SHOPIAN, Sept 28: Indian forensic experts exhumed the bodies of two slain Kashmiri women on Monday in an investigation aimed at defusing the latest tensions in the occupied region.
Many in the valley accuse Indian security forces of raping and murdering the women and say justice will only be served when the troops leave.
â€œIndia has militarised every facet of Kashmir. These kinds of incidents are bound to happen as long as this occupation continues,â€ said teacher Fayaz Ahmed.
The attacks on 22-year-old Neelofar Jan and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asiya Jan dramatically rekindled anti-India sentiments in the territory.
The two disappeared in May as they walked home from their familyâ€™s apple orchard.
Local authorities first said the women had drowned. Their bodies were found a kilometre apart in a shallow stream on May 30. But police later declared the two had been raped and murdered.
Authorities, however, failed to make any arrests and called in national investigators after weeks of violent protests.
The deaths led to 50 days of protests that shut down Shopian. Two people were killed and 400 injured in the clashes that spread in the valley.
On Monday, police and paramilitary forces with rifles and flak jackets closed the main roads leading to Shopian. The paths to the graveyard where the two women were buried were sealed with razor wire and a tent shielded the graves from view.
A team of Indian doctors and forensic experts in the tent exhumed the bodies and conducted autopsies throughout the day, an official said.
The mood in Shopian was sombre despite deep scepticism that the investigation would lead to arrests. Businesses were closed, and streets were empty of vehicles.
â€œWe have decided to fully cooperate so that they donâ€™t have any excuse to say that locals disrupted the exhumation process,â€ said Javaid Ahmed, a local activist.
â€œThe government and its institutions have no credibility in Kashmir. People say, from experience, that these probes are conducted to camouflage reality,â€ said Sheikh Shokat, a law professor at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar. He said only an international investigation would satisfy people.
Four policemen arrested on charges of suppressing and destroying evidence in the case were freed earlier this month.
Throughout Shopian, black flags in memory of the women hung from shops and buildings. Dozens of women gathered at the homes of the victimsâ€™ families.
â€œThis fear will remain with us forever,â€ Neelofarâ€™s mother Ayesha said as she sobbed. â€œWe are exhausted now. What can we do with this pain?â€
When the investigators left the cemetery in the evening, hundreds of residents ran inside, shouting, â€œWe want justice,â€ and â€œWe are ashamed, sisters, that your killers are still alive.â€
â€œAll one can do is wait to see what the investigators can do,â€ said Abdul Ahad, an apple farmer from Shopian. â€œBut frankly speaking, no one expects the state to indict itself.â€â€”AP