On 21 September, Ghulam Muhammad Shah shivered in fear in a dark corner of his single-storied mud-and-brick house in north Kashmir's Handwara town as the images of the brutal rape case of a 23-year-old student in Delhi played out on television. Shah, 66, watched in rapt attention as the anchor reconstructed the details of the Delhi gangrape case till he could take it no more. He switched off the TV at the point where the perpetrators threw the victim out of the bus.
The narration brought back sad memories. His daughter, Tabinda Gani, a 13-year-old student, was brutally gangraped and murdered on 27 June, 2007 by four men. The incident had sent shockwaves across Kashmir, triggering spontaneous protests and huge public outcry similar to the Delhi gangrape case. The only difference between the cases was while the former was killed on spot after being raped, the Delhi gangrape victim lost her battle for life in a multispecialty hospital in Singapore.
Tabinda was walking towards her home through a narrow and muddy hilly track to reach her Batpora residence when someone appeared from behind and threw sawdust in her eyes.
"Four men dragged her into a nearby orchard, two of them locals with criminal background and two from outside the state. When she resisted, they beat her up and then took turns to rape her," says Shah. Later, fearing detection "the assailants slit her throat and dug up a small grave where she was buried."
Medical reports confirmed that the abductors before slitting her throat had raped her. "She had been left naked with a pencil in her hand; her uniform almost 50 meters away from her body and her bag full of books," adds Masood, Tabinda's brother. The four accused — Mohd Sadiq Mir, Azhar Ahmad Mir, both residents of Langate, Handwara; Mocha Jahangir Ansari from West Bengal and Suresh Kumar from Rajasthan — had laid an elaborate trap for Tabinda, he says.
As the news of Tabinda's disappearance spread, it sent shockwaves across the valley and triggered spontaneous protests with people demanding immediate arrest of the culprits. No one had a clue what really happened and who was responsible. Many people blamed the Army. A mass protest was organized in her village where the locals put the blame on the police.
Azhar, a short, lean boy, was vocal in his claims that the state government was behind Tabinda's disappearance. No one knew that Azhar had participated in the rape and murder. "If people had got a whiff of it he would have been lynched," says Iqbal Ahmad, president of Justice for Tabinda Gani Forum.
For the next 21 days, Handwara remained closed with loud cries for justice reverberating in the area. When the police started investigations, they found nail marks on Suresh. After intense questioning, he cracked. The police claimed that the accused have confessed to their involvement in the crime and that the prosecution's case was very strong. Tabinda's case was the first incident of such heinous crime in the Kashmir valley involving non-local labourers.
Her family is nowhere close to getting justice. Her father has turned deeply pessimistic and bitter about the justice delivery system. "The wait for justice has killed me from inside. But I still hope they will be hanged. This hope is keeping me alive. It has been a long journey. I have been to court almost 400 times, but nothing has come out. The case was initially heard thrice a week and we had hoped it would be completed soon. In the second year, the hearings were twice a week and later once in 15 days. Five years have passed like this," Shah says.
The case was first heard in Handwara. Then it was transferred to District and Sessions court, Kupwara, following the refusal of Bar Association, Handwara, to plead on behalf of the accused who are in jail. More than 86 witnesses have deposed so far.
Tabinda's father says he welcomes the court verdict in Delhi. "It will serve as a deterrent for such offences. We hope one day the judiciary will also award capital punishment to people involved in this case as it is more horrific than the Delhi girl's case."
The legislator from Langate, Engineer Rashid, says Kashmiris have every reason to believe that they are being treated as second class citizens and Tabinda Gani cannot be Nirbhaya in any case as of the criminals involved in her case are non-Kashmiri and to protect them means serving national interest. "While Delhi gangrape victim got justice in nine months, we are still waiting for a 13-year-old gangrape victim to get justice," he said.
The hype surrounding the case has fizzled out but Shah is still hopeful. Probably he draws strength from the belongings of his daughter — a pencil with a broken tip, some books and clothes — which he has fondly stored in a trunk and makes a point to look at occasionally. He finds no sense in the bravery award set up by the state government, then led by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, in Tabinda's name though.
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Updated Date: Sep 25, 2013 19:49:03 IST