There was a time not so long ago in Kashmir, when the very mention of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the country’s premier investigative agency, sent a chill down the spine of the corrupt.
The agency was well respected for demonstrating institutional incorruptibility and autonomy when dealing with cases.
Then, in 2009, the Shopian rape and murder case came to light.
On the intervening nights of 29 and 30 May, 2009, the bodies of Asiya and her sister-in-law Neelofar were discovered in Rambi Ara stream at Bongam Village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
The Valley was slow to recover from the 2008 crisis sparked by transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. The state government struggled to maintain law and order. Mehbooba Mufti, then leader of the Opposition, spent a few hours at a police station demanding a CBI probe.
The people of the Valley, including Shakeel Ahangar, the husband of one of the slain women and brother of the other victim, initially favoured handing over the case to the CBI.
On 9 September, 2009, they got their wish: The state government handed over the case to the CBI.
In December 2009, the CBI reached a conclusion: The women were not raped or murdered by security forces, as their relatives had alleged. Instead, the agency determined that the women had drowned. In a stream where the water was barely ankle deep!
Despite the then Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court maintaining that "the CBI report is not the gospel truth,” the image of Ahangar setting ablaze a copy of the CBI report outside the high court in Srinagar has stayed with me.
No one knows if the CBI acted under political pressure or if they simply pursued the case to its logical end.
But in the Valley, the Shopian report was largely seen as the “lie” which marked the slow death of an institution that enjoyed credibility even among separatists. Earlier, some separatists urged CBI investigation into cases where they suspected state agencies such as the Jammu and Kashmir Police were either following a script or "stopped" from dispensing justice. But no more.
In January 2015, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a charge-sheet against a fugitive police informer and exonerated Syed Liaqat Shah, a resident of north Kashmir’s Kupwara, whom the Delhi Police’s Special Cell had arrested on charges of being a Hizbul Mujahideen militant.
At the time, by stating that Shah was framed in the case, the NIA received perhaps the largest amount of free publicity in the history of the Valley. An editor of a Kashmiri newspaper remarked that when it came to credibility, the NIA was taking the CBI's place.
So when the NIA started raiding middle-rung Hurriyat leaders and businessmen in the Valley, there were whispers that those who were arrested directly or indirectly benefited from Kashmir's conflict economy and that they ought to be punished.
Raids left Syed Ali Shah Geelani isolated, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq under house arrest and Yasin Malik walking through a revolving door in and out of jail. But on the ground, fatigue set in. Previously bustling Srinagar markets were left without customers due to the Hurriyat regularly calling for shutdowns.
And then the NIA arrested photo journalist Kamran Yusuf, who had worked mostly in south Kashmir, without revealing much about his involvement in the so-called ‘terror funding’ case. Yusuf's arrest was followed by summoning Kashmir Bar president Mian Abdul Qayoom, whom the agency had to eventually let go. Now, the agency has questioned Kashmiri university scholar Aala Fazili in the “terror funding case.”
There is no doubt that the law must be allowed to take its own course.
However, a realisation has dawned among the people of Kashmir that the NIA has slowly transformed into the CBI.
Sweeping arrests and selective targeting of people who believe in an ideological framework which runs contrary to the State has left little doubt in their minds about the agency's motives.
In Kashmir, your political education begins the moment you leave the comfort of home. Most people have developed a strong yearning for political independence and some sort of mechanism to dispense justice which could apply salve to the people's festering wounds.
Instead, we are witnessing the persecution of those whose opinions' differ from the State, the humiliation of scholars, businessmen and lawyers who have a particular political ideology and who take a stand on the issues at the heart of the Kashmir problem.
The NIA is fast eroding whatever little credibility it has left in Kashmir.
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Updated Date: Sep 26, 2017 10:20:42 IST