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Repeal AFSPA to Rein In Trigger Happy Militia

Mohamad Zubair-u-Din

They were gunned down into silence. The dreams nurtured by the budding buds were shattered. Yes, killings of two youths by Army at Chattergam in central Kashmir’s Budgam district are another addition to the gory dance of death and destruction unleashed by Indian security apparatus in Kashmir. And as usual the condemnations from across the divide poured in. The Home Minister of India ‘regretted’ the killings while the Defense Minister assured a ‘fair’ probe.

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We have been turned habitual to listening to fake assurances of fair play and justice by the establishment. Innocent killings are usually followed by public outrage and the authorities in order to calm down the tempers assure people that guilty will be punished. It is a time-tested policy against the people of this ill-fated land. All such probes end in smoke and the results, if ever any probe reaches to its logical conclusion, fall much below the expectations of the principles of justice and only add insult to the injury.

A brief description, down the memory lane, manifests this harsh reality. The Gaw Kadal massacre on January 20, 1990 – just a day after Jagmohan took over as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir – sent shivers across the world.

In the months to follow, Indian forces gunned down more people to quell the swelling demonstrations. However, ironically, there was no action against any official of the paramilitary CRPF personnel and the police closed the case fifteen years later. The perpetrators were declared “untraceable”. The Amnesty International had to issue an appeal for ‘urgent action’ in Kashmir when Indian army went berserk on 1 March, 1990 at Zakoora crossing and Tengpora, Srinagar. The processions of people who were demanding the implementation of United Nations resolutions were indiscriminately fired at and about 33 people were killed. A case was registered against the army, but it was later dropped in favour of an internal Army ‘investigation’.

The people of Kashmir in general and Sopore in particular can never forget the fateful day of sixth January in 1993. In retaliation to militants’ ambush which had left a soldier dead, the BSF unleashed the terror of worst kind. At least 55 civilians were killed or burned alive. The Indian government initially downplayed the incident as an outcome of an intense crossfire between militants and BSF but it had to succumb to the international outcry and initiated a judicial enquiry into the matter. The prominent international dailies carried the gory details of the massacre but the fate of the case which was referred to the CBI remains a mystery.

In the same vein, a non public General Security Force Court trial conducted in 1996 led to the acquittal of 13 BSF officers who were earlier charged with murder in connection with Bijbehara massacre on October 22, 1993 which left 51 dead besides about 200 people injured, as per an Amnesty International report.
There are no surprises as to why the security apparatus is left untouched and its wrong doings go unnoticed. They have a free license and they operate with impunity under the garb of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), PSA (Public Safety Act) and DAA (Disturbed Areas Act).

In the recent Chattargam innocent killings the army higher ups, sensing the gravity of situation as the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly will be held from this month, have shifted the army personnel stationed in the camp which undertook this ‘brave’ operation. And this is all that will be done, but sadly, as punishment to the erring soldiers given the safety cloak provided by the AFSPA, which among other things entails “protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act from prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings, except with the sanction of the Central Government (of India), in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act”.

AFSPA has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as it provides shield to armed personnel against human rights violations. No wonder, there have been voices from both within and outside India which call for the revocation of all draconian laws in Kashmir as a confidence building measure.

The time has come for the political class across the divide in Jammu and Kashmir to call vociferously and stand united for the revocation of all draconian laws in Kashmir. The incumbent chief minister, Omar Abdullah, had assured long back that AFSPA will go in his tenure but nothing happened on ground. The mainstream political parties hold a common cause with Hurriyat leadership at least in this case. It will be a real favor to the people of Kashmir if mainstream political parties across the divide form a common minimum programme for the revocation of the AFSPA and other laws which trample over the basic human rights.

I believe Mehboob Beigh, whatever his motives, has come up with a very novel idea. He has appealed all the mainstream parties to boycott elections till the perpetrators of Chattergam killings are brought to justice. He made an important assertion that “there have been occasions in the past also wherein promises to prosecute the guilty have been made without any results” and he further lamented that Army did not even respect the CBI findings in the Pathribal fake encounter case. I may see utopian here (the unification of political forces) but there is nothing wrong in rekindling hope.

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