The Shopian twin-rape-and-murder probe is going "nowhere" because evidence has been manipulated to "cover up" the "heinous crime" and shield some "men in uniform", a women's group in New Delhi said on Monday.
A four-member team of the Independent Women's Initiative for Justice in Shopian visited the south Kashmir town where two women - Asiya Jan, 17, and her sister-in-law Neelofer, 22 - were found raped and murdered May 30.
"Police officials, we met, appear to have abandoned interest in the investigation, and have shifted their focus to protecting the four policemen (accused of destroying evidence) who are currently under arrest, and trying to project them as the victims," the rights group said in a statement here, after their return to the national capital.
Four police officers, including then district police chief, a deputy superintendent of police, an inspector and a sub-inspector, were suspended and later arrested by the government for negligence of duty and destruction of vital evidence in the case that triggered public outrage across the Valley.
"The consistent and almost systematic manipulation of evidence and cover up from the first instance till date compels us to reiterate the conviction of the Shopian (lawyers) that it is the ?men in uniform' who are being shielded," it said.
The Shopian crime snowballed into a major controversy after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah initially ruled out possible foul play saying the women had drowned. But he later retracted and said he was misinformed by the district administration and a probe was ordered.
Widespread violent protests against the crime rocked the Kashmir Valley in June and July but investigating agencies are yet to make any headway in identifying and prosecuting the culprits. DNA samples collected from the victims' bodies and accused have also been allegedly fudged.
The women's team said it was "deeply concerned" with the investigation going "nowhere close to identifying the perpetrators of this heinous crime".
"Two young women were sexually assaulted and murdered and their bodies disposed off in a heavily patrolled area and the administration is claiming that they have been unable to find and prosecute the culprits," the team said.
Wondering how security forces couldn't see what was happening right under their nose, the group said the crime spot "lies in the proximity to the district police lines, a paramilitary and an army camp and watch towers and search lights are a part of the landscape".
"Having visited the spot, the women's team believes that it is clearly not just improbable but virtually impossible that no one saw anything happen."
The group also met the chief minister who assured that his government was committed to punishing the guilty.
"We strongly condemn that on the pretext of investigation disparaging remarks have been made about the women victims. We fear this case has been dropped into a black hole from which there appears to be no intention of retrieving it," the statement said.
The group members who visited the valley included well-known historian and author Uma Chakravarty, law researcher Usha Ramanathan, human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, Kashmir-based journalist Anuradha Bhasin, doctor Ajita and lawyer Seema Misra.