The killing of innocent civilians in fake encounters and branding them as foreign mercenaries has been going on in Jammu and Kashmir for close to 27 years in what is seen as an attempt to subjugate the local people. By FAISUL YASEEN
JAVED HUSSAIN SHAH, A LAWMAKER in Kashmir, was killed in August 2003. It was alleged that he was killed by militants in an “encounter”. But before his death, Shah had made statements alleging that the Jammu and Kashmir Police were involved in killing innocent people in fake encounters as a matter of routine.
Shah, a militant-turned-renegade-turned-lawmaker, was himself quite close to the police and had even accused the former Director General of Police, A.K. Suri, of seeking the help of some of his men, who were working as counter-insurgents, for carrying out extrajudicial encounters. Shah had even revealed that most of the attacks carried out on Kashmiri journalists, including the then BBC correspondent Yusuf Jameel and Kashmir Monitor Editor Zafar Meraj, had not been carried out by militants but by the police.
After Shah was killed ahead of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Kashmir, the State police chief, Gopal Sharma, clarified at a press conference that he had been targeted by militants and that the police had no role in the killing.
The encounters in Kashmir have always been murky, more so in cases where the media are not allowed access to authoritative sources and are made to depend versions put out by the security establishment.
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent rights group, in its report “Buried Evidence”, recorded cases of over 50 people who were allegedly killed by the Indian Army, paramilitary forces and the State police and branded as “terrorists” but who were later found to be innocent civilians. According to the JKCCS, although the Army held 58 courts martial, punishment has been ordered only in two cases. The other cases have been dismissed as minor aberrations.
The State Home Department, in reply to a query under the Right to Information Act on February 23, 2012, put the number of cases of custodial killings and fake encounters that are still pending with the government in which Army men are said to be involved in preliminary investigations at 70. Further, the figures offered by the State government put the number of fake encounters reported in the State at 26 in the four years between July 2011 and July 2015.
Reports of fake encounters by the Army and other security agencies have been piling up since the outbreak of militancy in the late 1980s. However, most of these fake encounters do not get public attention although some cases like the Pathribal, Machil killings and the fake encounter involving Abdul Rehman Padder have remained in the news for long.
Pathribal encounterThirty-six Sikhs were massacred at Chattisinghpora village in south Kashmir on March 20, 2000. Five days after the massacre, the State police and the Army claimed to have killed five Laskhar-e-Taiba men (who were later identified as Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, Bashir Ahmad, Muhammad Yousuf Malik, and two young boys, both named Juma Khan, all innocent civilians, who had gone missing under mysterious circumstances) in what came to be known as the Pathribal encounter, and held them responsible for the Chattisinghpora massacre. The security agencies, for fear of the truth emerging, had burnt the bodies beyond recognition and later buried them separately.
Following massive protests against the killing of five civilians, the authorities ordered an inquiry following which DNA samples were collected from the bodies of the killed “foreign militants”. The DNA samples of 15 relatives of the five missing persons were compared with that taken from the five bodies, but the DNA samples of the “foreign mercenaries” were found to be that of women.
After newspapers reported that the samples had been tampered with, the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah ordered new DNA tests, and it was proved that the five persons were actually local civilians and not militants as their samples matched that of their relatives.
In 2012, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed its final report in the Pathribal case and described the killings as fake encounters and cold-blooded murders. However, on January 23, 2014, the Army closed the case as evidence collected by it did not establish a prima facie case against any of the accused.
In the Machil fake encounter of 2010, the Army confirmed in 2015 that it had sentenced six personnel. The Army had lured Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Shafi Lone and Riyaz Ahmad Lone, all residents of Nadihal in the Machil area of north Kashmir, to work for it promising high wages. But the three were killed in a staged encounter and passed off as foreign mercenaries.
Under the cash-for-kill policy, the 4th Rajputana Rifles battalion of the Indian Army had reportedly received Rs.60,000 after filing its fabricated report of the encounter. The Army in its seizure memo had listed recovery of arms and ammunition to bolster its case for promotions and cash rewards.
Although hundreds of fake encounters have taken place in Kashmir, the Machil fake encounter was the first of its kind where the court sentenced the accused Army men to life imprisonment. However, the Machil encounter did not end with the killing of three innocent civilians. It resulted in the killings of 120 civilians in the summer of 2010 during protests triggered by the fake encounter.
In 2005, the Army killed five Hindu porters from Jammu and labelled them as foreign mercenaries.
Rights groups and the separatist leadership have condemned the government and the security agencies for executing extrajudicial killings, while mainstream politicians have criticised the free hand troops, paramilitary forces and the police enjoy in carrying out fake encounters.
Opposition National Conference lawmaker Ali Muhammad Sagar said there had been several proven cases of fake encounters in the past 27 years. Sagar called for scrapping the cash-for-kill policy, which promoted extrajudicial killings for rewards and out-of-turn promotions.
The number of people killed in fake encounters and in custody in the State is feared to run into thousands. It is believed that the number of people who have disappeared in Kashmir in the past 27 years and have not been traced must have met a fate similar to that of the Pathribal and Machil encounter victims.
According to the government, the number of missing persons is around 1,000. But rights activists say the numbers may be eight times more.
Civilians in Jammu and Kashmir have also been killed under the guise of controlling the law and order situation. The massacres of Gaw Kadal, Bijbehara, Hawal, Sailan—the list is endless. Scores of innocent civilians were killed by the armed forces without any provocation and not a single security personnel has been punished for these offences.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of separatist bodies in Kashmir, said if such heinous crimes had been committed in any of the emancipated nations, the guilty forces would have been tried for war crimes. Kashmiri people see the fake encounters as part of the tactics of war adopted by the Government of India to subjugate the masses and force them into giving up on the demand for “azadi”, or right to self-determination.
Faisul Yaseen is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar.