The muezzin’s voice rang out in call for prayers to break the fast as the sun set on the 14th day of Ramzan — the Muslim holy month of fasting. But this town, 50 km south of Srinagar, has been left wondering why its prayers for justice for Asiya and Nelofar Jan have gone unanswered.
The two women lived in a house at the end of an alley in Bongam area, a congested lower middle class neighbourhood of Shopian, till 100 days ago. They went missing on the afternoon of May 29; the next morning, their bodies were found near the town’s Ramibara stream.
Asiya (17) was a five-day-prayer devout Muslim. She had done her ablution for the afternoon prayers, but was persuaded by sister-in-law Nelofar (22) for a “quick visit to the apple orchard at Nagbal, 1.5 km away.
“I will be back soon,” were Asiya’s last words to her elder sister Roomi Jan (20).
“The nights are an unending nightmare for us. We cannot sleep,” said Nighat Parveen, another sister. “We hear Asiya’s cries for help, ‘mein bachiwaton’ (save me).”
The entire family is fasting in the hope for justice.
But investigators are struggling.
The case was first with a special investigation team, which failed to gather any evidence of consequence that established how the victims died, if they were sexually assaulted, and who the perpetrators might have been.
Now, it’s believed that the government of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wants to hand it over to the CBI.
The case that’s been billed as a complex and grinding affair has rocked the Abdullah administration since June and put a question mark on his credibility. From street protests and strikes to fending off Opposition assault in the Assembly, Abdullah has seen it all.
One wrong step at the initial stages — not lodging an FIR of rape and murder — gave the impression that Abdullah was endorsing the police’s “drowning” theory. This cast a shadow over his government’s intentions, which persists till today despite measures taken by the CM, including a public apology and judicial commission. Four police officers were arrested on the directions of J&K High Court.
An affidavit submitted in the court on Friday by Farooq Ahmad, IG of the SIT, says it all: “No deadline could be set for investigations to reach the results.”
Black flags fluttering on poles and vehicles are an expression of the collective rage and frustration over the unending wait for justice. Slogans like “qatilon ko pesh karo (produce the culprits)” can be heard across the town.
“When the state has been able to solve all cases of murders and rapes, why is there no forward movement in this case?” said Javed Ahmad (30), who runs a chemist shop.
The townsfolk believe it took Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s intervention to get an FIR of rape and murder registered.
HT photographer Waseem Andrabi was taunted by a woman at the bridge across the stream. “For the past three months we have seen you (media) guys taking films, pictures. What has come out of it? Where are the culprits? Bring out their pictures.”
Nelofar’s husband Shakeel Ahngar (28) makes an offer. “I will give all my property and orchards to the government, get me the culprits.”