Justice Elusive when ‘Security Forces’ are Involved

Video By: Basharat Amin | Article By: Shreya Kalra

Nine years ago in Jammu & Kashmir’s Shopian, two women from the same family were raped and murdered. There has been no justice since, and that is what they say is justice denied.
In India, one judge approximately serves 73,000 people.

As of February 19, 2016, there were 59,468 civil and criminal cases pending in Indian courts.

If the weakness and incapability of the Indian judicial system was simply about numbers, then quick and easy solutions would have done the deal. But the problem is one of politics – the politicisation of the judiciary has led to a lack of credibility in the system that is supposed to uphold the rule of law. More dangerous though is the lack of faith of the people in a system they think is going to protect them.

Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar is one man who, everyday, lives the popular saying of, “justice delayed is justice denied”. Nine years ago, on May 30 2009, his wife and sister were found dead by a river in Shopian district, Jammu and Kashmir. They were raped and murdered. He is still waiting to get even a remnant of justice, and some answers.

“The killers, the rapists are the ones who are doing the investigation,” says the father-of-one. How can you trust a system that is run by the very people who are part of society that questions the integrity of a woman who has been raped? One of the conspiracy theories that was flouted after the death of Asiya and Neelofar was that Neelofar, Shakeel’s wife, was having an affair and had gone to the fields to meet her lover, with Asiya playing the role of conduit. Shakeel catches them and thus the deaths.

At the time of the case, now Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti was in the opposition. She created a huge hue and cry by rallying the public and challenged then CM Omar Abdullah, who had backhandedly dismissed the case as one of drowning, and said this was rape and murder. She promised to bring justice if elected to office. Now she’s been in office since 2016 and the case is dead, so “now where is her passion for Asiya and Neelofar”, asks Shakeel – didn’t she just use the case for her own political gain then?

In 2016, 338,954 cases of crimes against women were reported in India and that year saw the lowest conviction rate at a mere 18.9%, compared to an average conviction rate of 47% for all crimes.

When it is difficult for a woman to secure justice after suffering sexual violence in relatively normal circumstances, the situation becomes even more dire when armed forces are involved. According to the husband and brother of the deceased, and local residents of Shopian, it was men of the armed forces who are responsible for what befell the Jan family.

The Armed Force (Special Powers) Act provides legal immunity to officers for their actions. The Act requires approval from the Centre to prosecute culprits if they belong to the army, and now according to Habeel Iqbal, an FIR cannot even be filed against them – “a new low”, he says. To add to distress, even if there is a case, army officers are not tried in public courts, but instead in military courts.

There are no authentic statistics on the number of rapes by armed forces in Kashmir. One of the most notorious cases of rape involving the army is from 1991 – the Kunan and Poshpora case, where around 150 women were raped by 300 army men. Almost two decades later justice is nowhere in sight because of the impunity offer by AFSPA.

What we do know, however, is that in Kashmir just as in the rest of the country, the conviction rate for crimes against women is abominably low, and the odds just don’t stack up. According to NCRB, the conviction rate for 2016 was 4.1%, with a total number of 13,326 cases of crimes against women for trial.

Where does the common person who is completely divorced from politics but living in an absolutely politicised land turn for justice? In the latest update on what is dubbed as the ‘Shopian double rape and murder’ case, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has accepted the CBI report, which said that the two women died of drowning. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Shopian Bar Association has been declared as null.

Shakeel has now completely lost faith in the justice system and has decided not to probe it any longer, unless an international organisation intervenes. Nine years later, his case has become just one outside the two lakh cases waiting for judgement in Jammu and Kashmir.

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