Vol – XLIX No. 7, February 15, 2014


The Pathribal verdict only shows that the impunity of the Indian Army has grown.

The decision of the Indian Army to drop all charges against its officers accused of orchestrating and carrying out the cold-blooded murder of civilians in Pathribal (Kashmir) in March 2000 has been shocking, even by the cynical standards of the Indian security establishment. It is not just that innocent civilians were killed in a fake encounter, which is all too common among our police and armed forces. That the army can nonchalantly close a case for “want of evidence” when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told the Supreme Court that the killings were “cold-blooded murders” and that the army officers involved should be given “exemplary punishment” shows that there is really no civilian control over India’s armed forces. They have the insolence and impunity to kill any citizen on their whims and fancies and nothing can, or will, be done by anyone!

What Pathribal shows once again is that this insolence and impunity of India’s armed forces and police is structural to the “system”, a much used appellation of our times. What is particularly alarming is that this impunity of India’s security establishment seems only to be increasing with time. Despite media exposes and even the establishment of prima facie guilt by India’s premier investigation agency (in the case of Pathribal), the armed forces manage to escape even the most minimal punishment.

The massacre of the Sikhs at Chattisinghpora on 20 March 2000, on the eve of the visit to India of the then US President Bill Clinton, was followed by the Pathribal murders five days later. The army claimed that the five killed at Pathribal were “foreign militants” involved in the Chattisinghpora attack. Previously the government and armed forces had claimed that the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen were responsible for that massacre. A few days after the Pathribal murders, the Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police killed another eight people at Barakpora when they opened fire on a procession of people protesting the Pathribal killings.

Till today neither the army nor the police have been able to provide one shred of evidence about either the involvement of “foreign militants” in the Chattisinghpora, Pathribal or Barakpora killings. Serious allegations of a “false flag” operation in Chattisinghpora have been raised and not adequately addressed. In fact, the way in which the DNA samples were fabricated to hide the identity of those killed in Pathribal, the manner in which the army units near Chattisinghpora did not react to the first news of the massacre, their inability to find the real killers and the repeated statements of the Sikhs of Kashmir that official accounts of the killings are “nonsense”, all these details have raised serious questions about the conduct of the army, the police and the governments of J&K and at the centre, which have not been addressed.

This refusal to address these very serious allegations indicates that it is not just rogue elements in the army or security forces that have been responsible for these excesses. They were perhaps mere agents of a “system” whose culpability goes to the very top. Why else do we still not know who replaced the DNA samples of the relatives of the Pathribal victims and why? Why has no effort been made to punish the police officers involved in Barakpora? Why do the Sikhs of Chattisinghpora, even today, refuse to accept that it was “foreign militants” who attacked them?

There was a sliver of hope that justice may yet be done to the victims of Chattisinghpora, Pathribal and Barakpora when the CBI produced evidence of “cold-blooded murders”. Yet the manner in which the police, the political establishment and even the judiciary have passed the buck since then shows that the primary effort of every institution of the Indian state has been to hide the truth and deny justice. While the chief minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, raised the Pathribal issue, his administration refuses to act against policemen involved in the Barakpora and numerous other killings which are prima facie fake. The Congress-led central government has not just allowed the army this impunity, but has refused to revoke the dreadful Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

For some time now India’s democracy has been celebrated; and surely the growing democratisation of our polity with wider participation and greater public focus on political power is a positive development. However, parallel to this, and worryingly insulated from it, the impunity of India’s security establishment and “deep state” has grown. The manner in which the army can reject civilian political demands on AFSPA, the manner in which the Assam Rifles can be absolved of the killing of Thangjam Manorama, the manner in which the Intelligence Bureau can protect its officers shown to have been complicit in the Ishrat Jahan killing, the cavalier manner in which peaceful anti-nuclear protestors can be charged under the National Security Act, all these omissions and commissions show the insolence of these men with guns towards Indian democracy. For the health of the latter, it is crucial to dismantle India’s deep state. Charging and convicting the army officers involved in Pathribal will be a good start.


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