A cursory look at three alleged extrajudicial killings in Kashmir point to the fact that the more things change in Kashmir the more they remain the same
The alleged extrajudicial killing in Shopian on July 18, or “fake encounter” an oxymoronic word as is popular, if true, will not just recap painful memories of the Pathribal fake encounter of March 2000 in which five civilians from Anantnag were killed by the armed forces and passed off as ‘terrorists’, and of the Machil encounter of April 2010 in which three civilians were killed, but also reveal how things have not changed much in Kashmir.
On the basis of photographs that the family of the trio came across on social media – identified as Ibrar Ahmad (20), Imtiyaz Ahmad (25) and Ibrar Ahmad (17) of Rajouri – they have alleged that the three unidentified “militants” the army said it killed in a gunfight at Shopian on July 18 were, in fact, their “innocent” relatives.
The trio had come to Shopian, around 129 km from Rajouri, to find work amid the COVID pandemic.
According to reports, on July 16, Imtiyaz Ahmad, a labourer from Rajouri had rented a small room for Rupees 1,600 per month, near the army’s Rashtriya Rifles (RR) camp at Chowgam, near Shopian town.
Like usual tenets, they immediately settled in after buying essentials.
On the intervening night of July 16 and 17, they disappeared.
On the following morning, the landlord’s family found the door of the room latched from inside but one of the windows was unlocked and open.
“Their clothes are still hung in the room; a charger is still plugged into the wall socket; their utensils still contain half-eaten food,” reports quoting the owners said.
On the night of July 17, a gunfight (or encounter as it is officially called) took place some 10-12 kilometres away from this room, at Mirzpora Chak.
According to the army, three unidentified militants were killed in this incident.
Later, the Police maintained, following Standard Operating Procedure, that it had provided ample time for identification of dead bodies at PCR Kashmir Srinagar.
However, the dead bodies could not be identified and they were buried in the presence of Magistrate, at a faraway place from the site, in Baramulla.
Two decades ago
On March 25, 2000, five men were picked up by the officers of the Indian Army’s Rashtriya Rifles to show a quick breakthrough in the Chittisingh Pora massacre of March 20, in which 36 Sikhs were gunned down.
The massacre took place at the time of US President Bill Clinton’s India visit.
Later, it was revealed that the five men were residents of villages around Pathribal, who had been abducted by army and police a couple of days before the encounter, and gunned down.
When civilians came out on the streets to protest against the extrajudicial killings, they were dealt with open firing by personnel from the CRPF and Special Operations Forces (SOF) in Brakpora, causing another eight causalities.
In the subsequent protests, 49 civilians were killed in a matter of 15 days.
Some of the killed protesters were close relatives of the five missing villagers.
The mutilated bodies of the five men were passed off as Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militants responsible for the massacre of Sikhs and were buried in unmarked graves in two villages.
LK Advani, India’s home minister at the time, was part of the breakthrough showcase, declaring that the terrorists responsible for the killings had been shot dead in an “encounter” with the Indian Army.
Since then it’s been a long and crushing battle for the families of those murdered at Pathribal.
As reported by Indian Express, the first cracks in the official version appeared when five men had gone missing from villages Brarianagan and Halan in the neighborhood of Anantnag town. The families of two among these missing men (both named Juma Khan) in Brariangan village had said that army men came to their house in the middle of the night and took them away. The family of Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, a 22-year-old shopkeeper, who went missing from Anantnag town, too had said that the army men took him away.
Contrary to the government’s claim that there was a five-hour-long gun battle, the villagers had said that these men were killed in cold blood and it was passed off as an encounter.
Suspicion of foul play was further strengthened by the way the five men had been buried.
The army and police officers involved in the ‘‘operation’’ had sought the help of local villagers to speed up the burial. The men were buried in graveyards at Vuzkhah, Sumlam and Chogamm villages, which were miles apart.
There was enough suspicion that the men killed in a stage-managed encounter at Pathribal and dubbed as foreign militants responsible for the Chittisinghpora massacre, maybe the five villagers who had gone missing after being picked up by the soldiers. The relatives of the five missing men came out on streets and the protests intensified across Anantnag district, forcing the government to order a judicial inquiry.
Verbatim from the CBI charge-sheet:
“The Army Unit of 7 RR… was under tremendous psychological pressure to show some results… The then Col Ajay Saxena, the then Major B P Singh, Maj Sourabh Sharma, Subedar Idrees Khan and other personnel… hatched a criminal conspiracy to pick up some innocent persons and stage-manage an encounter to create an impression that the militants responsible for the Chhittisingh Pora killings had been neutralised.”
The CBI told the Supreme Court of India that the killings were “cold-blooded murders”.
After more than two decades justice eludes in the Pathribal fake encounter case. Though the Central Bureau of Investigation established that the five men killed by the army and police were all civilians who had been abducted from in and around Anantnag and taken to the encounter site and murdered, the Ministry of Defence suspended sanction to prosecute for over a decade.
Finally, in the face of a Supreme Court ultimatum, the army summoned its own court of inquiry and acquitted its soldiers.
One decade ago
After more than seven years, in July 2017, the mother of a victim of the Machil Fake encounter quoted in a report says, “It feels like our sons have been murdered again today. We don’t accept this military verdict. Everybody knows how our sons were killed for money. How could they let the killers walk free.”
“This isn’t justice,” Naseema Akhter, mother of Riyaz Ahmad Lone, one of the three civilians who were killed in a staged encounter by the army in Machil border area of north Kashmir in 2010, told the press.
The armed forces tribunal’s verdict suspended the life sentence of the five accused army personnel of 4 Rajputana Rifles who were convicted by a General Court Martial in 2014 for staging the killings. The suspension of punishment means that the accused, Colonel Dinesh Pathania, Captain Upendra Singh, Havildar Devinder and Lance Naiks Arun Kumar and Lakhmi, will soon walk out of jail. The sixth convict, Abbas Hussain Shah of Territorial Army, is already out on bail.
The case dates back to April 29, 2010, when the trio was promised jobs as porters with high wages by an army source Bashir Ahmad Lone.
He had connived with another army source Abdul Hamid and Abbas to sell the trio for Rs 50,000 each to the army and take them to Kalaroos village in Machil near the Line of Control (LoC).
On reaching Kalaroos, the trio was instead handed over to soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles who killed them in the fake encounter and dubbed them as Pakistani militants.
The next day, the army claimed it had foiled an infiltration bid on the LoC near Kupwara by killing three militants. It also claimed it had recovered five AK rifles, a large cache of ammunition, and Pakistani currency from their possession.
However, back home, the sudden disappearance of the youth, who lived in three different mohallas of Nadihal, led the families to file missing reports with the police after days of unsuccessful search.
It was the police investigation that finally blew the lid off the fake encounter.
In their statement to the police, the family members of Riyaz had stated that Bashir took their son along with promises of arranging good jobs for them on the border.
On April 29, as per the police investigation, Bashir and Hamid took the trio to Kalaroos and handed them over to the army. During investigations, police ascertained their call records which confirmed they were in Thayen village of Kalaroos in Kupwara when the trio was killed in Machil.
Muhammad Yousuf, the owner of the orchard in Shopian where the army claims the gunfight took place on July 18, says he was called by the army at 6 am and told that some militants have been killed on his land, spread over 16 kanals.
“Upon reaching there all I could see was fire,” he says.
The farmer claims that he has suffered a loss of around 3 lakh in his orchard as many apple trees have been charred.
Local political parties in Kashmir have been calling for an investigation into the encounter, which they described as “fake” and “staged”.
Locals including Lal Deen Khatana, 60, had heard the gunshots in the wee hours of July 18. Khatana was among the first persons to reach the spot.
“Army asked us to identify the bodies. Two faces weren’t recognizable, but the third was. But we didn’t know any of them. Army asked whether they look like any of the local militants, but we responded in denial, which is the truth,” said Khatana, who adds that the three were dressed very ‘ordinarily’.
Recalling their attires and appearances, he says, “They were in worn-out clothes like beggars, soiled with mud and cement. Two had put on torn canvas shoes, and the third one had slippers on.”
After theree families from Rajouri filed missing reporters and idetified their kin from the porported photos of the “militants” the army claims it killed, the polie has launched an investigation.
The J&K Police issued a press release regarding the ‘encounter’. Contrary to the routine of stating that ‘encounter was a joint operation of Army, J&K Police and CRPF’ the police on July 18 stated that they joined the operation later.
The police have sent a team to Rajouri to investigate.
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