It’s become a political issue, and even a security issue, but to the family of the two women who were raped and murdered in Shopian, it is only an issue of justice. Sitting in the room where 17-year-old schoolgirl Asiya Jan used to live until her brutal death on May 29, her brother Manzoor Ahmed and his family, who jointly own a garage and an apple orchard, had one request time and again: “Don’t make this a political issue. Just give us justice.”
His brother Shakeel’s immediate family is destroyed. Shakeel’s wife Neelofer, 21, a homemaker, was also raped and murdered that night. Their two-year-old son has been sent to stay with Neelofer’s parents. The child is distraught, said Ahmed, because now his father is also not around. Shakeel has been running around courts in Srinagar and Delhi to fight for justice for his dead wife and sister.
Their demand for justice has become a political issue, though, one that shut down the south Kashmir town of 60,000 for 47 days from June 30 and reignited mass anger against the government and ‘Indian rule’ in the restive valley. Protests have been staged across Kashmir, and a microphone flung by People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti in the state Assembly.
Yet Mufti herself faced a hostile crowd when she visited Shopian. The victims’ family and the protesters who sit huddled just outside the main door of the town’s Mughal era Jama masjid claim they have tried to keep all politicians away from the issue. “We have not allowed any political parties to come here,” said businessman Reyaz Khan, who was among the protesters at the masjid. Even the local MLA, from the PDP, has been kept away, he said.
Khan said he joined the protest because he does not want such incidents to be repeated. It is an issue of honour and justice, he said. Mohammad Yusuf, who owns a small medical store, said, “this can happen to our sisters and mothers too. So we will not back down, regardless of what happens.”
“We were offered money and jobs to keep quiet,” the family members said. They alleged that the town’s Superintendent of Police, Javed Iqbal Mattoo, who is now under arrest for destruction of evidence related to the case, had “come to this very room to say don’t make an issue of it.”
All of them — protesters and family — are convinced the policemen arrested are in fact the culprits. “Bring them to us, and hang them before us,” said Yusuf. “Otherwise how do we know they are actually being punished?”
Rumours that the arrested SP is a relative of a senior politician from the state, and questions about the event being related to militancy, are further angering the townspeople. “This is a murder and rape. Please don’t mix it with the issue of Kashmir,” said Ahmed.