By Maliha Siddiqi
It is the day Kashmir remembers in bereavement – 29 May, 2009. The fateful day when the lives of two Kashmiri women and eventually the whole of Kashmir changed in one way or the other. The Shopian double rape and murder case by armed forces is a textbook example of how totalitarianism can be used as a clever ploy to completely dissolve the credibility and integrity of the oppressed and the victimized. While rape has been used extensively as an unambiguous war tactic to terrorize and humiliate communities literally since the advent of conflict, this case encompasses an array of actions that make it exceptionally alarming. The presence of the security forces as suspects in the first place completely shifted the course of action in which justice was promised to be delivered. For the security forces, all of whom are as indisputably revered almost as demi-gods by mainstream India, it is not just a case of sexual abuse but a chance to redeem the security force as protectors and project Kashmiris as anti-national and unreliable.
Shopian is certainly not an instance that exists in isolation. It is a leaf out of the book that houses tens and thousands of cases of human rights abuse perpetrated by the unabashed oppressor. For the scores of cases of sexual assault, disappearances, torture, encounters, the Shopian incident reflects an act of barbaric violation by agencies that enjoy unchallenged immunity from prosecution, leading to a culture of impunity.
On 29 May 2009, two women, Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan, who happened to be sisters-in-law had left their homes around 3: 30 pm to visit their orchard. As they did not return home by the scheduled routine hour, their family members set out on a search and eventually contacted the police in order to conduct a systematic search operation for them. As the area was densely inhabited by the armed security forces, the movement of civilians at wee hours of the night was sparse and heavily monitored. The very next day, the dead bodies of Asiya and Neelofar were found in the local Rambi Ara Nallah (stream) at a distance of 1.5 kilometers from each other. The shocked and enraged family recalled the mysterious circumstances in which the bodies were recovered – their clothes were tattered, abrasions covered the bodies and the injuries indicated clear sexual assault. Indications were not commensurate with the case of drowning that was so relentlessly pushed in the media to dissolve the case.
Why is it so easy to brush off such heinous crimes committed upon the oppressed? Why does the justice delivery system become selective in such cases?
Kashmiris are born and bought up in a chronic and tumultuous state of conflict which naturally makes them skeptical of any occurrence involving the security forces. In such cases of suspected assault, a lot of ulterior motives exist involving a lot of stakeholders. Even an airtight case can be tampered with and manipulated because of these motivations.
The Shopian case was tampered with. The earlier autopsies that were performed on the deceased and the witness testimonials about the circumstances that the bodies were recovered in point towards rape and murder. The subsequent reports deviate wildly from this to establish a case of accidental drowning. It is highly questionable and unlikely that so many variables are likely to co-exist in a single case, while violently contradicting each other. In a case of sexual assault, the time factor is really vital. The first 48 hours carry immense significance, when the victim needs to be examined thoroughly both physically as well as mentally. First, the investigative agencies need to collect any important evidence that helps to convict the offender; second, it is equally essential to give the victim psychological strength to be able to withstand the post incident trauma as well as minimize the extent of witness tampering.
As the case entailed rape followed by murder, no victim was physically present to record a statement. Rigor mortis (postmortem rigidity) played a very strong hindrance to a proper physical examination of the victims. The case was manufactured in such a way that it provided a clear advantage to the perpetrators of the heinous crime. The obvious delay and negligence in collecting evidence proved detrimental towards erecting a structured case. Involvement of too many agencies and multiple hiatuses in formation of new reports was a deeply layered attempt to completely disintegrate any hint that pointed towards sexual abuse.
The tactic that was employed in this case was fundamentally multiphasic. Facts were concealed from the public and media which in turn enraged the public that is obviously easily excitable and volatile in a conflict territory like Kashmir. The public outcry was stated as an obstruction to justice that translated into the negligent collection of evidence and ultimately the incorrect preemptive conclusion by the investigative agencies. Multiple reports that examined the case were manufactured with such disparities that they aroused suspicion about the credibility and authenticity of these reports.
The Rambi Ara Nallah is quantified to be of shallow depth and isn’t considered deep or even powerful enough to drown two grown women who must have been accustomed to cross those tough geographical terrains. If these women were drowning, they would have raised a cry, which the security forces would have heard. Did their cry go deliberately unheard? The doctors were also discredited as unreliable and unprofessional. Taking into account the sensitive nature of the case, the mishandling of the situation created an incorrigible mess that ultimately destroyed the case. The exhumation of the bodies at a later stage resulted in nothing but executing an orchestrated attempt at mitigating the anger amongst crowds and further pain for the victims’ families.
An atrocious crime like rape cannot be equated with any other criminality. It is not just an act of intimate physical violation. It is used to mentally decapitate individuals and even communities in addition to physical mutilation. Kashmir has been at the receiving end of a plethora of human rights violations but somehow has been neglected when it comes to the delivery of justice. While the Nirbhaya case shook the national capital generating strong emotions leading to the repeal of national laws, why is there an entirely different course of action to situations involving Kashmiris?
As the world celebrates the idea of empowered womanhood, let us take a moment to acknowledge the unmistakable presence of Kashmiri women – a silent yet powerful figure in the struggle for independence. It is essential to understand structures of violence interwoven into the Kashmiri society. The state agencies in Kashmir with unrestricted power threaten the idea of sovereignty and liberty and the timely delivery of justice.
Maliha Siddiqi is currently a graduate student in the department of communications, Simon Fraser University, Canada, working on the representation of conflict in film and documentary. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “On the Table: Pathways between Food Studies and Food Writing”, edited by Somrita Urni Ganguly, Fulbright Scholar, Brown University, USA.