Shopian shame


The death of two women in Shopian in southern Kashmir last month has again inflamed passions in the state and belied claims of a return to normalcy. It is alleged that the young women, a mother and her sister-in-law, were sexually assaulted and murdered and the charge is directed at the security forces. There is no conclusive evidence, but preliminary forensic investigation has indicated a sexual crime. The Valley was thrown into turmoil by the agitation launched by separatist elements and the People’s Democratic Party for many days. Though the strike has been withdrawn now, the situation is not peaceful and has set the state back. The peaceful conduct of elections had given the impression that the state is returning to normalcy. But the alienation of the government and people’s distrust still continue.

The Omar Abdullah government mishandled the issue, much like the previous administration had done in the case of the Amarnath land transfer issue last year. It first denied any suspicious circumstance and said the women had drowned. Later a judicial inquiry was ordered and only when the protests spread further an FIR was registered.

Omar Abdullah himself expressed doubts about the fairness of the inquiry. With the government’s credibility being questioned, the separatists’ protests struck an easy chord among the people. In Kashmir unfortunately the record of the security forces is that they are held guilty in popular perception unless proved innocent. Careful handling of the situation would have prevented it from escalating and becoming yet another case of atrocity, official cover-up and shielding of alleged offenders.

The protests mounted by separatist Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his followers were expected. Over 100 people have been injured in the violence and Geelani and many others are under arrest. But the PDP, led by the Muftis, have gone overboard and conducted itself worse than separatists. These elements were waiting for an issue and the government played into their hands with its dillydallying and contradictory statements and actions. After the elections and formation of government, economic activity, mainly tourism, was improving in the state. The sense of a positive change has now been broken, though the agitation has cooled off. Recent reports of infiltration from across the border show that external inspiration for mischief still remains active. The incident was Omar Abdullah’s first test in office and it shows that he has to learn much from experience. The Centre was also complacent and did not guide the state government in handling the situation effectively.

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