The politics of Kashmir killings
The SC verdict on the Pathribal killings is yet another cruel reminder that India is far from being egalitarian.
On May 1, the Supreme Court of India asked the Ministry of Defence to take a call on whether the six army officers accused of carrying out the “cold blooded murder” of five innocent civilians in the Pathribal village in Kashmir valley should be tried by court martial or in a regular civil court.
The Pathribal incident dates back to then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India on March 20, 2000. This was when 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora village of Kashmir were shot dead by unknown men carrying automatic weapons, alcohol bottles and a lust for blood.
The massacre was blamed on the men from “across the border”; a term that has been used so much in the media, particularly in India, to describe the killings of Kashmir that you will be forgiven for blaming the death of a pedestrian killed in a road accident on the men from “across the border”.
Curiously, within just five days, the perpetrators of Chattisinghpora were identified. Their hideout was located to a makeshift house in Pathribal village where they were shot dead and burnt beyond recognition. Justice was delivered. Case solved. Thank you.
It will take more than two years and a disgraceful ploy to cover up the killings to find out that the supposed perpetrators of Chattisinghpora were innocent Kashmiri men who had been abducted by security forces from the villages adjoining Pathribal. Tragically, the officers accused in the case were never punished. Some of them continue to “serve the nation”.
The Pathribal case is a watershed in the history of India’s protracted and often bloody counter-insurgency operations in a war which has cost nearly 70,000 human lives in the last two decades - many among them innocent men, women and children in Kashmir. Also, more than 8,000 persons have become victims of enforced disappearances, that is, they have simply vanished.
Various human rights activists, Sikh organisations and political parties including the Delhi backed National Conference, which is currently in power in Kashmir, have raised questions over the timing of the Chattisinghpora massacre and have appealed to the successive governments in New Delhi to order a fresh investigation into the case.
Their pleas, however, have fallen on deaf ears. The two alleged Lashkar militants blamed for being behind the Chattisinghpora were acquitted by a court in India after the prosecution failed to prove its case. The killers remain at large.
Of the atrocities committed in Kashmir, the Pathribal is not a one-off exception. There are hundreds of similar cases. Sopore, Gaw Kadal,Bijbehara, Handwara, to name a few. The armed forces have often used violence on the civilian population to trample any sign of dissent in the valley. Thousands of innocent men and women have been killed and subjected to enforced disappearances with impunity over the last two decades. Even teenagers and old men haven't been spared.
Then there are the rape victims; an instrument of war, as a Human Rights Watch report describes it, used to coerce the people of Kashmir into submission. In one case, an entire village of Kunan Poshpora was victimised in what is easily one of the worst human tragedies of modern day.
Far from seeing justice, the victims of Kunan Poshpora – between the age group of 13-80 when the incident happened - have been blamed for trumpeting up charges against the “sacred” security forces; that in a country where the law provides that a mere allegation of rape must be documented and investigated.
There are other cases too; in Shopian’s Chak Saidapora where security forces barged into the houses of villagers and raped nine woman, including an 11-year-old girl; in Budgam, where a newly-wed bride and her aunt were raped when the marriage party was returning home, the bridegroom shot when he protested the assault on his wife; in Haran where two women, one of them pregnant, fell prey to the lusty nationalistic boys toiling hard in the testing terrains of Kashmir. In most of these cases, the perpetrators have never been punished, and in some cases rewarded.
The truth may lie buried but the stink is slowly making its way into the air. Investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark from The Guardian recently released their explosive book The Meadow; it reveals that the infamous abduction of six foreign tourists in 1995 in Kashmir was done by mercenary forces loyal to security establishment. Their sole motive was to demonise Kashmir’s resistance movement and discredit Pakistan as a sponsor of terrorism.
Recently, some 3,000 odd unidentified bodies were found buried in mass graves in one region of Kashmir valley. There are rumours of mass graves in other regions too. No one knows who these men and women are. Clearly, the stink is coming out.
There was optimism in the air that a sagacious Indian Supreme Court will set a precedent in Pathribal case for subjecting hundreds of similar acts under judicial scrutiny. This is something that many rabid “nationalists” in India consider gratuitous and insulting to the honour of the armed forces in general and their country in particular.
Instead, the verdict is yet another cruel reminder that India is far from being egalitarian when it comes to delivering justice in Kashmir.
The war in Kashmir is a brutal tale of collective failure of all the instruments of accountability and justice that make India a secular, sovereign and democratic republic. Unless this tale is brought to a rightful closure, India will find very few people in Kashmir purchasing its idea of democracy.
As Pankaj Mishra argued, the war in Kashmir has damaged not so much the Kashmiri cause of freedom as India’s frail democracy. It is just a matter of time before the imaginary castle of peace crumbles in Kashmir to show a deeper, darker side of the world’s largest democracy that many in India will not exactly like to see; peace, trade and tourism notwithstanding.
Read more by Jehangir here, or follow him on Twitter @Gaamuk