A whiff of fresh air


Supreme Court’s verdict in the Zahid Farooq case comes as a whiff of fresh air in the suffocating atmosphere of Kashmir which has been choking under the thick blanket of draconian laws; most notoriously the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that was being misused to cover up heinous crimes against civilians. The apex court, on Thursday, ordered that the BSF personnel accused of killing Zahid Farooq in cold blood, three years ago, be tried by a civil court under the normal law of the land. The Supreme Court overturned the verdict of the trial court, subsequently upheld by the Jammu and Kashmir high court that the guilty BSF men be court martialled by their paramilitary formation. The BSF had opposed their trial by the chief judicial magistrate’s court. Accordingly, the custody of the accused as also the trial documents had been handed over to the BSF. The apex court has now ordered reversal of this process.

Apart from the wider ambit of the general sense of relief which the Supreme Court decision provides it also marks the moral victory for Zahid Farooq’s father whose remarkable courage and quest for justice has ultimately borne fruit. He had gone in appeal, along with the state government, against the trial and high court decision allowing the BSF to court martial alleged killers of his teenage son instead of subjecting them to justice under the normal law. Their appeal was opposed by the central government. The apex court has, however, left the room open for the BSF to appeal against its verdict within six weeks.

Zahid Farooq’s cold blooded murder at Brein, near Nishat, on February 5, 2010 by the BSF armed personnel had shocked the Valley and triggered off a chain of events leading to many more killings in police and paramilitary firing on civilian protestors. Although the state government had announced administrative enquiry into a few of these cases not much progress has been made towards concluding the process. Nothing in fact is authentically known about the fate of these inquiries.

Rampant misuse of AFSPA in such cases has choked the entire justice system in J&K. Blanket immunity being provided blindly to the accused armed and paramilitary forces personnel guilty of heinous crimes has immobilised the justice delivery system. Significantly, in this particular case, the apex court has over-ruled the J&K high court and observed that there was no bar in normal trial of armed and paramilitary personnel accused of crimes against civilians. However, it is to be seen if and how the latest pronouncement of the country’s highest seat of justice would affect the course of events on the ground.
Denial of justice to growing number of victims of atrocities committed by the security forces personnel continues to be one of the major obstacles in restoring public confidence in the system of governance as much as in the justice system itself. Flagrant violation of human rights, wanton killings and other atrocities continue unabated; primarily because there is no fear of justice and accountability. So long as this kind of permissiveness persists there is little hope of real improvement in the situation. Silence is being mistaken for normalcy.

The least that the state government can now do is to revisit the plethora of pending cases, review them in the light of the apex court’s verdict in the Zahid Farooq case and proceed without any more delay. The state government has its own credibility on the line. The Supreme Court decision has opened a window of opportunity for the agencies of the state to restore the ruined system of justice and create public confidence in the efficacy of the system to deliver justice.
Instead of throwing its hands up over the AFSPA issue and crying over the central government’s unsympathetic attitude, the coalition government in general and the chief minister in particular need to benefit from the window offered by the apex court and follow it up right to its logical conclusion.