Shopian: Rumors and leaks - Part 1

BY Parvaiz Bukhari| IN Media Practice | 25/10/2009
The Majlis-e-Mashawarat (MM), fear that the information leaks to PTI"at selective intervals" in the course of the CBI investigation are aimed at advancing"a suitable truth" about the case.
PARVAIZ BUKHARI traces the way the media has been used to obfuscate the truth since the beginning of the case.

After the exhumation of the victims' bodies on Sept 28, the people of Shopian are eagerly awaiting findings of a continuing probe by a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team to know what may have happened to sisters-in-law, Asiya and Neelofar, allegedly raped and murdered by men in uniform on May 29. Media reports about the case allow us to understand how rumors and leaks to press have become tools in the state armory to paint the massive protests around the incident and its stormy political aftermath as ill-founded.

Majlis-e-Mashawarat (MM), a residents' consultative committee of 300 odd members drawn from across the district spearheading a campaign for justice to the victims' families, is also slowly piecing together the way rumors and leaks continue to be used as the CBI is carrying out its probe.

In a statement issued on Oct 16, the MM accused the CBI of following a path of cover-ups similar to that of the Special Investigating Team (SIT) of state police and the one-man judicial probe, the Justice (Rtd) Jan Commission. Both the probes failed to identify the culprits and were widely seen across Kashmir as obfuscating the case rather than aiming to establish the truth.

Commenting on periodic information leaks, particularly to the state run Press Trust of India (PTI), the MM said:"It was felt that these selective leakages at selective intervals have obviously a design to create confusion." The statement further accused the CBI of continuing a"hush up in a systematic manner"."It appears that the CBI team is also trying to finally conclude the left-over job of such agencies (SIT and judicial probe)," the MM statement said. The residents' consultative committee clearly expressed apprehensions that the information leaks to PTI"at selective intervals" in the course of investigation are aimed at advancing"a suitable truth" about the case. Most of the PTI reportage about the Shopian case was picked up by local English dailies in Kashmir including the well known Greater Kashmir and The Rising Kashmir.

CBI Preparing the ground:

Members of the MM, a widely respected body in Kashmir, say the CBI is trying to ¿¿desensitize the public¿¿ through them, in order to prepare the people to accept its final conclusions without questioning. By appearing to share information first hand with the MM, they fear that the CBI will reinforce whatever pre-determined conclusions they want to give as their findings, and use the MM¿s credibility to back that.

As soon as the CBI formally started its probe in the Shopian case, the first thing it did was to secure a confession from Dr Nighat Chiloo (who conducted the second post-mortem examination on the victims' bodies on May 30) that the slides sent for forensic examination were not collected from the victims but from used gloves in the Pulwama hospital later.

"In a new twist to the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian, a doctor who prepared the vaginal slides of the victims has told the CBI that no samples from the duo had ever been taken," a PTI report said on Sept 27, 2009. It further added: "The doctor broke down during the questioning and narrated the entire sequence of events to the CBI officials, the sources said. The sources claimed that the doctor had taken samples from gloves used in the gynaecological ward of the district hospital and prepared a slide which showed presence of semen."

The post-mortem examinations were conducted in the adjacent district hospital of Shopian, the district where the crime had occurred. Dr Nighat was made to repeat her confession in front of the MM senior members before the information was leaked out to PTI."Is it characterlessness or some kind of terrible pressure on her (Dr Nighat)," asked Mohammd Shafi Khan, spokesman of the MM.

 The confession was ostensibly secured to take care of the report sent from CBI forensic laboratory in New Delhi to SIT that had said that the vaginal swabs sent to it for examination did not belong to the victims themselves.

It was first reported in The Hindu on Aug 11 by Praveen Swami, who often reports on Kashmir and is well known for his deep access in the state intelligence establishment.

"Experts at the Central Bureau of Investigation-managed Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory (CFSL) have determined that the DNA profile of tissue cells present in the slides sent by the Jammu and Kashmir police do not match with the samples from the victims' blood and viscera. Put simply, the slides supposed to have been prepared from vaginal swabs of the victims were drawn from other women," reported Swami.

The report was followed by PTI the same day it appeared in The Hindu. "While there was no official word from either the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory, Delhi or Jammu and Kashmir Government, official sources said today the two slides of vaginal swab sent by the Special Investigating Team to the CFSL do not match with that of the two victims -- Neelofar and Aasiya…The CFSL made attempts to compare the vaginal swabs with that of the viscera and blood samples of the two victims but it did not match, sources said, prompting the CFSL officials to conclude that the slides said to be prepared from vaginal swab of the victims were actually drawn from some other women," reported PTI of Aug 11.

These reports prepared the ground for CBI to follow a predetermined track in the investigation once exhumations were conducted on Sept 28 in presence of family members and some members of MM that included a doctor invited by them as a special observer. Notably, the CBI team had postponed the exhumation by a day. Dr Nighat's"confession" was leaked to PTI on the day the exhumation was earlier planned.

Exhumation used to substantiate leaks:

As soon as Asiya's body was taken out from her grave, rumors soon spread like a wildfire that her body was fresh and all the biological evidence on her body has survived four months underground. Members of the MM say that the body had actually decomposed as expected and the rumors were calibrated to give credence to the idea that CBI will be able to nail the truth and also that the victims were martyrs to the"Islamic cause" in Kashmir.

It is a strongly held belief in Muslim societies that a martyr's body does not decompose as fast after burial as that of others. The people in Shopian, particularly members of the MM believe the rumor was aimed to invoke the institution of martyrdom in Islamic faith to appease the public. The intent, they say, was to create an environment in which whatever CBI said in its conclusions later would be believed as the established truth by everybody in Muslim majority Kashmir.

Numerous residents in the town spoke of the rumor having been later traced to a ruling National Conference (NC) worker in the town at whose residence the CBI team had lunch on the day of the exhumations.

Feeding the perception of a predetermined CBI conclusion:

Just as Asiya's body was laid on the table inside the tent when the re-post mortem examination was to begin a lady doctor, who was part of the CBI led forensic team from New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), immediately told the MM members present that the victim's hymen was intact."Oopar wale ka shukur hai ki aap ki aur humari izzat bach gayi, rape nahin hua hai (Thank God yours as well as our honor is saved, no rape has happened on her (Asiya)," the lady doctor said loudly according to a member of the MM who was present. This information also found its way to a PTI report that very day without attribution to any specific CBI official.

PTI reported on Sep 28, the day of exhumations: "In the latest in the series of twists and turns in the alleged Shopian rape and murder case, a forensic probe has found that one of the two young victims was a virgin in evidence suggesting the girl may not have been raped…The forensic experts have found that Aasiya¿s hymen was intact, official sources said. The forensic experts shared their finding with the doctors of Mushawarat Majlis-e-Committee, an amalgam which spearheaded the 47-day agitation against the alleged rape and murder of the duo by suspected security personnel, who were present at the site, the sources said."

Officially, the CBI later continued to maintain that the required tests on the samples collected from the exhumed bodies had not been done so far. How were the special team members of the agency, including DIG Satish Golcha that met the MM three times since the exhumation revealing conclusions to them?

"They have told us clearly that rape was not committed on Asiya and that they are now trying to find out if it is a case of murder in the first place," said Mohammd Shafi Khan, spokesman of the MM."How did they reach this conclusion," he asks.

Perusing the drowning theory:

A report from New Delhi in the Indian Express attributed to CBI sources has already indicated the victims died due to drowning.

The Indian Express reported on Oct 09: "Tests conducted on the exhumed bodies of two Shopian women whose deaths sparked off protests across the Valley amid allegations that they were raped and murdered are said to be indicative of"death by drowning". Forensic experts are learnt to have verbally conveyed their findings to the CBI which is now probing the case… Though the first autopsy report had suggested rape and murder, forensic experts, going by investigations following the exhumation, were veering around to the theory that the cause of death may have been different from what was being said earlier."


Swami of The Hindu had already indicated on July 14 that the victims died due to drowning, pointing out that the drowning theory was being worked upon from much earlier.

"Shaukat Dalal, who participated in the search for the two women, claimed that the body of one victim lay naked in the stream. Her wrists, he said, had been tied with a rope; there was froth emanating from her nose, a sign of drowning. Doctors who examined the body, however, found no rope-mark injuries or froth, and recorded that both victims were properly clothed," Swami's report said.

This report also appears to be an early leak aimed at misdirecting investigation in the case as Dalal denied having mentioned"froth" coming out of Neelofar's nose when he saw the body."I had said in Kashmiri (Kashmiri language) that there was some 'Khin' (which in Kashmiri means nasal mucus, a common occurrence in cold weather) coming out of the nose," he told this reporter. A CBI inspector Dalal identified as Vishal questioned him on Oct 5 and Oct 10 about presence of froth coming out of Neelofar's nose when he saw her dead body early morning on May 30."He (Vishal) asked me if I knew what 'Khin' is called in English. I said I don't know," said Dalal. It is clear that 'Khin' was translated as"froth" in order to be used as an indicator of death by drowning.   

Even before the Indian Express report appeared on Oct 9, rumors easily traced to the new Superintendent of Police Shahid Mehraj have been rife in Shopian that the tissues on which a float test was conducted by the first team of doctors were not from the lungs of the victims but their hearts."He (the SP) told me over phone that the jars that had been marked by the first team of doctors to contain samples of lungs actually turned out to be heart tissues," said a local resident who wished anonymity and was not aware of the Indian Express report of Oct 09."They are working to establish drowning as the cause of death." The float tests by the first team of doctors had ruled out drowning as a cause of death.            

The new rumors are also scientific in nature. The educated youth in Shopian say that 'friends' in police tell them that CBI has found"diatoms" in the bone marrow of victims which, some doctors say, could be used to forward drowning as the cause of death."But nobody is prepared to accept that," Khan said."CBI is trying to ignore the abduction of the two victims by men in uniform as stated by two witnesses whose statements have been recorded in terms of Sec 164 CrPC by the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate -  Shopian," the latest MM statement added.

The two eyewitnesses, Abdul Rashid Pampori and Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Lone, have deposed in the court of CJM Shopian that on May 29, around the time the incident is believed to have taken place, they had seen a blue colored police vehicle on the Rambi Ara Bridge inside which some women were screaming for help. Though both these eyewitnesses say they repeated their statements three times to the CBI investigators, the same never found its way in the media leaks.

On the contrary, efforts were made early on to discredit these eyewitnesses on flimsy grounds. Swami reported in The Hindu on July 14: "Part of the reason the Commission made so little progress towards identifying the truth was the absence of credible witnesses.

Shopkeeper Ghulam Mohiuddin Lone claimed to have heard women's voices crying for help from inside a police truck parked on the bridge across the Rambiara river, a little after 8 p.m. on May 29. Police personnel on the bridge, Mr. Lone said, first beat him up, and then threatened to kill him if he spoke about the incident.

Radio repairman Abdul Rashid, who was with Mr. Lone, also claimed to have heard women crying for help. Like Mr. Lone, Mr. Rashid said police officers shooed him away as he approached the truck.

But Mr. Rashid's testimony differed from Mr. Lone's account on several counts. For example, he denied having been beaten up or threatened by the police."


Lost credibility:

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court that is monitoring the case has barred the CBI from sharing any information with media regarding its investigation of Shopian case. Yet, the agency appeared keen to share information/conclusions with the MM. Where is the information about what the CBI forensic team has found so far coming from?

Kashmir High Court Bar Association that filed the original litigation in the state High Court withdrew from the case expressing total lack of faith in the CBI probe following the select leaks to the state run news agency, the PTI.  

A member of the MM said the CBI officials told him that they will"certainly find out how exactly the victims died and who is responsible" but will have to keep political considerations in mind while officially announcing its conclusions."During our informal meetings they (CBI officials) told us that they will have to keep as reference what the CM of the state and central officials have said about the case," said the a member of the MM pleading anonymity.

Another factor indicating already existing knowledge of what the CBI will establish as the cause of death is rumors of timing the CBI will choose to announce its findings in the case. Locals say that the district police officials have been making enquiries about when the harvest season in the apple rich district reaches its peak."They intend to announce the CBI investigation conclusions at a time when nobody in the area has time for anything except plucking and parceling their apple produce," said an apple trader who has received several phone calls from the district police authorities asking when the harvest reaches its peak time. Most of the district's residents are involved in apple growing and its trade. The High Court has directed the CBI special team to conclude its investigation by Dec 14 when the case is scheduled for next hearing.


To be contd.




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