Excerpts from a report by The Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice
In the afternoon of 29 May, 2009, two young women left home for their orchard. Neelofar and Asiya were sisters-in-law. Neelofar had married Asiya’s brother Shakeel, and had an infant son. Asiya a schoolgoing teenager aspired to become an engineer. In the evening Shakeel learnt that Neelofar and Asiya had not returned home. These are trying times in Kashmir, and there is much cause for concern when people do not return home before dark. Shakeel began his search with friends and family. As night set in, Shakeel sought the help of the police and together they scoured the countryside.
The way to the orchard is crowded with the security forces – the District Police Lines, an army outpost and a CRPF camp, with night lights. The Rambi Ara Nallah that runs through is clearly visible to the lookouts in the CRPF camp, under the glare of the search lights. Before the Justice Jan Commission, the night guards, stated they had seen the search party, but conveniently noticed nothing for the rest of the night, and had no explanation for the mysterious appearance of the bodies.
The police called off the search at 2.30 a.m. promising to restart at the crack of dawn. Around 5.30 a.m. Shakeel resumed the search. An hour later the local police joined and almost immediately the SHO Shafeeq Ahmed pointed out the spot where Neelofar’s body was found. Neelofar’s body was found at a shallow spot which is located about 100 mtrs upstream from Zavora bridge over the Rambi Ara Nallah.
It was observed by Justice Jan in the First Spot Inspection that the depth of the stream around the spot would be 2 -2.5 feet, with reasonably fast flowing water, but certainly not strong current to drown an adult girl. It is pertinent to note that this exact spot had been thoroughly searched by the family and police till 2:30a.m.
Asiya’s body was found further downstream, 1.5 km from the army camp. The exact spot is 1.5 km down stream from Zavora bridge. The dead body was found at an elevated dry spot in the stream. Those who helped retrieve the bodies of the two women saw enough to suspect that this was a case of rape and murder. The photographs taken of the bodies as they were recovered from the Nallah showed visible signs of injuries and wounds. When the bodies reached the hospital, there were two post-mortems performed on them to determine the cause of death and any antecedent injuries. It was put out by the police that the deaths were caused by drowning although the first post mortem report itself had negated drowning as the cause of death of the two women.
Whenever a crime occurs, what leads the investigator to the accused are a series of material, forensic, scientific, medical, circumstantial and ocular evidence. The diligent collection and professional analysis of these pieces of evidence enable the whodunit to be solved. Similarly the mystery surrounding the killing of 2 young women in Shopian could have been unraveled by piecing together the clues.
However at every stage those responsible for unmasking the culprit/s, have systematically and deliberately destroyed, tampered, diluted, the evidence and thus misdirected and obfuscated the investigation. The truth of this damning statement is borne out by the facts enumerated below:
- The spots from where the bodies of Neelofar and Asiya • were recovered were not preserved or cordoned off by SHO Shafeeq Ahmed and SI Gazi Abdul Kareem and no instructions to that effect were given by the S.P. Javed Mattoo. Evidence relating to vehicle tyre marks, footprints was not gathered, these could have provided a vital trail leading to the accused. No instructions were given by the S.P or SHO to photograph the bodies. No detailed or accurate site plan of the spot was prepared. For instance the motorable approach road into the Rambi Ara Nallah is conveniently not marked. Again relevant details such as the depth, width of the stream and the speed of the current were left out.
- Neither the S.P. Javed Mattoo nor the Dy. S.P. went to the spot to supervise the investigation.The S.P.,Dy S.P. and SHO • all three admitted before the Jan Commission that contrary to the settled position of law they did not issue instructions for registration of the F.I.R
- Clothes of the deceased women were not seized nor was any material collected from the spot where the bodies were found. The S.P also admitted that the visible injury of a large size on the head of Asiya was not measured.
The town rose as one to challenge what they saw as an attempt to cover up a crime. Shopian shut down for 48 days. The government had to set up a Commission of Inquiry, an SIT and the High Court had to interest itself in the matter before the town resumed a semblance of the everyday. Majlis-e-Mashawarat, comprising of the elders of Shopian led the demand for justice to the victims, their families and for the assurance of safety to all women of Shopian. The valley joined the call for justice.
6 months later, the CBI reportedly claims that what happened that night was a case of drowning. No one is to blame.
The drowning theory that the CBI is floating does not hold water, for the following reasons:
Neelofar’s body was found in the very place where the police and family had looked for them the last thing the previous night. That is, it was not there at 2.30 a.m., but was found at about 6 o’clock. And no one admitting to having seen it happen despite the high security in the area. Where were the women till then? In hiding? Why? Guard Commander B.B. Kumar and Pradeep Kumar admitted before the Justice Jan Commission that they had instructions to report any suspicious movement in the Nallah during the intervening night of 29-30th May, 2009, but had noticed no suspicious movement of vehicles in the nallah from 2:00a.m. – 4:00a.m. There has been no report or “leak” of the CBI, further questioning these 2 night guards.
- The only test performed on both the bodies was the lung flotation test, performed by Dr. Bilal during the first postmortem on 30th May, 2009, which negated the possibility of death by drowning. When IWIJ met the CB-CID, at their insistence, a post-mortem report was flaunted before us, which did not bear the endorsement that drowning had been conclusively ruled out. Why did the police and Shopian administration announce drowning as the cause of death despite medical evidence to the contrary? Why were senior officers trying to convince us of drowning even after three months through an uncertified post mortem report? The drowning theory however continues to resurface and the CBI leaks are once again trying to resuscitate it.
- All the officers of the department advanced the theory of death by drowning with full knowledge and belief that no one in the recent or past history of Shopian has died due to drowning in River Rambi Ara.
- The Shopian Bar Association had during the course of it’s independent fact finding found 2 public witnesses viz. Abdul Rashid and Ghulam Mohi-ud- Din. On 29th May, 2009 around 7:30 -8:00 p.m., these 2 men just after crossing the Zavora bridge on Rambi Ara Nallah, saw a blue colour 407 police truck with khaki tarpal on the left side of the road, in which 2 girls were shouting ‘Mouji Mouji’. The eight uniformed men guarding the front and rear of the truck abused, threatened and forced these two witnesses to flee from the spot.
- All witnesses who may testify to a cause of death other than drowning have been systematically compromised. Significantly witnesses who did not support the drowning theory have reportedly under sustained interrogation from the CBI changed their stance.
As for accidental drowning, of two women, in such shallows, in a nallah where no one in recent or living memory has ever drowned – we would need to be more than merely credulous to believe that possible! While available evidence has been manipulated and distorted, crucial material, circumstantial,ocular and forensic evidence was deliberately never collected and allowed to be destroyed, lest the tell tale signs point an accusing finger.