Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society Friday criticized the Retd Justice Gandhi Commission’s Kishtwar Report saying, “a reading of the interim report strongly suggests that there was no interest in carrying out any meaningful inquiry and the purpose of the Commission of Inquiry appears to have been to shield perpetrators of violence, important government personalities and defend the existence of illegal and unconstitutional VDC’s and further re-establish their need”.
The statement said, “on 9 August 2013, following a history of violence against the Muslim community in Kishtwar, there were communal clashes which were then further instigated by State backed individuals including Village Defence Committee [VDC] members. This violence resulted in the death of two persons on that day [followed by a killing on the following day] and numerous injured and destruction of property”.
Pertinently, to investigate the cause of violence, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir had appointed a Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice (Retd.) R.C Gandhi. Further a Special Investigation Team was appointed to investigate the various FIRs filed.
On 7 April 2014, the Supreme Court [in a petition filed in relation to the Kishtwar incident] recommended that the final report of the Commission be completed in three months and that due and proper investigations be carried out.
CCS said, “to date, there is no public information on whether the perpetrators of the violence in Kishtwar have been punished”.
More so, an interim report by the Commission of Inquiry finalized on 19 December 2013, has never been made public. There is no information on the fate of the final Inquiry report either.
“On the anniversary of the tragic violence in Kishtwar, JKCCS for public accountability and transparency releases Justice (Retd.) R.C. Gandhi Commission of Inquiry interim report [available at www.jkccs.net] which has not been made public to date by the Government,” the statement informed.
“The interim report concludes by holding then Deputy Commissioner [DC] Kishtwar, Mohammad Saleem and certain other magistrates responsible for negligence and dereliction of duty. Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo [then and presently Minister of State for Home, Industries and Commerce] is exonerated of any role. Most importantly, the interim report finds in favour of a general need for VDC’s and blames the propaganda against them on people who believe in “radicalism”,” the statement further said.
Quoting pages 168-169 of the Gandhi Report:
“(vi) that there is also evidence on record that the VDCs are doing good job as assigned to them. The propaganda against the VDCs is being spread by the people who believe in radicalism. It has come in the evidence that in case VDCs are disbanded it will bring an era of militancy again in the District and will land the District to a situation of “Land of Massacres” as known and called earlier during the militancy days. The other reason for propaganda against the VDCs is that there is less number of Muslim community people in the VDCs. When VDCs were framed at that time the deserving persons did not volunteer to be members of the VDCs because of the fear of the militants and threat to their life by the militants but now the situation on ground has much improved. The Government should consider the ex-army personnel and ex-police personnel to engage them as members of the VDC without disturbing the existing VDCs so that the false propaganda against the VDCs is taken care of and equal participation of the people is exhibited.”
CCS statement while giving further details said, “The mandate of the inquiry [page 4 of interim report] bears no relation to the role of VDC’s in general. The inquiry was tasked with identifying the reasons for the violence, lapses and responsibility of specific persons. Instead, the longest finding of the interim report is on the need for VDC’s. What is of serious concern is also the evidentiary basis of this finding. Two witnesses – then Superintendent of Police [SP], Kishtwar Sunil Gupta and DC Kishtwar, Mohammad Saleem. While SP Kishtwar offers an unequivocal defence of VDC’s, DC Kishtwar evidence that VDC’s would require improved “supervision” [page 127] is ignored by the interim report.”
“On the contrary, Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stated in the Legislative Council in October 2013 that for the violence in Kishtwar Four VDC members were charge sheeted, and that from all districts of Jammu, 49 complaints had been received against VDC members for which FIRs had been registered. But, the number of allegations against VDC’s is clearly higher as in December 2012 in response to a RTI application, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir provided information on 85 FIR’s against the VDC’s from only three districts [Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban],” it said.
Further, the interim report also ‘betrays’ a certain political position when addressing the issue of VDC’s comprising of mainly Hindus’. “The solution of increasing the VDC’s with ex-army personnel and ex-police personnel serves to further militarize Kishtwar.”
The statement analyzing the Report said, “the final report, if and when prepared, will not lead to any meaningful completion of the Commissions mandate, which must include a larger search for the truth, is apparent from the evidence collected/recorded. A total of 388 affidavits and 44 more statements were collected/recorded by the Commission [pages 14, 17-18; but at page 162 the number of further statements is put at 40].”
It questioned, “How this Commission appreciated evidence is most clearly brought out on page 84 of the report where the Commission states as follows in relation to a constable of the Sashastra Seema Bal [SSB]: “This witness is a natural witness. He has given the account of the factual and real events which he has seen on spot, he being SSB personnel belonging to the other State and having no interest, whatsoever with either of the group, his statement is quite natural and trustworthy” [emphasis added]. In the militarized context of Jammu and Kashmir, this is either a poor or biased appreciation of evidence.”
Further, in the interim report, of the total named witnesses, 108 are Hindus and 23 Muslims. “While evidence cannot be based on considerations such as religion, it is surprising that in the Muslim dominated Kishtwar, in an incident where thousands of Muslims were present, this should be the ratio. Further, in a number of cases witnesses appeared and recanted from their affidavits, and more worryingly, in some cases, the witnesses stated that they had been asked to sign by some other persons [page 30 refers to “2-3 boys” who got the affidavits signed], including it would appear the police [page 23]. It appears there was no attempt by the Commission to find key witnesses to testify to the causes of violence or perpetrators,” the statement said.
More disturbingly, as in the case of possible witness coaching or even coercion, the Commission did not found it necessary to follow upon on important areas, it added.
“For example, on page 45 of the interim report, there is an allegation by Salman Nissar, and his father Nissar Ahmed that the grandson of a person named Chander Shah fired a bullet that injured Salman Nissar. This allegation does not seem to have been inquired into further by the Commission. Further, numerous witnesses, including State witnesses, testified that there was an announcement from the Jamia Masjid that there had been an attack on the Muslims. This “attack” has not been inquired into,” it said.
JKCCS said, “the privatization of human rights abuses and the outsourcing of criminality by the Indian State besides being in violation to many international laws are also violative of India’s constitution, the rule of law and the Supreme Court decision in the Salwa Judum Case. The communal nature of the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir is apparent from the very constitution of the VDCs.”
In response to a RTI application, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, in December 2012, provided the following details regarding VDCs in Kishtwar District [where the ratio of Hindus to Muslims is 35:65]: of a total of 3287 VDC members, 3174 [96.56%] are Hindus. Further, out of 3287 VDC members, 865 are paid as VDC/SPOs, and of these 865, only 21 [2.43%] are Muslims, the statement said. “The rest of the paid VDC/SPOs [97.57%] are Hindus. An important part of the cover up of the institutional criminality in Jammu and Kashmir has been the appointment of inquires that rarely carry out any meaningful inquiries and only serve to protect State perpetrators.”
Further, the CCS statement concluded, “these inquiries are invariably suppressed and not made public. Therefore, the need for the release of this interim report. One year following the violence in Kishtwar of 9 August 2013, the role of the State – in crime and impunity – is once again established.”