A simple eyewash

Punishments by forces’ courts disproportionate to crimes perpetrated

The defence ministry’s response to an RTI application seeking details of army personnel held guilty of human rights abuse in Kashmir evidently alludes to the fact that none of the convicted men have been punished beyond mere dismissals and terminations. Without giving details of the cases and their investigations, the defence ministry has simply compiled a list of the army personnel convicted by the army’s own court martial proceedings or departmental enquiries, and maintained that it has terminated 24 army personnel found involved in different cases of human rights violations in the last 23 years in Jammu and Kashmir. The reply further adds that among these 24, twelve have been terminated for committing rape, three for molestation, three for deaths, five for harassment and one for civil offence of robbery.

The inadequate response raises serious questions about the inadequacy of punishment doled out to uniformed personnel even as they have been held guilty of serious criminal offences, which if tried in civil courts would have led to several years of imprisonment. The personnel convicted do not even comprise a fraction of the hundreds and thousands of allegations of human rights abuse perpetrated by army and the security forces and the cases lodged against hundreds of its personnel. Clearly the RTI response from the defence ministry offers no details about the cases or about whether any of the terminated men have been awarded any punishments. In one such well-publicised case of alleged double rape of a woman and her minor daughter, an army officer was held guilty by the army’s own court martial proceedings of ‘misconduct’ and suspended or terminated. This is too meager a punishment and if convicted in civil courts could have entailed a punishment of upto 7 years of imprisonment.

The details that have trickled down through this response to an RTI application question the kind of trust reposed in the army’s court martial proceedings by the supreme court, which recently delivered a judgement in the infamous Pathribal fake encounter killings. The verdict that sought to equate the proceedings of a civil court and the court martial proceedings, giving army the choice of deciding whether it wanted to try its own accused personnel or present them before civil courts, had obviously overlooked the fate of various court martial proceedings in cases of human rights abuse in Kashmir. The court, before delivering verdict, even overlooked the fact that several of the uniformed personnel involved in the Pathribal case had also been promoted by the army, which was also expected to fairly deal with the kind of crimes they had committed. Such kind of protection given to guilty uniformed personnel is not an exclusive characteristic of the army alone. The same is true of other forces as well.

The BSF held its men guilty of raping a bride and murder of another in 1990 simply ended up the matter with a few dismissals. The state government and Jammu and Kashmir police went out of its way in shielding the culprits and proving them innocent in the Shopian twin rapes and murders. Cases are galore in Kashmir, of men in uniform being protected and promoted instead of being punished for or despite their crimes.

This points out to the crude irony of a government making tall claims about ushering in democracy and going ahead with devolution of powers but failing to deliver justice in simple cases of crime. Democracy would be meaningless without an institutionalised process of justice, which evidently cannot be delivered by reposing unlimited faith in the security forces, whose men are tainted. If democracy has to be more meaningful, justice needs to be first delivered in cases of human rights abuse – from gory killings and rapes to unjustified arrests and brutal tortures.