Valley On Boil, Centre, Sonia Rush Emissaries

7 June 2009
The Indian Express

Srinagar: With Srinagar now on the boil for the last seven days over the deaths of two women in mysterious circumstances, the UPA Government and the Congress have swung into action to contain the repercussions. Under pressure, the Jammu and Kashmir Government late on Sunday night registered a rape case in connection with the incident, hours after a Forensic Science Laboratory report was presented to the Medical Officer, Shopian, and police officials. According to sources, forensics tests of vaginal swabs of the two women - whose bodies were fished out of Ranbir stream- had shown the presence of semen. The Home Ministry’s Special Secretary (Internal Security), Raman Srivastava - who looks after Jammu and Kashmir - was sent last week to get an assessment of the situation, and on Saturday, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi dispatched Jammu and Kashmir PCC chief Saifuddin Soz as an emissary to convey the party's concerns over the situation. The Congress is part of the coalition government in the state with the National Conference. Srivastava, who has met top state officials and also held meetings with chiefs of security forces in J-K, will brief Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. Depending on his inputs, Chidambaram may visit Srinagar on June 10 or 11, say top government sources. New Delhi is worried at the turn of events since Nilofar, 22, and her sister-in-law Asiya, 17, were found dead, with family members accusing personnel of the security forces of raping and killing the two. The Congress fears that if unchecked, the anger over the girls’ deaths may spiral into what was witnessed during last year’s agitation on the Amarnath issue. Dismissing claims that Delhi had been “indifferent” to the situation, Soz told The Indian Express over phone from Srinagar that he met Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at his residence and conveyed “everybody’s concerns at what has happened in Shopian and the prevailing situation” in Kashmir. “I met the Chief Minister and expressed our concern at the unfortunate and tragic incident,” Soz said. According to Soz, he “explained” to Omar that 'the police should lodge an FIR in the death of the two women”. The Congress leader added that they would wait for the report of a judicial inquiry. “I appeal to all political parties and people in Kashmir that they should cooperate with the judge and give their depositions,” Soz said. The incident has given fodder to the People's Democratic Party (PDP), and separatist leaders in the Valley to call for a withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and led to clamour for resolving the Kashmir dispute. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also provoked anger by first dismissing the case as a drowning incident, and then few days later, with protests spreading, admitting “kuchch to hua hai (something has happened)”. He then instituted a judicial inquiry by a retired Jammu and Kashmir High Court judge. Meanwhile, even as the strike called by Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani over the deaths of the two girls continue, voices are rising over the rationale of such a long shutdown. Forced to stay behind doors, many people like Abdur Razaq of Nowshehra, whose hardware shop in downtown city remains shut, are saying, “leaders should represent our grievances on behalf of us, not at the cost of us”. The Valley’s newspapers too have joined the call for the strike to be ended. Geelani’s efforts to monopolise the agitation have also alienated moderate separatists like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF leader Yaseen Malik, who have restricted themselves to limited action, seeking a probe into the alleged killings. Both the leaders have adopted a meaningful silence over the continuation of the hartal, revealing an emerging difference of opinion within the separatist camp. “We have made our policy clear that we are not for hartals,” said a senior leader of Hurriyat's moderate faction. The moderates, he said, have privately warned the hawks “to take back the strike” or be ready for public opposition to it. “We can't be silent spectators to the suffering of our people.” On Sunday, security personnel fired in the air and used teargas to disperse stone-pelting mobs and the Government was forced to cordon off downtown Srinagar to prevent a Dukhtaran-i-Millat march to Eidgah.