his comment and also questioned the intention of the reporter’s query. The CM remarks however, added fuel to the fire and strengthened people’s apprehensions of a state cover up. Hasty rebuttals could not undo the damage.

Omar’s USP of being the youngest chief minister became his burden, as his age was now referred to as his inexperience and immaturity. Home minister P Chidambaram soon said that ‘our young chief minister needs support’ tacitly questioning his ability.

Ashok Bhan

If Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had to face humiliation for a misleading preliminary report, he put the blame on his intelligence chief. Director General of Police, CID Ashok Bhan who was also the then acting police chief of the state had to face the ire of the chief minister for misinforming him.

From the high profile head of the intelligence Bhan was posted (read dumped) as the DG Prisons. Calls for his interrogation and trial came from people ranging from Majlis Mashawarat Shopian and separatists as they felt the old cop was in behind the whole cover up and thus knew the motive. Senior separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani also called for his trial after he was released from a three month long stint in jail.

Bhan is not new to controversies. He was in the line of fire from minority community when six Sikhs were killed in Mehjoor Nagar in 2001. He was accused of saying, “Sikhs should be ready for sacrifices if they want to live here,” that stirred up a storm in the community.

Media

When a satellite channel aired a report that the women were drowned and later said one of them died to “neurogenic shock”, it left people fuming. Unionist political leaders as well as separatists vehemently condemned the reportage. Police raised the security level of the reporter and other staff members of the channel went in hiding or leave.

People accused the channel of being part of the cover up. The reporter denied the existence of any such report. The channel credibility had a dip.

As the selective leaks by CBI – lately banned by the High Court – started creating news again, now the rest of the media is being accused of reporting only half truths.

Police

Former SP of Shopian Javaid Iqbal Mattoo, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Rohit Baskotra, the former Station House Officer, Inspector Shafiq Ahmad and the Sub-Inspector Gazi Abdul Karim were the first to be consumed by Shopian fire. They were at the front when the crime took place. They failed, that too miserably in sanitizing the crime scene, in solving the crime, in cooling the tempers and so on. It was their negligence of duty at the first instance that turned the incident into a huge issue with international ramifications.

The police role has added to the already high level of mistrust of the institution among the people. The Legal Cell Head of Forensic Science Laboratory, Javaid Iqbal Hafiz, has also been gobbled up by the issue. Hafiz was accused of delaying the forensic report for five days as Kashmir was burning.

The four policemen were first suspended and later arrested on court orders. They are later released on bail. While the police’s SIT was opposing their bail officially, unofficially police officers raised money to fight the case of their colleagues in court.

Justice (retd) Muzaffar Jan

If there was an epitaph written in the Shopian case, it was of Justice (retd) Muzaffar Jan. The neighbour of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who headed a one man judicial commission to probe the crime, was castigated as soon as he took over the job. He was castigated again, when he submitted the 400 page report, which analysts said gave official sanction to distasteful gossip. The Jan Commission report called for more investigation into the role of security forces personnel, but suggested that the killings could even be the result of a family feud.

Later Jan distanced himself from the controversial annexures of the report and blamed his assistant, Superintendent of Police Haseeb Mughal for the insertions. Given a big blow to his reputation, the retired justice is unlikely to be called for any other important assignment. Adding to the list of failures the Muzaffar Jan also stands tall in his league along with his expensive commission.

Special Investigative Team

Formed on June 8, on the orders of Director-General of Police Kuldeep Khoda, the Special Investigative Team (SIT) was instituted to make rapid investigations in the Shopian investigation. But its investigators failed to break any ground. As the CBI took over the case, it is still unclear if the SIT had unearthed any vital details or evidences related to the consequence under which the victims died, and whether they were sexually assaulted.

From day one the SIT didn’t have any proper plan. They involved usual tactics in this unusual case and failure became its destiny. Their two million rupees offer had no takers and it became another egg in their face. Even the court monitoring couldn’t get any results from them.

Haseeb Mughal

Prior to the Shopian case Superintendent of Police Dr Haseeb Mughal had a reputation of a professional investigator. He was handpicked by Justice (Retd) Muzaffar Jan to assist him in the commission. His successful handling of Tabinda Gani rape and murder case in Handwara few years back was the main medal on his chest. Shopian case, however, proved otherwise. Justice (retd) Muzaffar Jan accused him of including some controversial annexures into his report. Though he denied his role, both the men in the commission were discredited.

Syed Ali Geelani

Syed Ali Geelani almost brought the government on its heels, as he spearheaded a statewide agitation against the Shopian rapes and murders. Unable to control the aged leader, the government finally put him behind bars, for more than three months. He had to spend a considerable time in hospital too.

Geelani, however, had his share of flips in the case too. In one of his first press conferences on the issue, Geelani said the two women carried a mobile phone with them, from which they had called home and talked about security men chasing them.
The existence of the mobile phone remained a mystery for investigators too, and was never proved.

Soon after his release from jail after three months, Geelani seemed to have sidelined the Shopian issue, surprising many people. But what came as a shocker was his statement that failed a strike call given by Majlis Mashawarat Committee on the release on bail of four policemen accused of destroying evidence.

The Majlis called for a statewide bandh to protest the release, but Geelani asked them to restrict the strike to Shopian. A dejected Majlis retorted by announcing its non cooperation for Hurriyat programs in future.

As Geelani turned 80 this week, he remained house arrest, virtually under lock and key, with his visitors requiring police permission to meet him.

Doctors

Two teams of doctors were called for autopsies on the victims. As it turns out none were proficient for the job. The first team which consisted of Dr Bilal, and Dr Nazia, from Shopian hospital reported rigor mortis and inability to conduct a gynecological examination. However, confusion abounded as the doctors were unable to conduct the autopsy both because of their inexperience and the surcharged atmosphere. Doctors from the first team were accused of ruling out rape and were thus maligned as the second team indicated rape.

The second team solicited from District Hospital Pulwama consisted of Dr Nighat Chiloo, Dr Ghulam Qadir Sofi and Dr Maqbool. Initially hailed as heroes, the doctors are the latest villains in the plot after reports of Dr Nighat’s confession that they had sent fake samples of vaginal swabs to FSL as the samples from victims were ‘never taken”.

The slides are reported to have been taken from some other women in Pulwama hospital giving the case a mysterious twist. The doctors are under suspension and the inquiry has been started against them.

High Court BAR Association:

After relentlessly pursuing the Shopian case through a Public Interest Litigation filed in High Court the Jammu Kashmir High Court Bar Association (JKHCBA) withdrew from the case. The Bar seems to have distanced from the just monster before its gobbles its up.

The Bar told the court in the latest hearing of the case, that it was withdrawing because it was unhappy with the case being handed over to CBI. Bar counsel, Mian Qayoon said the CBI was confusing the case by selective leaks to media. On its insistence the high court banned the investigating agency from divulging any information to the media.

OTHERS:

Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik annoyed the Shopian protestors by releasing pictures of his relief distribution at Shopian. The Majlis Mashawarat committee issued a statement the next day barring anyone from bringing any relief material to Shopian.

All eyes are on Majlis Mashawarat Committee which has spearheaded the agitation in Shopian so far. One of its member was found dead in mysterious conditions. The Majlis comprising of traders, religious scholars, fruit growers, lawyers, with a retired government official Abdul Rashid as its president also runs the risk of faltering in the end. They have been steadfast in their resolve to get the culprits behind bars. Constantly under police radar, the Majlis also works under tremendous pressure. Will they sustain is a million dollar question?

The Bar association has already questioned the presence of a doctor nominated by Majlis at the exhumation, Selective leaks from the CBI to media have already raised questions about the agency’s intentions. One of the reports quoting AIIMS doctors about the virginity of the victims have put both the premier health institute and the investigating agency under public scanner.

While one report quotes forensic experts of reporting an intact hymen, another report quotes an Associate Professor of stating that it was “unlikely to establish from the hymen or the uterus of the bodies buried some three to four months ago whether the rape had taken place.”

Another institution involved with the case is the state judiciary and like all others seems to be trapped in a complex maze.

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