I've just missed out on posting on Day 206 by a few seconds!
We returned to Sharda (6,200 feet) from Narda (Lake at 15,000 feet) this afternoon after 72 hours of the most gruelling physical journey I've ever undertaken in 47 years.
The elation felt at achieving this feat was worth every exhausted bone in my body.
Meanwhile, activism for re-opening Sharda for Kashmiri Pandits motors on. Led admirably and tirelessly by Ravinder Pandita of Save Sharda Committee:
.....@ImranKhanPTI @PTIofficial @sgqadir @PM_AJK @SMQureshiPTI @MughalAmiruddin @TariqNaqash @RVankwani @mohsin_shakil @sahaafi See the reply. Raised Q. No: 1128 in Rajya Sabha also on 20 Dec.I will keep on pressing both the GOI and Pak Govt for cross LoC Heritage & Religious tourism. pic.twitter.com/zOoVBHvXsg— Ravinder Pandita (@panditaAPMCC63) July 24, 2019
Conditions for public interest activists in Gilgit Baltistan have always been more severe than in AJK and even the Kashmir Valley in some respects:
......Gilgit Baltistan Awareness Forum strongly condemns arrest of Molana Sultan Rae's. Public voice cannot be suppressed by putting their leaders behind bars.#GBAwareness#FreeSultanRaes pic.twitter.com/xg4CvA0jAV— Gilgit Baltistan Awareness Forum (@GBAwareness) July 24, 2019
Staying with Gilgit Baltistan, apart from human interaction let's see how animals interact in this region:
|Youth of Khwaja Seri conferring outside PS Sharda|
Coming back to Sharda, this morning the youth of Khwaja Seri urged me to accompany them to Sharda Police Station to pursue the progress of investigation into the alleged rape by Abid Shah of Kharigam (near Sharda) a few days ago:
A brief profile of his alleged victim:
- 17 yrs old
- FSC 2nd Yr Student
- D/O Khwaja Waheed - of Khwaja Seri
A strong discussion ensues at the police station where we learn that the concerned investigating officer and Station House Officer (SHO) have taken Abid Shah to the district capital of Athmaqam for interrogation by SP Neelam. Meanwhile, staff present try to defend their investigation which the youth are not convinced of:
It is apparent that:
- The police have used weak charges, namely 10 ZA (HA) and 14 ZA which are easily bailable.
- The alleged perpetrator has committed this sort of crime multiple times before. It is further alleged that gang rape has been the modus operandi.
- There are 2 other people in custody who remain at Sharda police station, allegedly connected to this crime. Upon request, I was not allowed to meet them. It is claimed that there were at least 5 co-conspirators.
- It is alleged that Abid Shah's co-conspirators were hotel staff at Benazir Palace. There is also speculation that these staff double as government employees at Bagh University.
- It is not even clear if a forensic investigation has been pursued by the police. In any case, the only forensic lab available is in Lahore. There is no such facility in AJK and thus costs money, involves considerable delay in clarifying investigations here. It appears that the police are usually discouraged from taking such steps.
- It is also claimed that various powerful people are behind the silencing of such crimes, which interconnect various other vices in society.
I explained to the police that I have worked on many cases before and a lot of effort is taken to obtain even a semblance of justice, never 100%. This case needs to be different.
Some of the youth are keen on blocking roads throughout the district of Neelam and to extend agitation throughout AJK. I explain to them that they should verify and ensure that the alleged victim's statement is wholly true. That they should then pursue 5 levels of the local police structure consistently and meaningfully:
1) Investigating officer
2) SHO (Station House Officer)
3) DSP (Deputy Superintendent)
4) PDSP (Prosecuting Deputy Superintendent)
5) SP (Superintendent)
Having gone through the above process, they should then pursue other avenues of peaceful protest.
Meanwhile, discussing this matter with the residents of Sharda confirms many of the allegations cited above. It is also clear that the local people want justice to be done, in a manner which creates a deterrent for such practices in future. They realise that the image, dignity and honour of Neelam is at stake.
I would add that governance cannot operate without an efficient administration and judiciary. Our society has lagged way behind in all fields thus far since 1947. Our government as well as our people need to sharpen up quickly. Otherwise.....
Where there is despair, there is always hope.
Where there are tears, you will always find a smile.