BY Rameez Makhdoomi
“Since the armed uprising of 1989, thousands of Kashmiris have fallen victims to these stage- managed encounters undertaken by different security agencies to get out of turn promotions and other rewards”
The recent custodial death of Sopore youth Nazim Rashid and a fake encounter of a beggar in Poonch have once again brought disgrace to the repute of men in uniform. Recently, Nazim Rashid, 28, died in a police camp in Sopore, hours after the police picked him up to question him about his alleged role in the killing of a civilian. The incident caused widespread rage in valley and people came on streets to protest, thus police had no option but to accept that Nazim died in police custody. In another related incident , on 5 August 10, 2011, a police man ( SPO) and an army jawan jointly picked up a mentally challenged Hindu beggar from border district Rajouri and later staged his fake encounter in Surankote area of the neighbouring border district of Poonch on august 6 with the help of strong contingent of army and police. After killing him both police and army had claimed to have killed a divisional commander of Lashker-e-Toiba and his identity was announced as Abu Usmaan of Gujjaranwalla Pakistan. Dubbing the killed beggar as Lashker Militant , police handed over the body to locals for his burial . However, the luck ran out for the killers when the Moulvi, to whom body of the ‘militant’ was handed over for burial in Surankote, declined to do so on the ground that body was not of a Muslim as it hadn’t been circumcised. After probe, his identity was revealed as that of Ashok Kumar, a mentally challenged Hindu beggar.
Ironically from the past two decades the shameful phenomenon of “Fake encounters” has assumed menacing proportions in the Valley of Kashmir. Since the uprising of 1989, thousands of Kashmiris have fallen victims to these stage- managed encounters undertaken by different security agencies to get out of turn promotions and other rewards. Last year, the whole of valley was once again shocked by the dreadful revelations of fake encounter in Machill .Pertinently, three villagers – Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Riyaz Ahmad Lone and Muhammad Shafi Lone belonging to Nadihal Village of Rafiabad in North Kashmir – were allegedly framed as separatist guerrillas and were killed in a staged shootout on April 30, 2010, in north Kashmir’s Machil sector of the Line of Control (LOC), which divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Appreciably enough, the Jammu & Kashmir Police unearthed the Machil fake encounter case. The police arrested four accused – a soldier of the Territorial Army and three army informers for luring the three civilians to work as labourers for the army. On their interrogation, the accused revealed that they handed over these boys to the army officers of Rajput unit, who killed them to get awards and other benefits; they got Rs 50,000 each for the victims. Pertinently, the Rajput unit on April 30 2010 had claimed to have killed three militants in a bid to stop an infiltration attempt by militants.
Analysts see all the above cases as the few cases among many that got media prominence, as there are scores of alleged fake encounter cases in Kashmir that according to many have got unnoticed. “Kill a Kashmiri, win a reward” is a famous punch line that has off late found its place in many “literary pieces” which aptly depicts the shameful reality of fake encounters in Kashmir.
Sometime Back, renowned human rights expert, Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, while commenting on the fake encounters in Kashmir had famously remarked: “This epidemic of fake ‘encounter killings’ by the security forces have plagued Kashmir for too long. The police must stop their standard operating procedure of killing people in custody.”
“Too often we find that India’s security forces are deemed ‘above the law’ and are spared criminal prosecution despite committing grave human rights abuses. Extrajudicial executions by Indian security forces are common”, Brad Adams had said.
“Recent revelations have confirmed what families in Kashmir have been alleging all along,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian security forces have ‘disappeared’ countless people in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989 and staged fake encounter killings while fabricating claims that those killed were militants.”
“When there are public demonstrations protesting a fake encounter killing, the official response usually is to offer an oral assurance of an inquiry, though these rarely happen. If such inquiries do take place, the findings are seldom made public. If any action is taken against those found responsible, that too is rarely made public”, added Brad Adams.
It is worth mentioning that the list of people killed in fake encounters in Kashmir includes students, shop keepers, vendors and hawkers and even old people which is causing immeasurable pain and tragedy in the society.
According to many sane voices all these encounters fuel further alienation and also build a lawless atmosphere in which the police would typically take a suspected militant into custody without filing an arrest report. If the suspect died during interrogation, security forces would deny ever taking the person into custody and instead claim that they were killed during an armed encounter. Even many in our part of the world believe police would add weapons to the dead body to demonstrate cause for killing the individual, stage managing the encounter, leading to the popular phrase “fake encounter killing.” They would also concoct a story about militants staging an attack, or the suspect attempting to escape while being escorted to recover militant arms.
At times, the Punjab police applied for and received production warrants that allowed them to remove individuals accused in terrorism cases from jail, and whereupon they often killed the detainees in fake encounters. The same practice has been used in vogue in Kashmir since the break out of armed uprising some two decades back.
On the politicking side of these grim events, the mainstream of Kashmir finds itself in an embarrassing situation after the unfolding of these tragic episodes. Jammu and Kashmir, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti was more candid in reaction as she stated that such acts make all encounters that have taken place in Kashmir look a messy affair. “I don’t believe that only a Special Police Officer (SPO) of J&K Police and a Jawan of Territorial Army are involved in this crime. The important question is from whom did the arms and ammunition come from that were reported as having been seized from the possession of dead “terrorist’’. Does not this open all encounters to suspicion”, said Mehbooba, while commenting on Poonch fake encounter case.
Even the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had last year stated that the killing of three civilians in an alleged staged shootout in Nadihal village has raised doubts over the genuineness of other gunfights between security forces and separatist guerrillas with many cases being re-investigated now.
While on the other side of spectrum, the discovery of unmarked graves also points out to the mayhem caused by these fake encounters done mainly for sake of getting promotions and other monetary benefits. Many also believe that there is a strong possibility that a majority of disappeared persons of Kashmir might be lying in these unmarked graves. In a startling revelation, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission recently stated that it has found 2,730 bodies dumped in unmarked graves in four different districts of the state.
In its ‘Inquiry Report of Unmarked Graves in North Kashmir’, the SHRC states that the unidentified bodies had been buried in 38 sites in north Kashmir’s Baramulla, Bandipora, Handwara and Kupwara districts. At least 574 have been identified as bodies of local Kashmiris.
The tragedy of unmarked graves might be more widespread. In his recent letter to Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission,Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, Chairman,,International Forum for Justice/Human Rights Forum J&K states that the Police Investigation Wing of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has only visited 38 graveyards across north Kashmir and found 2730 graves, out of which 2156 are still unidentified. But the fact of the matter is that in Lolab area alone there are more than 38 graveyards which have unmarked graves and mass graves. We are presenting herewith a list of 38 graveyards of Lolab area
The letter contains one of the tragic disclosures related to shameful phenomenon of fake encounter killings. The letter states amongst the victims of fake encounter killings one of the striking cases is of Kareem War (65) S/O Aziz War R/O Dilbagh, Devar, Lolab, who was killed in a fake encounter by 18 Rashtriya Rifles (8 Sector – Cherkoot) and Special Operations Group of J&K Police and was branded as Afghani militant. Shockingly, three of his sons Baktiyar War (24), Mohammad Shareif War (21), Lateef Ahmed War (27) were also killed by the same agencies. Mohammad Shareif War was branded as Bangladeshi militant, Lateef War was branded as Pakistani militant and Baktiyar War was claimed as unidentified militant. Four members of this family have been killed in fake encounters and branded as nationals of 3 different countries. The father and his three sons who have been killed in the fake encounters, is not the only injustice which has happened to the family, but Kareem War’s other son Sharief ud Din War was disappeared by army in 1998. The family members of Kareem War are still awaiting justice, even after truth has been established.
In unison the rational voices of Kashmir are concerned over this abnormal spurt in fake encounters in Kashmir. Zamrooda Habib, a leading women separatist leader and Human Rights Activist, while talking to Kashmir Impact on this very development said, “The phenomenon of fake encounters is a well established institution in the Valley of Kashmir and used as a tool to suppress the genuine voice of masses. A number of graves in Kashmir are filled with bodies of men killed in these fake encounters, and one can always suspect the credibility of encounters in Kashmir. We can uproot this menace when we initiate impartial enquires and make the family of victims a party to such enquires. The series of enquires that have been conducted in Kashmir to probe human rights violations by government forces have so far proven useless. On macroscopic level, we need to address the burning issue of Kashmir to put an end to all human rights abuses once for all.”
Many state that the policy of ‘blood for promotions’ should end. Babar Qadri, a renowned peace activist of J&K State Said, “There is a tremendous need to shun the traditional practice of awarding the security forces for killing a militant and it is this practice which has made fake encounters a rampant phenomenon in Kashmir . The murderers of Kashmiri youth are awarded medals in place of being executed for taking a soul away, what a shame! The governments of India should address the Kashmir Dispute according to wishes and aspirations of masses so as to avoid such tragic happenings”.
Ground realities call upon the State and Central Governments to punish the culprits of these fake encounters and other heinous crimes and also shun the policy of rewarding security forces with medals for killings which has given rise to shabby phenomenon of killings for the sake of prizes and promotions.
[The article first appeared in print edition of The Kashmir Impact]
Source: Kashmir Watch 24/10/2011