Shopian: Rumors and leaks - Part II

BY Parvaiz Bukhari| IN Media Practice | 26/10/2009
A close examination of the contents of the letter…clearly indicates that it was written with an intention of misdirecting the investigation, with PTI playing along,

Shopian continues to seethe in anger five months after the twin rape and murder in the town, alleged by men in uniform. The incident triggered such fierce mass protests here that government forces have been staying indoors to avoid confrontation. These days it is hard to find a man in uniform on the streets in this south Kashmir town, an otherwise ubiquitous sight in embattled Kashmir where the first thing that hits a visitor's eye anywhere is the heightened presence of police, CRPF and army men donning automatic AK rifles and bullet-proof gear.


The Majlis-e-Mashawarat (MM), a consultative committee of residents spearheading a campaign for justice for the victims' families, commands absolute respect in the area. The MM initially reposed faith in the CBI and facilitated exhumation of the victims' bodies for a fresh forensic probe. That faith is already lost as the MM has begun to see the CBI going the same route - feeding the rumor mill and 'selective leaks' to press like the earlier failed investigations by the state police and a government appointed one-man judicial probe.


Cover-ups from the beginning:


The whole saga of cover-ups, obfuscation and the rumor mill started off as soon as the bodies of the victims were found early morning on May 30 a kilometer apart from each other along the Ranbi Ara stream. They were reported missing by their family a few hours earlier the previous night from their orchard across the shallow stream, some two kilometers from their residence in Shopian town.


Even before any investigation started and doctors were called to examine the bodies, the district police authorities, notably the Superintendent of Police Javed Mattoo, told the family, locals and the media • including this reporter - that the victims appear to have died due to drowning. The police officials maintained their drowning theory even as doctors ruled it out after a float test was done.


"Superintendent of Police Shopian when contacted said that two ladies who went to Orchard at 4:PM on 29.05.09 did not return back. Relatives approached the Police Station Shopian at 12:AM and Police Party recovered the dead bodies at 6:AM today. Postmortem conducted revealed no marks of violence on the dead bodies including pubic parts," Police statement no. S-1/09/744 of May 30, 2009 said.


As soon as photographs of Asiya's body showing a deep wound in the middle above her forehead appeared, police withdrew the statement."Please treat press note No. 744 dated 30.05.09 titled "Two ladies died in Shopian" canceled," said the later police statement.


Where did the need for the police to lie about visible marks of violence on the body come from, a question everybody in Kashmir is asking.


Intent behind cover-ups:


District police officials privately admit that the then state police intelligence chief, DGP CID Dr Ashok Bhan anxiously called the SP over phone on May 30 and asked him to hurry burial of the two dead women."He (the SP) was told not to let the protests spread and do everything to contain the matter so that this year also doesn't go the way the last year did," said a police officer. The police feared that the incident might trigger a situation like that by the Amarnath land row of 2008 when hundreds of thousands staged anti-India protests across Kashmir. The establishment's fears came to be close to true before a police crackdown on the separatist leaders was underway. The draconian Public Safety Act, that allows the state to detain a person for as long as two years without trial, was used against leaders and protestors alike to contain the situation. 


The powerful Bhan was also the first senior official who briefed chief minister Omar Abdullah about the incident at the Srinagar airport when he arrived from New Delhi a day after the incident. The Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda was away in the USA at that time. From the airport, Abdullah came straight to address a press conference and announced a one-man judicial probe by Justice (Rtd) Muzaffar Jan while going along with the initial police version that the victims"appeared to have died due to drowning". This despite the fact, that doctors at Shopian hospital had by then actually ruled it out as the cause of death.


As part of a massive shake up in the police department, Abdullah later punished Bhan by removing him as his intelligence chief when the government lost face in the wake of the judicial probe concluding that the victims were indeed raped and murdered.


However, by then a series of rumors ostensibly directed at proving the police right, at least in establishing that men in uniform were not involved, had eroded the government's credibility. These rumors were directed at questioning the moral character of the victims themselves and Shakeel Ahangar, who is the brother of the younger teenaged victim and husband of the other.


Some of these rumors - published in various local newspapers - like the one which said that the victims may have developed illicit relations with some men during their"frequent" visits to their orchard found their way even into the judicial probe report • despite the family maintaining that it was only the second time ever Asiya had visited the orchard.


The Indian Express mentioned in a report on July 11, 2009:"The purpose of their regular and frequent visit to the orchard could not be established so far...It is quite possible that during these frequent visits to the orchard in last six/seven months, they (but more particularly Neelofar Jan) might have developed some relation with other persons," the report, quoting the Jan Commission said.


 No newspaper story ever mentioned the fact that Shakeel often used to drive his wife and other sister, Romi Jan, to the orchard that he had bought just over six months before the incident. 


Justice Jan, who failed to identify the culprits but did not rule out involvement of"some agency of police", later disowned these rumors saying that they were part of the police investigation mixed with his report by the government.


"I don't know how it happened. Maybe CDs distributed among mediapersons have clubbed them mistakenly…I don't know," Justice Jan was quoted in the report by The Indian Express as having said.


The anonymous letter leak:


As an unprecedented and long protest shutdown in Shopian town ended on appeals and assurances of justice from the chief justice of the state high court, information about the arrival of an anonymous letter (written purportedly by some schoolmate of Asiya) at Shopian police station was leaked to PTI. The PTI report about the letter sought to again create new confusion and suggested that Shakeel may have been involved in killing his wife and sister.


PTI reported on Aug 04, 2009:"The letter, which was received at a Police station in this newly carved out district in the Kashmir valley, claims that the two were on friendly terms and this was not liked by her brother Shakeel Ahmed Ahanghar.


The letter was posted immediately after unrest broke out following recovery of two bodies of Aasiya and her sister-in-law Neelofar on May 30 but it was reported to have been delivered at the police station only after the 47-day-long protests ended, sources said…The writer of the letter claimed that he had met Aasiya on the fateful day of May 29 along with Neelofar at the nearby orchards that evening."


The PTI report continued, saying:"However, they were spotted by Shakeel, prompting the two women to run away from the area, the writer of the letter said while requesting the police to investigate the matter fearing the victims may have been murdered by family members."


A close examination of the contents of the letter, revealed by a police official close to the SIT and confirmed by the MM, clearly indicate that it was written with an intension of misdirecting the investigation, while the PTI was playing along. The content of the short letter, according to these sources, is like this: "Mein Asiya ko bahut chahta tha. Hum baghoon mein miltay thay. Us din bhi hum milay aur Shakeel nay hum ko dekha (I used to like Asiya very much. We used to meet in the orchards. That day also we met and Shakeel spotted us).


The PTI report, quoting official sources said that the undated letter was written very soon after the mysterious death of the sisters-in-law. However, the use of the word"us din" (that day) suggests that the letter may actually have been written much later with a clear design of bringing Shakeel under suspicion of having murdered his wife and sister.


The mind of the judicial probe:


Earlier, the Jan Commission report had also delved in detail over the circumstances of Shakeel's marriage with Neelofar, suggesting that their different cast and social backgrounds could have provided a motive for the crime.


The July 11 report in The Indian Express also mentioned: The report (Jan Commission) calls for a probe into the"rift" between the family of Neelofar and her in-laws. The fact that Neelofar, a woman from the upper-caste Peer family, eloped with Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar • who belongs to a family of blacksmiths…The report calls for a detailed investigation into the possible role of Neelofar's estranged brother, Zeerak Shah, a police constable."It is required that sustained questioning/interrogation of Zeerak Shah, his associates and relatives, be carried out so as to work out the possibility of their involvement in rape and murder of Neelofar and Asiya Jan".


The report further mentioned: The commission also puts a question mark on the conduct of Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar, Neelofar's husband and Asiya's brother. Claiming that he is"known for his immoral activities," the report says:"His assets are quite disproportionate to his known source of income, thus requiring in-depth investigation to work out the possibility of Shakeel and his friends/associates in the present incident."


Locals in Shopian say that the spotlight on these official allegations was aimed at obfuscation and taking public attention away from men in uniform, including army and CRPF personnel primarily being accused of the crime from soon after the victims' bodies were found.


Rumor for a purpose and grapevine:


Kashmir has historically been amenable to the  grapevine which has often been used by the officialdom to its advantage. (Ref Associated Press: ). There even is a rumor making rounds for years now that the state police have a Dy SP rank official designated inside its Special Branch (SB) to generate and spread rumors for dealing with difficult public order situations.


 Interestingly, all the rumors around the Shopian twin rape and murder case appear to have either emanated from district police officials or from the investigation reports. A close scrutiny of some of the media reportage around the incident reveals how information initially reported as rumors in newspapers came to be mentioned as facts or revelations in later reports.


People in Shopian say rumors have been generated all along to shield the perpetrators and the rumor mill knows the culprits (This is a common assertion in Shopian that almost everybody you talk to makes).


Missing track in the investigations:


In all the investigations so far, including the ongoing one by the CBI, circumstantial evidences have received very little or no focus at all. Strikingly, a survey of the area along Ranbi Ara reveals what is hard to miss - that the two spots where the victims' bodies were found are the only two places approachable by a vehicle in that stretch. In the dark, the area is covered by flood-lit surveillance of army and CRPF camps nearby.  The bodies were deposited at these spots after 2:30 AM when the police party accompanied by Shakeel and other family members abandoned the search before resuming around 6:30 AM when the victims' bodies were found. The bodies were not seen there during the earlier search. Is that the track the investigators should follow?  



Shopian: Rumors and leaks - Part 1