Kashmir Uni remembers Shopian horror with the Chinar trees as witness

Handwritten notes featuring the names of Asiya and Neelofer were posted on over 300 chinar trees in the campus
Kashmir Uni remembers Shopian horror with the Chinar trees as witness
Kashmir Uni remembers Shopian horror with the Chinar trees as witness
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On May 30, the seventh anniversary of the alleged rape and murder of Asiya and Neelofer in Shopian, Kashmir, students at Kashmir University organized a unique protest against the “continuous denial of justice to the victims.” The students at the university plastered the duo’s names on heritage chinar trees inside the campus as a mark of protest.

On the intervening night of May 29 and 30, 2009, Nilofar Jan (22), and her sister-in-law Asiya Jan (17), were allegedly raped and murdered in south Kashmir's Shopian district and their bodies were found by the side of a local stream outside the town. Neelofer and Asiya’s family alleged that they had been abducted, raped and murdered by members of the security forces.

Hand-written notes featuring the names of Asiya and Neelofer were posted by the students on over 300 chinar trees inside Kashmir University. Talking to The News Minute, a group of students said, the idea behind putting Asiya’s and Nilofer’s on the chinar trees was to create awareness about the “continuous denial of justice” in Kashmir.

“Chinar holds a particular significance in Kashmir’s history and it has been a witness to grave human rights violations and suppression that has taken place in the valley. We wanted to speak through them because our cries for justice are not being heard time and again. We hope the mighty chinar will get our message through,” said a student, who helped in posting the names on the trees.

A signature campaign was also held in the university demanding justice for the victims. Over 200 students signed a poster that students want to send to the first woman Chief Minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, seeking a fresh probe into the case.

“While in the rest of India, media and civil society is demanding swift justice in cases of rape, the same standards are not being applied when it happens in Kashmir. In fact, sexual violence is systematically denied here – Kunan-Poshpora and Shopian are just two examples of it,” said Tabinda, a second-year law student at the university.

Neelofar and Aasiya went missing on May 29, 2009 from their orchard. The next morning, their bodies were found in Rambair Nallah, a stream in Shopian.  The police initially dismissed it as a simple case of drowning but two subsequent post-mortem reports confirmed sexual assault and ruled out death by drowning.

Omar Abdullah, the then chief minister of the state, ordered a one-man commission headed by retired High Court judge, Justice Muzaffar Jan, to probe the incident. Simultaneously, a special investigation team (SIT) of the police was also probing the case. While the SIT never came out with its report, Justice Jan, in his interim report, held the Shopian district administration guilty of "destroying vital evidence and not preserving the scene of the crime, interfering with post-mortem report and dereliction of duty."

The finding of the inquiry led to the suspension and arrest of four police officers, including a Deputy Superintendent of police, an Inspector, and a Sub-Inspector, for negligence of duty and destruction of vital evidence. The case triggered unprecedented public outrage across Kashmir. Five people were killed and hundreds were left injured in street protests that were fuelled by anger against the police.

In the following months, the investigation was handed over to the CBI which held that neither rape nor murder had been committed on the duo. In December 2009, the CBI charged 13 persons, including the doctors who had earlier confirmed sexual assault on the victims and ruled out death by drowning, for “fudging and fabricating evidence.” All four policemen were also released and reinstated.

But many in the valley including human rights activists and civil society members believe that the CBI inquiry was an institutional cover-up by the state to protect the guilty.

"The people in Kashmir have lost all faith in these sort of inquiries that are ordered by the state after human rights violations and sexual assaults are carried out by its security apparatus," said Khurram Parvez, a valley-based human rights activist. "What was the result of the findings of Justice Jan's report? The questions raised by that enquiry were never reconciled by the CBI enquiry."

However, even the powerful yet subtle way to protest for justice was not allowed to exist in Kashmir University, where student politics has been banned since 2009 following protests against the Shopian rape and murder case. The ban on student politics was first imposed in the university during the late 80s and was only removed in 2007.

Within a few hours of the students posting the names of Asiya and Neelofer on the chinar trees in the campus, all of them were removed by the university administration. The students were also “advised” by the administration to cancel the signature campaign and not to indulge in “activism.” But the students went ahead with the planned signature campaign anyway.

Adil Mir, one of the signatories of the campaign said, “This is not an act of defiance. We are exercising our right to dissent. And, we will continue it till justice is delivered.”   

All Images by Syed Shahriyar

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