By Heeba Din:
What you see above are representations by young Kashmiris that have been doing rounds on social media recently. On the right is a mother who is rocking a coffin of her child, dripping with blood; and on your left is the tragic irony of Kashmir, where a mother sends her child to school and he ends up as “collateral damage” in the decades old Kashmir Conflict.
The recent killing of a “militant”, (who turned out to be a civilian) by armed forces in an “encounter”, and the murder of a 15 year old boy, who was chased by a police team to death might add some context to the images above.
These vicious incidents of violence only add to the long and painful list of blood soaked violence in Kashmir, perpetuated by those who are supposed to “save” Kashmiris from the unending cycle of violence where young men turn into stories. Stories of fake encounters, extra- judicial killings, disappearances and tortures.
Khalid’s story: one among many
First claimed to have been killed in a gunfight that broke out between the army’s patrolling party and a group of militants, the civilian was later identified as Khalid- brother of a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander, Burhan, and accused of being an over ground worker working for his brother, an Army official said that the story was a little different from what is being projected. “It were militants who started firing and during the initial onslaught from the militants one of our soldier was badly wounded. The three friends of Khalid were little far away when the exchange of fire took place while Khalid was present with his militant brother Burhan and was killed during the encounter, (sic)” he said, adding that the SOP was followed properly during the operation.
However, while the army claimed to have killed a militant, the police on ground denied having received any inputs, casting suspicion over the whole story. And Khalid’s family joined the caravan of families shouting against the staged killing of their young sons in fake encounters by the army.
“If my son was killed in an encounter, why his body didn’t bear a bullet wound, (sic)” asks Muzaffar Ahmad Wani. “It was a custodial killing. I looked at every inch of his body, from toe to head, and there was no bullet mark on his body,” Wani said. “He was tortured. All his teeth had been damaged, his nose was broken and his forehead and skull too were broken, perhaps by gun butts. His only fault was that he was brother of a militant”.
The wails of Khalid’s mother echo deep into the shrouded memories of fake encounters in Kashmir which are too painful to remember.
Chattisinghpora, Pathribal and Barakpora witnessed horrific incidents of violence between 3rd March 2000 and 3rd April 2000, and have been etched in history. Shrouded in the guise of collateral damage, encounters, and attacks by militants, these incidents present a sorry tale of the expendable lives of Kashmiris.
On 20th March 2000, 36 Sikhs were brutally massacred in the village of Chattisinghpora in South Kashmir, allegedly by Lashkar-e-Toiba men. However in 2011, two of the accused were acquitted. The brutal killings brought widespread condemnation from all quarters- the separatists, the Indian as well as the Pakistani Governments, and from the International community as well. Five days after the massacre, the Kashmir police and the army claimed to have killed 5 Laskhar-e-Taiba men responsible for the Chattisinghpora incident.
The 5 men who were dressed and paraded in front of the world as terrorists, later turned out to be villagers from the nearby village who had gone missing since the encounter (a grim reminder of Khalid’s killing cannot help but ring in my mind). Their bodies, without a single bullet wound, were charred beyond recognition and buried without any postmortem. They were later identified as Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, Bashir Ahmad, Mohammed Yousuf Malik, and two other young boys, both named Juma Khan, who had gone missing between 21–24 March and were killed and dubbed ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ militants responsible for the killing of the Sikhs .
The CBI chargesheeted the accused in 2006, however the army contested it on the grounds of AFSPA. In 2012, 12 years after the incident during which tampering of DNA samples also took place, CBI filed its final report and mentioned the Pathribal killings as fake encounter and cold blooded murders.
“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.“- CBI Charge Sheet Extracts
On 23 January 2014, the Indian Army closed this case as evidence collected by it did not establish a prima facie case against any of the accused. The Pathribal fake encounter gives a clear insight into the expendable lives of Kashmiris and the absolute impunity given to the perpetrators, the pattern which is followed is almost carbon copied in every fake encounter in the valley.
Patterns of Violence
In 1993, the Border Security Forces killed 37 unarmed protesters in Bijbehera, south Kashmir, who were protesting against the siege of the Hazratbal Shrine. The 13 accused were indicted and subsequently acquitted.
On the night of 3-4th August 1998, 19 people, including 11 children between 4 to 15 years of age, 5 women (including one woman in advanced stage of pregnancy), and 3 men, were shot to death at point blank range in their homes in Sailan in the district of Surankote, Tehsil of Poonch in Jammu & Kashmir. The bodies were then horribly mutilated, and in one case gruesomely decapitated with axes and sharp instruments. The official accounts such as FIR & RTI attribute the collateral damage to an “encounter” with or an attack by foreign militants. The survivors of the Sailan massacre however say that there were no militants involved. The state Human Rights Commission inquiry, with all its inaccuracies and lacunas, mentions unnamed security forces and special police officers as responsible for the crime.
On April 30, 2010, Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Mohammad Shafi Lone and Riyaz Ahmad Lone, all residents of Nadihal, Machil in Sopore, were lured into working for the Army on the promise of high wages. They were later killed in a staged encounter and passed off as foreign militants. The 4th Rajputana battalion reportedly received 60,000 rupees after filing their report of the encounter that it fabricated the seizure memo listing arms and ammunition recovered to bolster its case for promotions. A 2005 diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks raised warning about the perverse incentives for human-rights abuses in Kashmir, even during peacetime . The Machil encounter was the first of its kind where the court sentenced the accused army personnel to life imprisonment. The incident triggered the 2010 summer rest where 120 Kashmiris were killed, keeping the vicious unending cycle of violence in Kashmir in loop.
The Grim Reality
Fake encounters expose the grim reality of how the lives of Kashmiris are trapped in violence, lackadaisical investigations and re-investigations, fabricated evidence, corrupted officials, delayed and mostly no justice, the fight to prove staged killings, and impunity for the perpetrators under the cloak of AFSPA. The result is not only loss of life, but also in the faith of the judiciary of the world’s largest democracy, which time and again snatches away any hope of justice from the families that lost their only son, from mothers who loved their sons more than their lives, from the children who will never see their father again, and from the wives who will always wait for their husbands to return.
However, like there is method to certain kinds of madness, the fake encounters in Kashmir also follow a pattern which follows lucidity like that of a cinematic of screenplay. Where young men are first abducted on the pretense of aiding, abetting and being part of anti-state activities and sometimes lured on the behest of money, are then tortured and killed, shot at point blank range. Their bodies are then charred, mutilated or dismembered to the point that a mother wouldn’t recognize her son. Or the bodies are dressed up in torn camouflaged clothes (apparently the dress code for foreign militants) and staged in front of the world and media as trophies of encounters.
There is no point in detailing the legal recourse through which the perpetrators can be put behind the bars for their crimes, for AFSPA completely takes care of that. Ironically, though the government hasn’t taken a tough stand on the killings, but through its “compassionate” appointment under SRO-43, which provides for employment, cash compensation to militancy victims, it extends so-called benefits to the next of kin of the victims. It is ensured that though it may not curb the innocent killings of young Kashmiri boys, it surely will compensate for the loss of life. The catch here is that is the deceased should not have a militancy background.
So how do you end the stories about young men whose lives were ended in a staged encounter? How do you try to make a nation understand that the men in uniform, in whom they take pride, are responsible for hundreds of lives lost in the valley? How do you try to reason and find logic behind fake encounters? How do you find hope, when men who were supposed to protect you, kill innocent people and are still roaming free?
Featured image credit: MIR Suhail