At long last, the Indian army Captain Bhupinder Singh was sentenced to life imprisonment for having staged a fake encounter in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district (on 18 July 2020) to earn cash reward (Indian Rs. 20 lac) and out-of-turn promotion.
Conviction of Indian army personnel in occupied Kashmir is well-nigh impossible as they are immune from civil criminal proceedings owing to immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Badgered by persistent complaints, India’s Supreme Court had to define contours of fair application of the draconian AFSPA. To pursue justice, the bereaved families have to run pillar to post. Convictions are a rare phenomenon. Most Kashmiris try to avoid ventilating their grief for fear of brutal reaction from the Indian military.
In July 2020, three labourers were killed at Amshipora in Shopian district. Army officers had claimed they (Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar) were Pakistani terrorists and with their killing, the terror threat was eliminated in the district. Initially the Indian Army tried to hush up the case. But, the locals insisted that the three young men killed were cousins from Rajouri district working as labourers. Captain Bupinder Singh “hired” them from their homes and later shot them in a staged encounter. The Army was compelled to hold an inquiry owing to unabated protests by locals and the bereaved families.
A court of inquiry instituted by the Army found that the troops had exceeded powers vested in them under Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and acted in contravention to the rules approved by the Supreme Court. The Army also “claimed” recovery of a huge cache of arms from the “encounter” site.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police disassociated itself from the incident”.In their parallel investigation, the Jammu and Kashmir Police confirmed the cold-blooded killing, by hatching a conspiracy, kidnapping and killing three cousins from Rajouri and passing them off as hardcore Pakistani terrorists.
The inquiry ordered by the Indian Army into Operation Amshipora brought out that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded .
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference and others consider Captain Bupinder Singh’s conviction an eyewash. They allege that senior military officers, including Brigadier Ajay with whose connivance the fake encounter was staged, have not even been tried. The Hurriyat Conference has demanded stern action against the former Indian Army’s Rashtriya Rifles sector commander Brigadier Ajay Katoch and all other Indian Army officers and men involved in the killing of innocent Kashmiri youth in staged encounters.
Be it noted that immediately after the martyrdom of the youth, Brigadier Katoch had addressed a press conference in Srinagar. He claimed that the youth were killed in an encounter and arms and ammunition were recovered from their possession. It is eerie that, in January 2021, Brigadier Ajay Katoch was awarded with the Yudh Seva Medal “in recognition of his meritorious services against Kashmiri militants”.
The three victims were later discreetly buried in a graveyard in north Kashmir. Several Indian and international human-rights organizations have documented the mysterious disappearance of the Kashmiri people. It was found that Kashmiris killed in fake encounters, or in custody, are buried in nameless graves. The right organizations include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, besides the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC).
The last-mentioned body is sponsored and funded by the Indian government itself under India’s Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. Articles 32 and 33 of the Act make provisions for central and state governments’ grants to the commission. However, the Commission is debarred from inquiring into brutal acts of the armed forces.
Notwithstanding jurisdictional fetters to its feet, the Commission has been very active in chasing violations of human rights not only by saffronized civilians but also by Army and security forces.
The European Parliament has passed an “urgency resolution on mass graves in Kashmir” that strongly condemns, inter alia, the enforced disappearance and unlawful killing of Kashmiris.
Kashmiris from all walks of life have been demanding the establishment of an international commission to look into fake encounters, `disappearances’ and mass graves. So far, the UNO has not fulfilled their demand.
However, two non-governmental organizations, the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities and the International Council for Human Rights, have held a convention on `disappearances’ and ‘unmarked and mass graves in the context of international law’. The conference convention was held at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva (Switzerland).
The purpose of the convention was to draw the attention of the world to the plight of the bereaved families. Renowned academics, scholars, international lawyers, representatives of civil society, members of the police, as well as forensic archaeologists and forensic anthropologists, participated in the convention.
India claims to be the world’s largest democracy. However, its `shiny’ face has been scarred by atrocities committed by its Army and security forces in occupied Kashmir (and India’s North East). The “SOS from Indian Occupied Kashmir”, published by Hurriyat Conference, compiles data about Indian atrocities on the basis of well-investigated reports.
India is currently hobnobbing with the USA in the QUAD to contain China. It is sure that, in the unipolar world, the world community will not turn its attention to its gory tactics for repressing Kashmiris. Efforts by human-rights organizations to wake up the UN conscience have not been fruitful.
Unfortunately the Indian media also toes the government’s line. For instance Hindustan Times (May 6, 2021) reported “Three terrorists were killed after an encounter broke out between security forces and terrorists in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir on May 5
Killing Innocent civilians, after dubbing them ‘Pakistani militants’, is a known phenomenon in Indian-held Kashmir. The people killed incommunicado in Army custody are secretly buried in remote villages of Kashmir.