Under the shadow of AFSPA

All evidence so far in the killing of a young man in Bandipore points to his innocence. Even if it is established as a murder contrary to the army claims, the best hope for the victim’s family is a court martial, not justice. SYED ASMA reports.

As the 1999 Kargil ‘war’ anniversary celebrations were going on in Drass, the spanner came from Bandipore where a young man, Hilal Ahmad Dar was shot dead in cold blood by soldiers. As tensions mounted in the area, the army took a stand rejecting an inquiry by claiming that the slain youth was a militant killed in a genuine gun-battle.

Evidences on the ground offered no idea of the slain young man of 25 being involved in any kind of militant activity except that he was associated with the Tableeghi group. Since police also did not have anything adverse on Dar, they registered a case of murder against the 22-Rashtriya Rifles that claimed the ‘kill’.

With thirty persons injured on the first day of protests in the north Kashmir border town, Defence Minister A K Antony overruled the army and announced a probe. The state’s junior home minister Nasir Aslam Wani visited the family for condolence on the chief minister’s directions, flanked by the newly appointed police chief Ashok Prasad and Home Commissioner B R Sharma. All these actions appear aimed at containing the public reaction the killing triggered.

But the cat is out of the bag again. “It seems as if security forces have been given a license to kill innocent youth of Kashmir and Omar Abdullah Govt seams to be handicapped and helpless before the might and arrogance of army men,” lawmaker Engineer Rashid said. “The government can not escape its responsibility by ordering a traditional so called magisterial probe none of which has so far yielded any result during past 20 years.” Rashid arranged a formal protest against the incident in his Langat constituency on Friday.

“People of Kashmir are yet to come out from the shock of 2010 civilian killings,” PDP president Ms Mehbooba Mufti said. “The incident has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity throughout the Valley and people fear to tread out of their homes to offer Ramdhan prayers in mosques.” Her party, she asserted, believes such incidents will continue to happen till the army build-up in Kashmir’s civilian areas exists.

The separatists reacted much fiercely. JKLF leader wanted to take a protest march to UNMOGIP after Friday prayers. He made an effort but was detained. Syed Ali Geelani called for a daylong weekend strike against the killing.

But the crisis, the first that new Corps Commander Lt Gen Om Prakash and state police chief Ashok Prasad are facing, came in the backdrop of a controversy. While army top brass believes that incidents like Pampore in which the insurgents attacked and decamped with weapons of the soldiers was “alarming”, chief minister Omar Abdullah reacted saying usage of the word can have larger consequences on the ground.

Within days there was an embarrassment as a young Tabeeghi activist was killed in the forests. The victim’s family alleged that Dar was tortured before a number of bullets were pumped into his body.

Son of a mason, Dar, who sported a flowing beard worked as a security guard at Khyber Cement’s Khrew factory. He had come home less than a week back on holiday. The family was busy in preparations for his marriage, which was scheduled after Ramadan.

The instant reaction to the killing in his area is considered one of the evidences of his innocence. The first reaction was the assembly of angry locals outside the garrison whose soldiers killed Dar. The protest started as soon as the body was handed over. As they reached Aloosa village, the police intercepted and tried to take away the body, but failed. The villagers somehow managed to take the body to the town where large scale protests broke out.

During the raging protests, the police managed to take away the body and drove it again to the army garrison, where autopsy was carried out. Dar was laid to rest hours after a magisterial enquiry was ordered.

Barring the Wullar tragedy, in which Navy was involved, the armed forces have never cooperated with any enquiry that the state government announced. In this case, even if the magisterial investigation leads to the vindication of what people believe, the case will eventually go for court martial. Right now what can happen is that Dar’s killing could be one of the ‘talking points’ for the state government for the meeting with Defence Minister A K Antony who is arriving shortly. AFSPA has the last laugh!

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