As the army initiated a court martial in the scandalous encounter at Pathribal in which five civilians were roasted alive and dubbed militants responsible for the massacre of Chittisinghpora Sikhs, the victims have developed cold feet. While two of the civilians summoned to depose are already dead, two others are frail enough not to embark on a more than 300 km long journey to reach Jammu.
Summons issued by Lt Gen A S Nandal, the commander of the Nagrota based 16 corps, has asked ‘witnesses’ to attend the court on September 20 along with the “relevant documents / material” and attend the trial on day to day basis till they are duly discharged. Most of the ‘witnesses’ live in far off south Kashmir.
Interestingly, Faqirullah Khan and Amirullah Khan, fathers of two of the slain civilians have already passed away. Roshan Jan, one of the mothers of the slain, is old and ailing and unable to be driven to long distances. “She is unable to move around as she is indisposed for a long time,” Shakoor, her son said. “She even cannot speak any language other than Gojri.”
Abdul Rashid Khan, whose mother has also been summoned, said it seems impossible for them to depose. “Ever since my father was killed, my mother starts shivering at the sight of a soldier. How can I send her to Nagrota?” The summons were served to the ‘witnesses’ through the local army camp who have conveyed to the families that soldiers will accompany them to the court martial.
The dilemma with the families is that they do not have access to any material evidence because whatever they had has already been handed over either to the state police or to the CBI that investigated the case, separately. Shakoor Khan said that the only material evidence with them was a ring of my father Juma Khan and his identity card besides a Patkha of another victim Juma Khan that they have already produced before the Deputy Commissioner and might be with the records at some level in the government. “We are neither witness to their killing nor have any material evidence,” Khan said. “We only know that soldiers took our members during dead of the night and they all were hooded and we cannot identify any of the accused.”
Relatives of some of the victims are seeking intervention from the state government so that court martial is brought close to their place of living. Some even seek police protection and arrangements for their stay. Local police said nobody has approached them for any help which they are willing to extend.
Pathribal fake encounter is a key reference to the misuse of power and authority by various security agencies while exercising the immunity under AFSPA in J&K. The ‘encounter’ is one of three incidents that dominated new in India in the wake of US President Bill Clinton’s visit in March 2000. Within five days after 36 Sikhs were massacred on March 19, the army and the police claimed they killed the butchers of Chittisinghpora in an encounter at Pathribal.
A few days later a civilian movement started to seek whereabouts of the five civilians (both missing and kidnapped) after some vital clues were traced at the ‘encounter site’. On April 3, 2000 when a huge procession was on way to Anantnag, it was fired upon at Barkpora killing eight protestors including a son of one missing person. Hell broke loose, curfew was imposed and subsequent investigations led to the exhumation and identification of all the five slain as civilians.
One commission was appointed to investigate Brakpora massacre, the last in the chain of blood and gore, which indicted many cops who were punished. Another commission was appointed to investigate who mixed the body samples of the slain when these were collected for DNA fingerprinting. It offered no answers. Finally, CBI was tasked to investigate Pathribal on February 14, 2003 and the agency came with a charge sheet after 39 months in May 2006.
Army challenged CBI authority to indict investigate it without mandatory permission from the central government. Apex court stayed trial and it took many years in the apex court with the two appendages of the government fighting each other. Finally in May 2012, the apex court asked army to choose if it wants to hold trial against the accused soldiers in court martial or in the civilian court. The army availed the first option and the case was shifted to court martial in June. The trial starts September 20.
The court will try five senior officers on basis of the CBI charge sheet: Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Surabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and JCO Idress Khan and others responsible for acts punishable for hatching criminal conspiracy (120-B RPC), kidnapping with intention to murder (364), attempt to murder (307), murder (302), culpable homicide by causing death of a person other than person whose death was intended (301) and destroying the evidence (201). All the accused served 7-Rashtriya Rifles.
Of the three events in the chain, two are fully answered. But a common perception is that the main massacre needs investigation. While Sikh minority in Kashmir is seeking investigation into the massacre almost every year, former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah has stated repeatedly that he was prevented from investigating the case. Interestingly, police says they have already completed investigations. The accused are 18-20 militants, mostly Pakistanis, and the case is on trial in a court in Kathua. The charge-sheet was filed on November 13, 2000 before CJM Srinagar and was later shifted out.
-via The Economic Times.