Unhealed Wounds

Nearly 19 years after 27 civilians were shot dead for observing shutdown on January 26 in Kupwara town, the perpetrators of the crime continue to roam free, even as the police and the State Human Rights Commission have blamed the Army for the massacre, Shah Abbas reports.

The bus stand in Kupwara where this gruesome incident took place
The bus stand in Kupwara where this gruesome incident took place

The month of January is remembered as the month of massacres in Kashmir valley. It started with Gawkadal Massacre which signaled the beginning of horrors for common people caught in a conflict zone and probably ended on January 27, 1994 with another massacre in Kupwara.

Kupwara Massacre is one of the many wounds inflicted on the psyche of Kashmiri people which remains unhealed. 27 harmless civilians were shot dead in Kupwara Massacre for observing shutdown on India’s Republic Day and a police investigation had clearly indicted Army personnel for indiscriminately firing on civilians.

The union ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had told the ministry of Defence to cooperate with J&K Police in nabbing the Army personnel involved in the crime but the perpetrators continue to roam freely even after 19 years, just like the culprits of other massacres and killings.

Deputy Secretary, MHA, PK Ahuja had asked the MoD on October 30, 2012 to provide the nominal role of Army men who were on duty in Kupwara on January 27, 1994. MHA communiqu? makes a clean breast about the non-cooperation by Army and says that the negative approach has jeopardized further investigation of the case.

Last year on May 11, a report submitted by Inspector General of Police (CID) to Director General of Police, J&K stated that the forces deployed in Kupwara under the command of 2nd Lieutenant S Bakshi indiscriminately fired at Bus Stand Kupwara without any provocation, killing several persons besides injuring many.

“Enquiries revealed that forces deployed for duty fired indiscriminately at Bus Stand Kupwara. A case under FIR No 19/94 U/S 302, 307 149 RPC was registered and investigation was set in motion. The bodies of 18 persons were recovered including that of a police cop which were handed over to their legal heirs while as 38 injured persons were shifted to hospitals for treatment,” the CID report states.

“As per the statements recorded under U/S 161 CrPC and evidence, NCA personnel deployed for ROP duty in Kupwara town were responsible for the commission of crime. During the course of investigation, several correspondences were made with the concerned unit to provide nominal roll of officers/personnel deputed for ROP duty. Despite repeated requests, no response came from the concerned NCA unit. Thereafter correspondences were made with Colonel General Staff 28 Inf. Division Kupwara through DPO Kupwara and in a reply, a letter was received stating that Court of inquiry stands already constituted with regard to the said firing incident,” the CID report states.

The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had asked the concerned authorities to submit their reports over the killings in wake of a petition filed by International Forum for Justice and Human Rights chairman, M Ahsan Anto. “On January 27, 1994, Army personnel of 15 Punjab Regiment killed 27 innocent persons; reason being that the shopkeepers had downed shutters of their shops on January 26 on the call of separatists. Army avenged the act by opening fire on innocents,” the petition says.

On September 2004, though police reopened the case, but the Army refused to cooperate. Police has recorded the statements of more than 15 eyewitnesses, all of whom held that troops massacred innocent people without any provocation, a police official said.

“The investigative agency made correspondences with the Army which issued a letter stating that a Court of Inquiry was already constituted to probe the incident whose final outcome was not furnished to police. The investigation of the case was closed as ‘un-traced’ on April 10, 1997 on the basis of non cooperation of Army authorities,” the CID report states.

The report further states that due to dilly-dallying approach of the Army, no requisite information was provided as the ASC 31 Med. Regiment unit claimed that no documents were lying with them. “Despite repeated reminders, the concerned Army unit failed to give any information about the case. The investigation is pending due to non-cooperation of the 31 Med regiment and 28 Infantry Division.”

Despite clear-cut directions from Chief Judicial Magistrate Kupwara to ASC 31 Med. Regiment to submit the necessary information, the concerned Army unit has not provided any information. Later, a notice U/S 25 Police Act was served to Bakshi 2nd Lieutenant 31 Med. Regiment (ASC) C/O 56 APO through GoC Northern command to appear before investigating officer of the case. “However, the Army unit did not cooperate with the investigating agency,” the CID report said.

The massacre has gone into oblivion like many other massacres as the Army escaped every investigation by the law-enforcing agencies. A few layers of dust were wiped off from the case files only after 16 years when a local rights group approached SHRC. The complainants contend that the victim families were denied justice and the guilty continue to be shielded under the premise of larger ‘national interest’.

Memories of the massacre are still fresh in the minds of people but will the perpetrators ever be punished?

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