Recently lots of buzz was created by the media about the suicide of Major (Retd.) Avatar Singh were the retired army man killed himself along with his wife on June 9 at his home in California. The question that arises is who Major Avatar Singh is and why this ‘felo-de-se’ holds so much of importance.
Served with 35 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) unit of army in Srinagar, Major Avatar Singh was charged with the kidnap and murder of Jaleel Andrabi. Jaleel Andrabi, was a prominent Kashmiri human rights lawyer and pro independence political activist associated with Kashmiri nationalist organization, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
On January 29, 1996 two men visited Andrabi’s house claiming his father was in hospital after being set on fire by the army. Andrabi felt suspicious and refused to go. Andrabi in those days talked of counter insurgents working for the Army. Fearing for life, he left for Delhi. Later on March 8, 1996 while driving home with wife, he was stopped by army personnel and taken away. His wife Riffat went to the police but they refused to register the case. Due to massive public outcry, Special Investigation Team (SIT) was set up on March 14, 1996 after an order by Justice Bilal Nazki. Jaleel’s body was recovered from Jhelum on March 27, 1996. On April 5, 1996 SIT found 5 bodies near Pampore of counter insurgents who were living in the premises of 35 RR headquartered in Budgam. Later in August, 1996 another counter-insurgent Ashraf Khan was arrested from Baramulla. Ashraf in his statement claimed to have seen army personnel load a gunny bag onto an army tuck and leave the camp. Meanwhile Major was able to leave the country for Canada and then to America even though court had ordered to seize his passport.
In 1998, SIT found Major to be involved in 7 other extra-judicial killings. In the same year charge sheet was filed against the accused persons including Major. Later in 2009, Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of Srinagar dismissed the applications moved by Jaleel’s family in which they requested the court to direct the police to further investigate into the matter. On December 22, 2011, CJM directed IGP Crime for submitting a report regarding the steps being taken to extradite the accused army man from California, USA. Again in Feb, 2012 CJM rejected two more applications moved by Jaleel’s family seeking initiation of proceedings against Avatar Singh in the murder case and also against 7 FIRs lodged against him under Section 302 (Murder). On June 6, 2012 city court ordered the prosecution to produce the English translation of the reconstructed charge sheet that was submitted by the police on May 20, 2012, originally in Urdu. With the sudden change of events due to the suicide of Major, the local court on June 12, directed the prosecution to submit records attesting the death of Major Avatar Singh in California.
The inability of the government to bring the accused to India and deliver justice to the family of Andrabi even after 16 years shows the loopholes and fragile framework of the Indian Judiciary System.