Delivering Justice

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After the preliminary investigations established that the “terrorist” trio slain in Amshipora Shopian were civilians, the Kashmir parties are seeking a prompt and fair investigation to deliver justice to the poor Rajouri families, a promise that Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has already made, reports Tahir Bhat

A collage of the photographs of three Rajouri labourers who, according to their families, were killed in a fake encounter in Shopian in summer of 2020.

It required only an honest decision-maker to ensure nobody fiddles with the evidence. The rest was actually clear and was in public dominant from the very next morning when the residents were assembled to identify the slain “terrorist” trio. People were talking in hushed tones about the happening.

After a militant dies in combat, people know how the slain looks like. They have known it for years now. “How could people wearing very modest clothing and typical worker sleepers be militants?” one resident asked a visiting reporter, asserting the people knew the “encounter” was messy. Residents even had an idea about how the poor trio could have reached a long distance from their rented room and the place they were destined to die, a brutal death.

When the family that had rented a small space to the labourers took the visiting reporters to the room showing them the cooked but not consumed food, still intact for a fortnight, nobody asked a question. In Kashmir, how could anybody not know that if somebody is missing for 15 days? Ideally, police must be the first to know?  Even in case of youth going missing to join militancy, families first flag the case to the police.

People had the idea but they had stopped raising fingers or asking questions. This was simply because it was not the right time to ask questions, or people felt so. Even the police avoided asking the questions despite making it clear on the very first day that the operation was launched on the specific inputs that were exclusively available to the particular unit of the army.

The area that witnessed the “encounter” had seen the worst after August 2019. There were a series of “operations” in which the civilians were detained, interrogated and left injured. A lot of youth complained of their cell phones being seized and the soldiers summoning them to the garrison. This was the key factor, why the people were talking in hushed tones after knowing well that the “encounter” was not an encounter but a stage-management.

Army Chief M M Naravane with Lt Governor Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha in Srinagar on September 17, 2020.

More than two months later when finally the main story is established that the slain trio was the same group of young men who had come from a remote Rajouri village to earn their livelihoods, there are more questions that may require the answers in coming days. The army had claimed the recovery of arms and ammunition and the incriminating material from the slain trio. So Omar Abdullah genuinely asked: “So who planted this “incriminating material?”

The three belonged to the adjacent village – Abrar Ahmed lived in Tarkassi, Imtiyaz and Ibrar belonged to Kathuni Mohalla of Dharsakri. Given their backgrounds, they were using the cell phone of Imtiaz. After losing contact with them on July 17 night, they waited till August 1. Knowing for communication blockade, families thought there could be some problem. When the trio did not call them even on Eid, this forced them to inform the police on August 1.

Decent Burial

Well before the questions being raised are answered, there is a basic requirement to permit a decent burial to the slain trio. “These young men were buried somewhere in North Kashmir. It is imperative that the bodies be exhumed & handed over to the families immediately so that a proper burial can take place near their homes in Rajouri district,” Omar suggested.

Congressman Prof Saifuddin Soz actually wrote a letter to the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha asking him to permit a decent burial to the three boys on priority. He later met Sinha and insisted on exhumation. Finally, the police said the exhumation will take place and the bodies will be driven to Rajouri for burial in their ancestral graveyards.

Inspector-General of Police Kashmir Vijay Kumar addressing a press conference in Srinagar on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Manoj Sinha was primarily responsible for helping the families to get some relief. He had assured reporters that the Rajouri families will get justice and that marked the beginning of a change in the story. Though justice is still far away, things could begin with the exhumation and reburial of the bodies – a process now being said to be in progress.

Till the investigation and the long process of trial starts, the families need support. The government must immediately grant an honourable compensation to the three families so that they can fight their poverty till the court decides about the final costs that the killers must pay. That is the reasonable demand from the families whose most of the family members have served or are serving the armed forces. They have fought the wars too.

Ibrar’s father Mohammad Yousuf has already made the demand for exhumation, even days before the case was established. “We have been saying from day one that they are our children. Now the government should immediately exhume the bodies so that we can bury them in our native graveyard,” Yosouf told reporters. The trio is resting in a graveyard in Guntmulla (Baramulla).

A Change?

Taking to Twitter soon after the police announced the matching of the DNA samples, Sajjad Lone asked some questions: “Will there be any change? Will the sanctity of human life be restored? No. nothing will change. This encounter was exposed by our media forcing initiation of an investigation. As hiding it in today’s digital age was not possible…”

This tweet from a former cabinet minister tells a long story about how the institution of encounter is running parallel to an informal process of “fake encounter”. Amshipora encounter is not the first such case and is unlikely to be the last one, given the track record of the counter-insurgency spanning over three decades now.

“Had this been the first time, one could have hoped it won’t happen again. It is not the first time and not the last time. There is no deterrence and in Delhi, there is a lot of tolerance for HR violations in Kashmir. Justice will be ornamental unless it is divine,” Lone added.

Political parties like PDP – in whose government many such cases were reported with almost similar shocking detail – have asked for “stern and speedy action” against the perpetrators and “transparent and time-bound investigation” so that justice is delivered to the victims. The party had made a point that it could not address when it was in government. “The policy of incentivizing killings has been at the core of many instances of “murder for medals” in the past as well and that it is about time that the government makes Shopian incident an example to ensure justice and create deterrence,” it suggested.

The party, however, exhibited the pessimism that Kashmir breathes for a long time. “Proofs at hand notwithstanding, the history doesn’t inspire much confidence given what happened to similar cases of Pathribal and Machil fake encounters,” it said. “Where evidence was collected and the crime and criminals established beyond doubt only to see the victims still waiting endlessly for guilty to be punished and justice delivered.”

Amshipora Chronology

July 16, 2020
Three Rajouri youth Abrar Ahmed, 20, married with a 15 month old son, Imtiyaz Ahmed, 25, and Ibrar Ahmed, 17, left home and reached Shopian to work in the fields and earn a livelihood.

July 17, 2020
They rang up home to tell them they reached Shopian. Soon after they were inaccessible on phone

July 18, 2020
A gunfight broke out in an Amshipora orchard far away from the place they had put up. Army said they killed three terrorists. A police statement said 62 RR launched an operation after “specific inputs about the presence of terrorists in the village Amshipora”.

August 10, 2020
Photographs of the slain trio surfaced on social media and somehow reached to the family. The same day, the families filed a missing complaint in the Kotranka Police Station Rajouri. Army said they will investigate the claims made on social media.

August 11, 2020
Farooq Khan, former DIG, now advisor to LG Manoj Sinha rubbished the claims of “fake encounter” claims as “rumours”. Talking to reporters in Anantnag Dak Bungalow, he said: “Some people call Shopian encounter a staged or fake encounter on social media to deteriorate the situation in Kashmir. I guess these rumours are being spread to deteriorate the situation in Kashmir. We will defeat all the conspiracies of those who want to deteriorate the situation in Kashmir.”

August 13, 2020
Police station Shopian visited the families to collect the DNA samples of family members to ascertain if the slain trio were related to them. This was a follow-up to the registration of a formal case under FIR 42/2020 at police station Hirpora

September 11, 2020
Rajouri families write a letter to Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, asking for his intervention to speed up the DNA testing so that they can exhume the bodies and give them a decent burial.

September 14, 2020
LG Manoj Sinha said the justice will be delivered to the families of the Rajouri men.

September 17, 2020
Jammu and Kashmir’s Director General of Police, Dilbagh Singh said the final results of the samples collected from families members will be out in a few days.

September 17, 2020
In Lok Sabha, Dr Abdullah sought investigations and compensation to the families of individuals killed in a fake encounter. Later on September 21, Dr Abdullah and fellow MPs from Kashmir protested over the custodial killings in Sopore and fake encounter in Shopian. They stood in front of the Gandhi statue with victims of the two incidents.

September 18, 2020
The Army issued a brief statement admitting prima facie evidence that the 62-RR personnel misused the powers conferred on them under the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) 1990, during the encounter.

September 25, 2020
IGP Vijay Kumar told a news conference that results of DNA samples of the parents of three youth from Rajouri have matched with those killed in the “encounter”.

September 29, 2020
Police in Shopian arrest two-person, both civilians. One belongs to the villages where the particular army unit is stationed and other lives in a village on the border between the Shopian and Pulwama districts. The actual charges against the two are not known.

  (Compiled by Saifullah Bashir)

Investigations

Hugely suspicious of the “encounter” from day one, the police, according to sources are working on some clues already. A report in the news portal The Wire said that the roles of three persons, including a Special Police Officer, are under scanner. “The SPO, who was posted in Kashmir Valley, is from Poonch. The second person is from Pulwama and the third one is from Shopian,” sources told the website. Now the latest report said two persons have been arrested. Both of them belong to Shopian district – one in the village where the army garrison exists and the other from a village that is on the border of the district near Pulwama.

Sareen Akhter with her 15 months old son Anees Chouhan in their Rajouri home. She is the wife of Abrar Ahmad, one of the three young men presumed killed in Shopian encounter. Image Guftar Ahmad

The families of the trio travelled from Rajouri on September 18, to depose before the Army’s inquiry officer at Victor Force headquarters at Awantipora. While the identity is established, the investigators may now investigate if they had any militant connection. For this, reports in media suggest, they will investigate their call records and personal history.

While the police investigations have started, the army enquiry is also going on. Earlier, it issued an advertisement asking people for credible inputs within ten days. It even gave the phone number and assured to keep the identity of the people secret.

With two parallel investigations going on, it is too early to say see if the outcome is different from similar investigations in Pathribal and Machil cases. Unlike past, this time Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor has committed himself to deliver justice to the Rajouri families.

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