By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: The brief phase of apparent peace in Jammu and Kashmir has been shattered once again by what has been described by critics as â€œstate-terrorism.â€ The recent weeks have been marked by several suspect-terrorists having been killed in what have been labelled as â€œfake encountersâ€ and the custodial death of Nasin Rashid (28) in Sopore district, Baramulla district. Rashidâ€™s death provoked Kashmiris to take to streets demanding justice and prompted several Kashmiri leaders to strongly voice their protest against it.
The Indian troops claimed to have killed five suspect militants, three of whom were killed at Rajwar in Handwara and two in Surankote area of Poonch. They were, according to Indian troops, killed as they tried to cross the Line-of-Control. The Kashmiri leaders have, however, blamed the troops for having â€œmartyredâ€ the five in an act of â€œstate-terrorism.â€ Even before this issue has settled down, an actual â€œfake-encounterâ€ has raised questions on credibility of the earlier claims made by Indian troops. A preliminary probe has reportedly revealed that a man killed in an alleged 12-hour gun battle with an army unit was not a suspect militant, but a mentally unstable civilian.
Initially, a high-ranking officer had briefed the media (Aug 7) that the â€œmilitantâ€ killed was Abdu Usman, Lashkar-e-Taibaâ€™s â€œdivisional commander.â€ The officer also claimed recovery of a pistol and other materials from his possession. Ironically, before this â€œnewsâ€ had created any waves, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah accepted that the â€œencounterâ€ in which the individual was killed may not have been real.
â€œWe are still enquiring into the exact circumstances as to what happened. Preliminary information suggests to us that a local Territorial Army fellow and an SPO (Special Police Officer) had conspired to inform the local army unit about the presence of the foreign militant in Pooch,â€ Abdullah said. â€œSubsequently, information came to light that that the person is not who (that is a â€˜suspect militantâ€™) the Territorial Army and the SPO claimed him to be,â€ he said.
The â€œaccused,â€ according to Abdullah, â€œhave been charged under section 302 amounting to murder and we will ensure that the law follows its own course.â€ The accused, include SPO Abdul Majid and Territorial Army soldier Noor Hussain. While the SPOâ€™s intention, through this â€œencounter,â€ was to be regularized as a constable, the soldier wanted a cash reward of Rs 200,000.
Amazingly, this is one of the rarest of rare â€œfake encounters,â€ which on the basis of a preliminary probe has been promptly acknowledged as one, with the state chief minister himself saying so. Over the past three years, at least 14 cases of fake encounter in Kashmir have been reported and registered by Indiaâ€™s National Human Rights Commission. And this raises the pertinent question: Who is to be blamed for grievances afflicting Indian Kashmiris?
Speaking at a seminar in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra said: â€œA major problem facing the country today is the nexus between political hierarchy, mafia and bureaucracy. All elements of government are tainted and now fingers are being pointed towards the armed forces.â€ Taking note that the Police Act was 150 years old, Vohra said: â€œWe need to reform every part and parcel of the government including police for providing justice to the people.â€
Vohraâ€™s tacit acceptance that people were being denied justice was referred to from a different angle by former Chief Justice of Orissa High Court Justice Bilal Nazki at the seminar (Aug 8). He raised the question: â€œIn Kashmir there are many cases of alleged excesses committed by the police and at the same time police is investigating them. How can anybody expect fair investigation from the accused?â€ â€œOnce the crime takes place there should be no business of police to meddle in investigations. Police cannot handle everything from law and order to security to the investigation,â€ Nazki said.
Undeniably, Kashmiris have suffered for long at the hands of law and order system in their terrain. The army and police are expected to ensure security for the Kashmiris. But instead, they have been trigger-free while targeting Kashmiris, particularly Muslims. In recent years, thanks to communication revolution, â€œreportsâ€ on fake encounters accusing Kashmiris (particularly Muslims) as â€œterroristsâ€ have started hitting headlines. The Indian media has also woken up to not easily accepting claims made by officers about several â€œterroristsâ€ being killed in certain encounters. Earlier, their prevailed the tendency to virtually accept whatever was said at press conferences, after such â€œencountersâ€ as the final word, without examining the credibility of such claims and not considering the option of giving â€œsuspect terroristsâ€ a chance to prove their innocence.
Despite the media and people having woken up to the hard reality that â€œpeaceâ€ and â€œsecurityâ€ continues to elude Kashmiris as innocent persons are still being targeted by state-controlled bullets, the concerned authorities have not yet taken any major step to solve this problem. Irrespective of whatever claims that India makes about its commitment to the Kashmir-issue, peace shall elude problem-ridden region, till adequate attention is paid to address grievances faced by Kashmiris!