For the first time since the inception of popular armed uprising against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, two leading human rights groups have named 500 “alleged perpetrators”— including two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army besides many other serving officers and soldiers — involved in killings, fake encounters, torture, rape and other serious crimes like abduction and enforced custodial disappearances in the disputed Himalayan region.
After the discovery of about 6,000 unmarked and mass graves in different parts of the Kashmir Valley not that long ago, the latest report could finally ‘embarrass’ the “world’s largest democracy”.
According to International Peoples’ Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) — two leading human rights bodies operating in the Valley — their report is the outcome of two-year-long painstaking research.
“Out of 214 cases a list emerges of 500 individual perpetrators, which include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 Government backed militants/associates. Among the alleged perpetrators are two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. Add to this, 37 senior officials of the federal Paramilitary forces, a recently retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as a serving Inspector General,” the report alleges.
“By naming names the report seeks to remove the veil of anonymity and secrecy that has sustained impunity. Only when the specificity of each act of violation is uncovered can institutions be stopped from providing the violators a cover of impunity,” the report further says. The institutional culture of moral, political and juridical impunity has resulted in enforced and involuntary disappearance of an estimated 8000 persons (as on Nov 2012), besides more than 70,000 deaths, and disclosures of more than 6000 unknown, unmarked and mass graves. The last 22 years have also seen regular extra-judicial killings punctuated by massacres. The Gow Kadal (Srinagar) massacre of around 50 persons on 21 January 1990 and other mass killings discussed in this report are symbolic reminders of the persistent human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” it adds.
The 354-page report released on December 6, 2012 in Srinagar by these groups also accuses India of institutionally ‘obstructing justice’. India has all along been dismissing allegations of such serious nature against its armed forces by saying that the unfortunate acts are a mere “aberration” and “error in judgment” on part of some individual soldiers, not a matter of policy.
But Khurram Parvez, one of the co-authors of the report, told Dawn that the Indian State has used its various institutions in Jammu and Kashmir – judicial and otherwise – in a sophisticated manner to “continue its control over territory”. “This fits in with the State’s policy and design in Jammu and Kashmir. The State has ensured a lowering of the standard of the serious human rights discourse. Our analysis of the cases in this report clearly evidences this. The State on occasion allows for the filing of FIR’s (First Information Reports), or ordering investigations but it will not allow prosecutions despite information being present,” Parvez writes in response to our questionnaire.
Asked how confident his group was about the findings of the report, he writes: “We are confident of our documentation and analysis in this report. We intend to engage on this report with international rights groups and UN working groups and Special Rapporteurs. We will use this [report] to build awareness in India and internationally regarding the processes of injustice in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Programme coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Tribunal Liaison, Parvez, hopes that the international community will take notice of their group’s report.
The other authors of the report are Kartik Murukutla, who has worked in a UN tribunal in Rwanda for five years, and leading human rights activist in Kashmir, Parvez Imroz.
The authors of the report have a word of caution, though: “The IPTK cannot conclusively pronounce on the guilt of any of the alleged perpetrators, but it is clear that enough evidence exists to warrant further action. However, in the absence of any institutional or political will to take the evidence to its natural conclusion – a trial where the crime and the guilt of a perpetrator can be proven beyond reasonable doubt – the Indian State stands indicted,” read the contents of the report’s executive summary.
How significant are the findings of this report released by IPTK and APDP? When I posed this question to Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest English daily The Kashmir Times, she had this to say: “Well, I feel this report is significant because the groups have used the information from the same government that is involved in crimes against humanity. In this report a pattern is revealed and that is to bury the investigation.”
She feels that the government can not deny the findings of the report. “Human rights groups have heavily relied on the government version, court case proceedings and information gathered after filing Right to Information (RTI) applications with different state-run departments,” she adds.
How embarrassing could it [the report] be for the state? “The state is too thick skinned to be embarrassed,” she mocks.
Until now, the state government officials and ruling party spokespersons are sounding over cautious and, therefore, reluctant to give a detailed official reaction.
Tanvir Sadiq, spokesperson of the ruling pro-India party National Conference (NC) while speaking to Dawn said it will be “too premature to give a reaction” on a report which is of course of “serious nature”. “Let us read the contents of the report first; study them properly so that we will be in a position to give our party’s reaction.” Asked about the coalition government’s position, Tanvir said: “Our Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, has already informed the media in Jammu — the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir which is about 300 kilometres from the summer capital, Srinagar — that the State home department has asked for the copy of the report to study and examine it, and once that is done; the official reaction will come.”
“This report, prepared over two years using information gleaned mostly from official State documents in addition to witness testimonies, in cases available with IPTK/APDP, portrays the state of impunity prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir. Where identities of individual perpetrators of crimes are known it seeks a process of accountability for institutional criminality. The State documents used range from police records, judicial and quasi-judicial records and Government documents. IPTK/APDP using the Right to Information (RTI) legislations sought information on First Information Reports (FIRs), High Court petition numbers and other documentation,” claim the authors of the report.
The contents of the report paint a grim picture of the law and order situation and also highlight the environment of impunity under which Indian forces are operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Experts say that the draconian laws like the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), PSA (Public Safety Act) and DAA (Disturbed Area Act) have served as “shield” for the armed forces in Kashmir to “avoid punishment” under law.
Many in Kashmir are expecting a strong reaction from the international community.
Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a renowned Kashmiri humorist-poet, believes it is time for the powerful world nations to act. “For one Malala Yousufzai — a victim of Taliban violence in Pakistan — the entire world community expressed solidarity and made special arrangements for her treatment outside a sovereign country to ensure she was safe. Now, we shall see what is the measuring rod for justice and equality? If they’re genuinely sincere and care for justice and human rights everywhere across the globe, they should come forward to the rescue of the victims of Indian state-sponsored violence in Jammu and Kashmir,” Zareef says. The report, according to Zareef, has exposed India’s “hollow claims of being a secular and democratic” nation having a “responsible and professional army”.
“India has declared a war on the civilians in Kashmir. There is no Kashmiri family which is not either directly or indirectly a victim of the state violence. There are some Indians who care for human rights and justice and I’m sure they will not remain silent on this. Whatever has come in open through the report, it is clear that Kashmir has a strong case against India in the International Criminal Court (ICC),” he adds.
Parvez also sounds hopeful about it. “We have flagged issues regarding the application of international criminal law for crimes committed in Jammu and Kashmir. These issues need to be further debated. We ourselves and particularly, other countries that are members of the United Nations need to read this report and push the Security Council to consider further action, including possibly engaging with the procedures at the International Criminal Court. Towards this end, we will lobby with member States of the United Nations. Further, we expect other rights groups and the Kashmiri Diaspora to do the same. The process must continue,” he hopes.
There is also this perception that the international community is selective in its approach in relation to the cases of human rights abuses in different parts of the world. While there is an uproar if violation occurs in countries like China, Iran or Pakistan, very little or nothing is said against India even when the magnitude of excesses may be too big. Some experts opine that the Kashmiris need to learn “marketing their sufferings”, because their supposed supporters are currently on a weak wicket.
Dr. Sheikh Showkat, an expert in international law, says that Kashmir needs to “project its pain” so that the prosecutors at the ICC can take cognizance. “Our supporters are too weak at the moment. We need to market our pain and convince the international community to take action. Also, there is little doubt that there exists disparity because of powerful UN member nation’s selective approach on issues of human rights and self-determination,” Dr. Showkat believes.
Meanwhile, to all cases related to gross human rights excesses in Kashmir during the past 23 years, the Indian Army has more often used expressions like “it was a mistaken identity”, “it was an aberration”, “it was a rare error of judgment”, “we do not shoot with an intention to kill”, “anger of people against killings is justified, but we will conduct our own enquiry to ascertain the facts”, etc.
In a high-profile case, one Major Avtar of the 35 Rashtriya Rifles unit was accused of being involved in the killing of a well-known human rights defender in Kashmir, Jaleel Andrabi, and four counterinsurgents in 1996. Major (Retd.) Avtar Singh committed suicide on 9 June in California, USA before killing his wife and children. Fugitive Avtar had taken refuge in California and kept a low profile there. Some in Kashmir interpreted Avtar’s death as “divine justice”.
In March 2000, the Indian Army claimed neutralising five “terrorists” in Pathribal area and said they were responsible for the killings of 35 members of minority Sikh community in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — India’s premier investigating agency — conducted an inquiry and found that those killed by the army in an ‘encounter’ were actually civilians. The CBI then filed the charge sheet against the accused Army officers in 2006. Nothing has happened since except for the unconvincing court proceedings and open to doubt Court-Martials.
In majority of the abuse cases, the guilty haven’t been punished. ‘Not only is justice delayed but denied as well’ is the common perception in Kashmir!
Tailpiece: I remember covering an Army press conference in Kashmir in July 2005. Lieutenant General S S Dhillon was the GoC (General Officer Commanding) at Srinagar-based sensitive 15 Corps of the Indian Army. The press conference was organised in the backdrop of killing of three teenaged boys in North Kashmir’s frontier district, Kupwara on 24 July that year. Tens of thousands of people had protested against this incident. I vividly remember Dhillon’s words then. “This incident was unfortunate and most regrettable. It was an ‘error of judgment’ on part of the troops who opened fire on the teenaged boys. The anger of people against the Army over the killings of three boys was justified.” Dhillon had visited Bungargund, an area falling under Trehgam hamlet in Kupwara, where he had himself witnessed the anger of people. Army bunkers were being attacked by the protesting crowds. Besides seeing the parents of those killed, I went to feel the anger of people, to see the anger of people, and I saw some of it. It (anger against the Army) is justified," the then GoC of the most sensitive Corps said. After his assurances that there will be no such repeats, four more civilians were allegedly killed by the army in Kupwara district in February 2006. The town observed complete shutdown for five consecutive days and staged massive anti-India demonstrations. The unfortunate incidents kept repeating. Not that long ago, one more civilian named Hilal Ahmad, 25, was killed allegedly at the hands of 27-Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
The writer is a professional journalist with international experience. He has worked as editor at Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has also contributed features to the BBC web. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org