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Revisiting Shopian rape and murder case

Nine years have passed since the two sisters-in-law, 23-year Nelofar and 17-year Asiya, were found dead under mysterious circumstances near Rambiara stream outside Shopian town this day in 2009. The circumstances under which the two hapless women went missing the previous evening made the people of the area believe that the victims were kidnapped and subsequently raped and murdered. Then chief minister Omar Abdullah, in his very first reaction, went against general perception of rape and murder and called it a case of drowning. But two days after Omar’s impulsive shout, police, much to his embarrassment, registered it as a case of rape and murder. The public anger against the incident forced chief minister to order judicial inquiry. The Commission headed by Justice (rtd) Muzaffar Jan emphatically established that the two ladies were raped before being murdered. Senior police officer Dr Haseeb Mughal, who assisted the Commission in the investigations, too, in his findings, corroborated the perception of rape and murder. The only difference was that Justice Jan pointed fingers towards “some agency” of Jammu and Kashmir Police (insinuation went to SOG) and Dr Mughal doubted some family members could be involved in the crime. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by then state police chief Kuldeep Khuda also established the rape and murder theory.

The state agencies were unanimous in describing the death of the two hapless girls as “rape and murder”. They failed only in identifying the perpetrators of the crime or they did not want to identify the culprits. Then Chief Justice Barin Gosh, who, along with Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, was monitoring the SIT investigations, on one occasion, declared in full Court; there is good news. The culprit has left behind enough evidence which could lead to him. On July 23, 2009, Chief Justice said that the arrested policemen (SP Javed matto, DSP Rohit Baskotra, Inspector Shafiq Ahmad (then SHO Shopian), the Sub-Inspector, Gazi Abdul Karim, and the Legal Cell Head, Forensic Science Laboratory, Javaid Iqbal Hafiz (who were arrested at the recommendations of the Jan Commission for destroying evidence) were either involved or knew the guilty. The High Court had earlier (on July 3, 2009) ordered interrogation and Norco analysis of the arrested policemen.

But it was, in fact, the government that did not want to identify and arrest the culprits. Government appeared to be suffering with the problem of credibility. It did not want to against the line chief minister had taken in his very first reaction when he called it a case of drowning. As the SIT and Justice Jan Commission, both, had rejected the drowning theory, it made Omar Abdullah scary. On September 9 (2009), the Omar government handed over the case to CBI notwithstanding the fact High Court (on August 12) had directed the state government not to do so till September 30. Another gross violation of the court orders was committed when CBI brought a team of doctors from Delhi for exhumation of Asiya and Nelofar’s bodies. There were standing orders from the Division Bench of the High Court that if exhumation was needed during the process of investigations it should be done by the Principal of Government Medical College Srinagar, who would nominate the team.

The way CBI investigated the incident and concluded its findings, it looked that the agency tried from day one to make it a case of drowning. Though this theory was rejected by, both, Jan Commission and the SIT. CBI reversed the whole process of investigations and said that no rape and murder had taken place. The CBI recorded all the statements of related people at its Humhama camp. They visited Shopian only to record the distance to the house of the victims from the site of crime just to prove that Asiya and Neelofar attempted to cross the water stream to reach their home earlier and got drowned. Shakeel Ahangar, husband of Neelofar and brother of Asiya, alleged that what he narrated to CBI was not recorded. At the conclusion of the inquiry CBI simply proved Omar Abdullah ‘right’.