December 17, 2009
An update on the death of two sisters from Shopian, Kashmir. Also, why this is of interest to us.
The story so far: Two sisters were found dead in an apple orchard in Shopian. In the context of insurgency, this gave rise to allegations of rape and murder by members of the Indian armed forces posted in that area. Investigations were inconclusive, protests rocked the valley and the case was handed over to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. On December 14, 2009, the CBI reported that it had not found any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the armed forces, saying the girls had not been raped and killed. Moreover, the agency filed chargesheets against a dozen individuals who were said to have tampered with evidence along the way.
CBI files chargesheet in the Shopian case, December 14, 2009.
Predictably, this finding has met with outrage in Kashmir and in civil rights circles around India. Commentary on this issue in the Indian press ranges from support to scepticism.
Simultaneously, the Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice in Shopian (IWIJ), a fact-finding committee made up of eminent activist-professionals to investigate the incident (Uma Chakravarti, Usha Ramanathan, Vrinda Grover, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, Seema Misra and Dr. Ajita) released their report: Shopian: Manufacturing a Suitable Story: A Case Watch. (The report is available in pdf format at this link.)
Will we ever know how Nilofer and Asiya died? Probably not. But we can predict that this will be an important political issue for a long time.
Why should writers and readers of the ASI blog care about this obscure pair of sisters in a village most of us had never heard of? There are two reasons this case is important. First, it illustrates the link that scholars make between gender and identity politics. Women’s bodies stand for the community itself, and violence perpetrated against them carries the symbolic value of violence perpetrated against the body politic of the community. This confliction of woman and community reduces the importance of the individual woman and her life and her rights, even as it makes violence against women disproportionately provocative. Disproportionate, I write, not because it is not important but because it is considered important for the wrong reasons: community pride, honour and sanctity. The result is that it is virtually impossible for the individuals affected to get justice.
The second reason is that it underscores that a trust deficit is the biggest challenge in any conflict setting. Nobody trusts anybody to care enough either about the victims of violence nor about justice for its own sake. Every round of investigations is suspect. Every set of circumstances dubious. Addressing specific grievances is far easier than rebuilding trust.
Both of these are reminders that are relevant far beyond this case and the valley. That is why this blogger returns to the Shopian case at regular intervals.