By Aijaz Hussain
The Associated Press
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — An Indian police agency investigating the deaths of two women in Kashmir said Dec. 14 that they drowned and were not raped and killed as alleged by locals, a ruling likely to further fuel anti-India sentiment.
The deaths of 22-year-old Neelofar Jan and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asiya Jan in May ignited violent protests in the Himalayan region, where militant groups have fought Indian forces for independence or a union with Pakistan since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.
The two women disappeared as they walked home from their family’s apple orchard in Shopian, a town 35 miles south of Indian Kashmir’s main city Srinagar.
Local authorities first said the women drowned when they found their bodies half a mile apart along a shallow stream on May 30, but police later said the two had been raped and killed.
Four police officers were later arrested on charges of suppressing and destroying evidence in the case. The officers were freed in September, further stoking residents’ anger.
Federal investigators were called in to solve the crime in September after weeks of violent protests by residents.
“It’s a case of drowning,” Anil Bhan from the Central Bureau of Investigation told reporters in Srinagar.
He said the agency charged 13 people “for fabricating evidence and intimidating witnesses” to lead to the conclusion that the women were raped and killed.
Majlis-e-Mashawarat, a local group demanding justice for the two women, rejected the CBI’s findings.
“We’ve lost faith in all Indian institutions, including the CBI, for delivery of justice in the rape and murder of the two women,” said Abdul Rashid Dalal, the group’s president. “Justice to the victims cannot be expected from a system that perpetrates the crime.”
The group called for a strike across the Kashmir valley on Tuesday, a move supported by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the All Parties’ Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of separatist groups in the region.
The deaths led to massive protests against Indian rule in the region and shut down Shopian town for 47 days.
At least two people were killed and 400 injured in clashes between government forces and protesters that spread across Kashmir.
Human rights groups and separatist leaders have long accused the Indian military of using sexual violence to cower the local population.
Kashmir is divided between South Asian archrivals India and Pakistan, but both claim the region in its entirety. ♦