Men in Khaki

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In the backdrop of Kathua kidnapping, rape and murder of little Rasana girl, certain sections of society in J&K are raising fingers towards the state police. Driven by vested interests, the anti-police crusaders are completely unaware of the capacities of the Jammu and Kashmir police, reports Masood Hussain

A civilian washing the blood that spilt on the road when a cop was critically injured in a militant attack in Hari Singh High Street KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

It was late in the afternoon on September 15, 1993, that I got a call. It was a Satnam Singh Oberoi, the then SSP of State Police’s Crime Branch. “Hamaray Sahab Aap Say Milna Chahtay Hein,” he said in his peculiar polite tone. “Can you come for a cup of tea tomorrow morning?”

It was an unexpected response to my report Crime Branch Charges Army With Cops Murder that appeared in Kashmir Times, the same day. It was perhaps the first ever news report that offered an idea that a Crime Branch also exists in Kashmir at a time when nothing but the BSF and army was visible.

On Thursday, when I reached the Crime Branch office, then operating from Sonawar, it was an interesting experience. SSP was waiting with his security guard and within seconds, I was escorted into the Sahab’s chamber. I had barely exchanged the pleasantries that his orderly’s came in with tea and lot of bakery. It was my first meeting with senior officer Rajinder Tickoo. I was too eager to know why I was called.

“So what is the reaction to your story?” he asked.

“Where?” I said.

“There, in the civil secretariat. Do they think we should do it?” he was blunt. I will never forget the delivery of those two sentences by a senior police officer, at the peak of a crisis in which the state police was reduced to mere scavenging activity: maintaining the Rouznamcha, collecting and handing over the corpses. Police existed on the margins of the anarchy. Police stations were checking from the IGP’s office if they can register an FIR against security forces, a practice that was made formal by P S Gill when he issued an order.

That was just a routine story but it was about one of the most important events of that year: the police agitation. It was police’s indictment of the army in a murder case involving a cop, Riyaz Ahmad, that brought the entire force on streets and, in a procession, to the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).

On April 21, 1993, army cordoned off Hazratbal shrine after it got information that militants were hiding. A few bullets were fired but the top officers of the governor’s administration reached the spot and prevented soldiers from entering into the religious place. Near the Lal Bazar crossing, soldiers tracked a man with flowing beard and detained him. He said he was Riyaz, a police athlete of JKAP 11 Bn, was on leave and had gone to see an Hakim for his toe-injury.

Cop on a high alert in a south Kashmir town after a police party was attacked in Ashmuqam. KL Image

State Additional Police Chief Amar Kapoor tried to intervene but could not locate the colonel who was leading the operation. He left advising City Police Chief K Rajindra Kumar to get the cop from the army. Rajindra failed. Next morning, army handed over three bodies to police. Apart from an al-Umar Mujahideen militant Jia Gundroo, it included Riyaz. As the police spokesman claimed the cop killed in crossfire, hell broke loose.

The armed constabulary in the Police Control Room Srinagar alleged that Rajindra, instead of seeking Riyaz from the army, advised them to “teach him a lesson”. They said Riyaz was tortured and killed. Infuriated, they besieged the PCR and later raided the office of Rajindra. In a bid to get Rajindra, they even fired at his office and the fire exchange continued for 10 minutes. Cops wanted revenge.

Armed Police Chief S S Ali wanted to talk to constabulary but they were not interested. Rajindra was booked in a murder case but cops wanted his arrest. They retained his corpse in PCR till late in the evening.

A day later on April 23, a group of cops went to see IGP A K Suri. Verbal duels led Suri’s security detail to cock their guns. It created a situation that the agitated cops snatched his gun and beat him on spot. Later, an estimated 3500-strong mass of cops, brandishing their service weapons, moved to UNMOGIP through Lal Chowk, the first procession since March 1990. Some officers accompanied them so that situation does not deteriorate further. At Dalgate, senior officers M N Sabarwal, IGPs SS Ali and AK Suri attempted dissuading them but the cops did not listen. They met the UNMOGIP observers and submitted a memorandum seeking an end to “state terrorism” and investigation in the murder of Riyaz. They peacefully returned to PCR. The government announced Rs 1.95 lakh compensation to Riyaz’s family and a job.

On April 25, cops in 25 buses went to Riyaz’s Sumbal home and prayed for his eternal peace on his fourth day. DIG Hira Lal Bhan and JKAP 11 BN Commandant G H Lone accompanied them as B S Bedi, the DGP, who had returned from his leave, waited for them in the PCR till they returned. Bedi tried to talk and announce the transfer of Rajindara but he was heckled. By then, ACS (home) Mehmood-ur-Rehman had discovered an “external hand” and soon BSF and CRPF were seen besieging the PCR.

On April 27, civilian population around the PCR was vacated, lights were put off and in a quick operation, army disarmed the protesting cops without firing even a single bullet and it was all over in 15 minutes. During wee hours, Brigadier Panday went to see Bedi, stuck in PCR because his cops had deflated tires of his car, and congratulated him. He was taken to a heap of 1500 weapons. By then, the BSF had taken control of police’s armoury at Zewan and army in Manigam. Soon, six truckloads of cops were escorted by BSF to PCR for an identification parade.

Immediately 20 ringleaders were arrested and many hundreds were paraded before hooded spotters. By evening more than 150 cops were detained. Eventually, 109 were dismissed from service. Soon, the JKAP 11 Bn was shifted to Jammu under a new commander. It took the cops a few days to resume their routine.

It was this case that Tickoo’s Crime Branch handled. They had established that the cop was shot dead somewhere in Gogji Bagh and army had refused to cooperate in identifying the particular officer. “So we made the Commanding Officer Mr Errana as the principal accused,” Oberoi said.

The strike had shaken the top cops in Kashmir. They were unable to find any kind of relevance for a 30,000 strong force. They were caught between the two sides. Society would seek help from police in the crisis but the counter-insurgency grid would look at this force with contempt and suspicion. Almost all the nonlocal police officers would have personal security detail from ITBP or CRPF. The decision-making police was an extension of other paramilitary forces. There were instances in which the cops were literally kept hostage by the BSF and army during the crackdown, now called CASO (cordon and search operations). There were serious communication crisis and all of a sudden, officers with fluency in Punjabi and acquainted with the culture of plains were feeling a comfort level, unlike the local cops. This process has started early during Jagmohan era.

In later February in 1994, I saw a smiling Tickoo playing with a revolver in his office chamber as the new Kashmir Police Chief. “I just missed him by five minutes,” Tickoo said, talking about the Students Liberation Front (SLF) that later became Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, chief Hilal Beg. “My force reached the spot but they were late by five minutes. But I will get him soon.”

“Which force?” I asked.

“The Special Task Force. Farooq is heading that. It will fight the militancy now,” he laughed and detailed the creation of the Special Operations Group (SOG) that initially was STF. It was this force that gradually emerged as the police’s dreaded battle-tank against rebels and helped the force grow to a 125 thousand force with a yearly Rs 3200 crore spend. It flouted established rules to reclaim its position in the game of death and destruction that still dominates the Kashmir chessboard.

“The police was constituted as the Jammu and Kashmir Police Service,” journalist Abdul Qayoom said. “It has been converted into Jammu and Kashmir Police Force and in between lies the difference.”

The “change”, retired IGP Javed Mukhdoomi said has been phenomenal. “The lingo, the pattern, the systems and almost everything is changed,” Mukhdoomi said. “I was shocked when I heard seniors saying – ‘bump him off’. This is something that never was in police language. It is a new terminology that seemingly situation dictated.”

With a sense of pride, Mukhdoomi talks about the 1981 sensational murder case of the wife of Ghulam Ahmad Khanyari in Nishat. She was killed by more than 20 stabs. “It was a sensational case because the lady was like a daughter of Sheikh Sahab who as Chie Minister flew from Jammu,” Mukhdoomi said. “The real challenge was to arrest the killer and I caught him in Delhi’s railway station and the case was closed within 24 hours. When I flew with the killer, there were so many people at the airport waiting to take the killer and kill him that I had to drive him from the technical airport side.”

The killer was domestic servant Naeem, a resident of Nepal. He got life imprisonment.

With the same enthusiasm, Mukhdoomi, as Kashmir Police Chief, supervised the investigations in the so-called Major Rehman case. “We did not rely on statements alone but we investigated the movement of the officer up to the gate of the mother and daughter till he enters and later, leaves,” Mukhdoomi said. The mother-daughter had accused the Major of raping them. “It was such a water-tight case that later Major General Atta Husnain met me because he had read the investigation.”

Kashmir Police, as the JKP is usually referred to, more so in parts of Jammu these days, have maintained a profile in routine policing that was completely different from its peers in the region. It always retained the community police angle till it became a “force” and diluted, if not compromised, its core competence. Between Khuftan Fakeer of 1960s and Village Defence Committee (VDC) of 1990s, many such security-related extra-constitutional tamashas like Special Police Officials (SPO) have dominated the police profile. Its capacity of crime investigation has not become part of its overall story.

Brandishing guns and black mourning flags, cops protesting against the killing of their colleague Riyaz Ahmad. They marched through Lal Chowk and handed over a memorandum to UNMOGIP seeking investigations. A file pic

Brandishing guns and black mourning flags, cops protesting against the killing of their colleague Riyaz Ahmad. They marched through Lal Chowk and handed over a memorandum to UNMOGIP seeking investigations. A file pic

“People may laugh at it but the fact is that when President Kennedy was massacred, America invited select police officers for consultations and it included one from JKP,” one senior journalist, privy of the development, said. “The officer was shocked by the invite, thanked them, took health angle and did not go.” The journalist said the communication must be somewhere in the police records.

“The fact is that managing the conflict situation has always remained part of the routine policing,” Kifayat Haider, a second-generation police officer, who retired as a DIG, said. “The only difference is that earlier the police was not a fighting police but now it is.”

During tribal raids, Haider said when Moulana Sayeed Masoodi was appointed as the administrator of ‘liberated’ Karnah, half a dozen cops were deployed for policing. “They were legends because they did everything, they were supposed to,” he said. “For three months, they had barely eaten anything and later an aircraft would drop milk supplies to them. They were the principal source of information to the emergency administration in Srinagar.”

In the 1999 ‘localised conflict’ between India and Pakistan, the most informed force was not an army, it was state police intelligence. This advantage was retained by the CID till the conflict was over.

Books and classrooms apart, the real grooming takes place at the police station. “As a probationer, one day a young lady alleged she was beaten and medical advice suggested an arrest of the accused. My officer told me that you will not go home till you arrest the accused,” Haider remembers. “I tried to argue but my officer said: your father has trained me and I am training you – in Kashmir Police, two crimes do not have time, the murder and a crime against a woman.”

It was under Haider’s supervision when Romesh Jalla came as a probationer. “An idol disappeared from a temple near Hari Parbat on February 11, 1985, and rumours were there that it was done by Shabir Shah and Azam Inquilabi on the first anniversary of Maqbool Bhat,” Haider said. “When we started arrests, there was hue and cry. These stopped only when we recovered and reinstalled the idol and paraded the accused which included many businessmen and a few Kashmiri Pandits and residents from Ramban.” So impressive was the investigation that the temple committee head gave a prize of Rs 1 lakh that, the then DGP, M M Khajooria took and deposited in the police welfare fund.

Jalla supervised the Kathua rape case which has created a global reaction. This is the most sensitive case that is being commented upon the world over. But it is not the first major case that JKP handled.

British tourist Alison Macdonald who went missing in Sonamarg in late nineties.

On August 17, 1981, Alison MacDonald, a young British woman went missing in Sonamarg and it became global news. “I was assigned investigations though just a missing report,” Mukhdoomi said. “It was an uphill task but I reached closer to it as all my leads led to the local Beacon camp on the other side of the river and pointed towards a young Sikh officer. But then nothing happened.”

More recently in July 1995, the hostage-taking by al-Faran was more sensational as it involved six Western tourists who were kidnapped by militants. One of them escaped and another was literally butchered. It was a much bigger crisis because it involved USA, UK, Germany, and Norway. Initially, the kidnappers demanded exchange with 20-odd arrested militants but Raj Bhawan was uninterested. Soon, the state police succeeded in establishing a contact.

“We were literally shadowing them for a long time but the hierarchy was not supportive,” Mushtaq Sadiq, the retired DIG, who was involved in the exercise, said. “I sent two of my cops who breached their ring and were part of them (kidnappers). One of them was later arrested under Public Safety Act and the second one was killed by the militants.” He regrets that the restricted resources by the system were the key factor that delayed the hostage release. “The boy who was killed had his militant brother already slain by the security forces and his father was also killed,” Sadiq said. “That family is destroyed because of us.”

The five western tourists who were hostage by Al-Faran

The dramatic kidnapping and the efforts for their release became the plot of The Meadow, Kashmir 1995 – Where The Terror Began by investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark. It offers a blow-by-blow account of almost everything that happened till a gang of state-funded gunmen took over and killed them. It is the only account that offers every stake-holders version of things and also the first that conclusively reveals that the security grid was following the gang to the extent that they would get even their pictures.

But this case also explains how the dichotomy in JKP works. Two units, working parallel to each other, with different objectives eventually led to the defeat of one group. One group was trying to solve the hostage issue and another tackling the hostage takers.

Sadiq, in the latter part of 1995, was appointed SP (Hostages) where he remained literally a hostage of the system. “I was chasing a militant and then suddenly he would get eliminated (by SOG) and in the entire process almost 30 militants whom I thought were in the know of the kidnapping were killed,” Sadiq said. “Then the case was closed on basis of a person who said he witnessed the hostages were killed.”

But in cases lacking external angles, JKP had better delivery. When noted lawyer Jalil Andrabi went missing, Srinagar City South was led by Asgar Hussain. “It is the blind case, how will you crack it?” I asked him. “Crime is something that leaves its trail. It will be visible once we start.”

The day after when the High Court constituted a special investigation team (SIT), it moved so quickly in chasing the killers that collecting the body bags became a problem. “Anybody who was involved in the kidnapping was killed and it included army officers as well,” one of the SIT members now retired, told Kashmir Life. “One was killed barely minutes before we could arrest or at least question.”

They even caught the accused army officer, Major Avtar Singh in Punjab. Finally, somehow, the officer was permitted to fly abroad and many years later a situation emerged that Singh killed himself along with his family including two sons and Kashmiri wife.

As explained by the Kathua investigations, the JKP has been willing to pay costs by going against its own men. While there were cases in which the accused were shielded at the highest level – like the case of Rashid Khan, the erstwhile SDPO Nigheen, there are dozens of cases in which senior officers were sent to jail: Manohar Singh, Sevak Singh, S P Parihar, Bahadur Ram, Shanti Singh, Abdul Aziz, Bashir Ahmad. The list is quite long and some of them are still in jail.

One of the most challenging cases was during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s regime when the case of the killing of civilians in fake encounters emerged much bigger than it seemed. Officers were killing civilians, dubbing them militants and staking claims to the bounty and promotions. It led to a series of arrests of police officers – some of whom are still in jail – and cases were so many that the senior SIT officer visited the Chief Minister with the plea: “Sir, if you go ahead, we will have to reopen various graveyards, now.”

Though the SIT investigated many cases, for Javed Koul the mysterious disappearance of an Imam from Zadibal was the most compelling. A resident of Banihal, Showkat Kataria had left for Taraveh prayers but did not reach the mosque. It triggered a crisis and after failing to locate him anywhere, Koul said they finally started looking at the militancy angle. An encounter had taken place in Bazipora (Ajas) but the photograph suggested the body had been completely disfigured, especially the face, to the extent that nobody from the locality, even his family could not identify him. “When the group was leaving, there was one person who said the side-pose suggested it was Molvi Sahab,” Koul said. “Taking this as a clue, the SIT chief Farooq Sahab sent an expert team and the body was exhumed and luckily it was identified as that of Katria.”

There were many challenges later. The joint team of SOG and army was traced but they avoided offering details. “We somehow traced their movement and we found the team had left from a Sumbal garrison, moved to Ganderbal, then to Qamarwari and then to Zaina Kadal and then to Zadibal where they lifted Kataria and then took the same route and after changing his clothes, the “encounter” took place,” Koul said. “In Zainakadal, they had taken their informer Ashraf, a resident of Chount Wali War, also a Molvi in a local mosque, at whose behest they picked up Kataria.”

The motive was tragic. The two Imams’ had become friends and when Kataria once invited Ashraf to his place, he found his lifestyle better indicating the locality was taking good care of their Imam. He wanted to replace Kataria as the Imam and then he hatched a conspiracy. He located Tariq Lone, a cop in Ganderbal who had a love-affair with his cousin and sought his help. The cop was willing to help because it would have got Ashraf’s support to his idea of marriage. The Imam was arrested and killed. Interestingly, after Katria was murdered, Ashraf did lead prayers in Zadibal mosque for three days till he was arrested. He is still in jail.

But there were two major challenges: one to have conclusive evidence of SP Operations P S Parihar’s involvement and the complicity of an Army major. “It was a sleepless night and believe me, somebody came into my dream asked me about my problem and once I shared, he said go and get the tour diary of the officer,” Javed remembers. “It was 2 am and I was awake and I did not sleep. By 7 am, I sent my two inspector’s to Ganderbal with an advice to call me back at 10 am sharp. I remember those three hours were so long as if they were three days. Then they called. I advised them to go to the SP office and seize the tour diary. By 12 noon, I had clinching evidence; Parihar had signed himself on the diary that he supervised the operation. It was a watertight case.” The slain Molvi was dubbed abu-Zahid, a Pakistani national.

But still, there was no clear evidence of Major’s involvement. On records was a phone call traced in Zadibal at the time of Molvi’s arrest. It had come from UP. It was traced to the Major’s phone. Since the army officer was unwilling to help, the SIT asked UP police to send the UP resident to Srinagar because it was required for investigations in a murder case. It turned out to be Major’s wife and feeling the heat the army officer cooperated. “The army opted for a court-martial and I was cross-examined many times as a witness,” Koul said. “I do not know what eventually happened in the court-martial but SIT proved the murder.” He, however, regrets that Katria’s family was destroyed later. “He lost his parents and his family did not get the compensation,” Koul said. “I do not know what happened to them later.”

The tradition of getting things on record helped police to maintain its connections with the society, though it is running low now. In 1997, when State Vigilance Organisation raided an officer’s Talab Tilo home in a corruption case, they traced a diary along with a lot of cash and other things. The diary was a tell-tale record of 22 fake encounters in which the official had listed the seniors who ordered the “encounters”, the persons who were killed, the spots and the security personnel who accompanied the writer. It shocked police rank and file but somebody in the organization leaked it made it part of the record.

The sleaze racket of 2006 was not a small case, by the way. Interestingly Koul did the basic investigation that eventually became the main input for the CBI to make arrests. This is something different that the case has not lead to any convictions in the Chandigarh court, so far. The principal accused, Sabeena is already dead and some of the accused have honourably been acquitted.

“There were two major challenges in the case,” one Koul aide said. “First, it was to give enough of confidence to the victim, a minor so that she could tell things and the police reassured her by giving her family official accommodation. Second, the challenge was to manage the blatant threats that came from state’s most powerful people.” Tensions were over after the CBI took over.

The fate of this case is now being debated within the police at various levels to suggest the state government that the trial should not move out of J&K. “If Kathua is not suitable, what is the harm in having the trial in Jammu,” one officer, talking anonymously, said. “Why should justice not being seen done in Jammu itself?”

In sleaze racket, the accused, witnesses and the victim would drive together, stay together and go to the court in the group and it hampered justice, they say.

Local culture, language, and society is a great help to the local police officers to understand situations quickly. “When Gulzar Peer was arrested, the first thing for me was to challenge his competence to be a Peer,” Harmit Singh, who led the investigations into the case of a seminary being converted into a sort of personal comfort home by the person. “I asked him to recite Dua-e-Qanoot and when he failed I gave him a good thrashing and then he spilt the beans.” Peer, a resident of Budgam village, is still in jail.

Harmeet Singh, KPS

Singh investigated and concluded the fake encounter of Machil that is widely being seen as the major reason for the 2010 unrest. He arrested all the local soldiers forcing the defence establishment to initiated and conclude the court-martial.

Being local was an added advantage to the cops even in militancy. “My most challenging moments were in an encounter on October 25, 1995, in Mangnipora Bandipore where I and eight of my colleagues had to hold two toughest militants of the area for a few hours,” Jalla said. “Once the operation was over and we wanted to get in, civilians came and advised us against it. They said one of the bodies must be booby-trapped and we did find Umar Bhai, one of the militants died with an IED tied to him. That day was the real rebirth.”

“One day, we knew a militant would come to Fajr prayers,” one SP, speaking anonymously said. “We sent a cop with a flowing beard to stay outside the mosque. After the Azaan was called, a group of faithful came for prayers and saw the Molvi Sahab outside. They took him to the mosque for prayers. Once they were ready for prayers, they told this cop to lead them. He was Muslim but not competent to lead prayers. He did not say no. He went to the Mimber and started. Once the people were lined up and busy, he jumped from the window and we rescued him.”

“The personal security officer (PSO), you sent to me is of no use,” NC Block President in Chirali (Doda) wrote a formal letter to the IGP (security) in September 2000, according to Indian Express. “He is negligent of his duties. He does not even know how to prepare tea and cook food. He even refused flatly to work in the kitchen.”

This is one of the major tensions that came to state police after multi-tasking became part of its responsibilities. Though the change transacted a cost from police, it also gave it an experience in managing crime involving politics and violence. In run-up to the 1996 elections and even later, police unearthed a series of brutal murders in the renegade-infested BJP involving the nomination seekers killing the nominated.

Those crimes were being attributed to militancy. In 1999, when cops deployed at a Shiv Sena leaders’ Warpora residence went missing, it was attributed to militants. The investigation eventually held the person who was being guarded. It was Abdul Rashid, the leader, who had an arrangement with the militants! It continues to be the first case in which a political worker would disarm his own security and hand over the arms to insurgents.

On January 19, 1999, during the hustle and bustle of noisy Eid, militants attacked two Ikhwanis’ walking on a Kulgam street. Azad Mir was killed and Mubarak survived injured. That was the police spokesman saying, that day.

During investigations, the cops saw two holes in Mubarak’s trouser indicating a fire from very close range and not from the distance as militants would resort to. They took him the injured Mubarak aside he broke. Frequenting Mir’s home, Mubarak said he fell for his wife, Soni. One day he took him on a walk and killed him in Kulgam. In order to ensure, his militant attack theory was correct, he fired one bullet in his own thigh. He went to jail in murder.

The murder of sitting NC MLA Abdul Ahad Kar was no less challenging. He was killed on May 15, 1999, and the “blame” and “credit” went to militants. Following the trail, the investigators caught Abdul Majid Khan, a labourer, who worked for both sides. During interrogation, Khan broke and admitted he took a weapon from a soldier on loan, killed the MLA and returned the weapon.

The motive was interesting. Kar had accused Khan of things which Khan had not done. The latest was the kidnapping of Kar’s niece by a renegade Bashir Ahmad Wani, for which Kar blamed Khan. An infuriated Khan ended his crisis by killing Kar, who was on a morning walk.

Investigating and taking action in such cases, extracts costs from the cops as well. “When I arrested the BSF officer in the Nishat case, I had to live in a huge security cover for two years,” Reyaz Beadar, who made the arrests as City Police Chief, said. “But one has to be ready for this, always, if you are in the police.”

But the seniors are unhappy that the protracted use of police as the battle tank is impacting its basic service. In 2008, when the people marched to the streets for the first time after 1990, the police was clueless. It was so busy with the “kills” that it had lost the basic policing tools, the stick, the shield, the laggard and other things. The government had to fly two aircrafts full of these basic tools from a northeastern state to manage the crowds even though bullets continued raining.

“We need to utilise the expertise in crime investigation from the seniors,” one former DIG rank officer said. “There are meticulous investigators who can match the best police force in the world. Why cannot we send them to the police academies to teach the next crop of officers: how to investigate?” While the Kathua case has brought the state police into the sharp focus, it is high time to reduce the “kill” in the police curriculum and restart teaching the basic policing again.

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