August 3-4, 1998
Report release on the 16th anniversary of the massacre
Today, on 3 August 2014, the 16th anniversary of a mass killing which took place in Sailan village, Poonch District, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in association with the Survivors of the Sailan Massacre, released a report The Anatomy of a Massacre: The Mass Killings at Sailan, August 3-4, 1998. By tracing the oral and documented history of the Sailan massacre, the report shows how the crime was deeply embedded in the militarised social fabric of Sailan. It argues that mass crimes, including mass rapes, collective torture, arson and mass killings are a deliberate enactment of the impunity and lawlessness of the Indian state, which kill, maim and terrorise not only the direct victims, witnesses and survivors but the entire population. This report is part of the struggle of all victims of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, to articulate their demands for truth and justice in their own words, when the very language to speak of the truth has been rendered anti-national, and therefore unspeakable. It commemorates the lives lost in the massacre at Sailan, and is dedicated to them, on the anniversary of their untimely deaths.
On the night of 3 – 4 August 1998, 19 people, including 11 children ranging in age from about 4 years to 15 years, and 5 women (including one woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy) were shot to death at point blank range in their homes in Sailan, in the Surankote Tehsil, of Poonch District, which is divided by the Line of Control, between Pakistan and Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir. A total of 13 females and 6 male members of three closely related families were killed by 4 Special Police Officers (SPOs) and personnel from 9 Paratroopers, an elite commando unit of the Indian Army.
Their bodies were thereafter horribly dismembered and in one case almost decapitated with axes and sharp instruments. In official accounts, such as the First Information Report, (FIR) and Right to Information (RTI) responses the crimes of that night are attributed to collateral damage in an ‘encounter’ with, or an attack by ‘foreign militants’ despite over whelming evidence to the contrary. The surviving family members, some of whom are eye witnesses to the massacre, have waged a courageous and tireless battle for truth and justice, over the last 16 years, despite intimidation, falsification of the FIR, non investigation, criminal cover ups, and destruction of evidence by high ranking police officials, the armed forces, and the accused SPOs. The alleged SPO perpetrators, namely Head Constable Mohammad Younis, Selection Grade Constable Mohammad Rafiq Gujjar (presently posted with the 16 Rashtriya Rifles, Draba Camp), Selection Grade Constable Mohammad Akbar and Assistant Sub-Inspector Maqsood Ahmad Khan, continue to freely roam in the area, threatening and intimidating the locals, having been promoted from being SPOs to regularised members of the constabulary, and even officers.
Another implicated police officer, Sevak Singh (then Superintendent of Police, Special Operations Group, Poonch) was convicted of murdering a fellow police officer Sub-Inspector Ajay Gupta in an unrelated incident. He remained in jail for over ten years, and has been recently released on bail by the Indian Supreme Court. The then Superintendent of Police (Poonch), J.P Singh, who is also implicated in the cover up, is a highly decorated officer, awarded several police medals both before and after the mass killings, and is presently posted as the Deputy Inspector General (DIG), North Kashmir.
The report provides an account of the silenced history of the Sailan Massacre, and the continuing legal battle of the survivors. It relies on field visits, human rights documentation, first person accounts and interviews with survivors, residents of Sailan, a retired district medical official, lawyers and local human rights activists, as well as official documents relating to the case including the State Human Rights Commission order dated 21 October 1998, investigative and court documents and RTI responses.
It analyses the massacre in the context of the intensive militarisation of the Poonch district, and the active state policy of incorporation of local ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities in the Jammu Region, into communalised and ethnically divisive state backed ‘counter insurgency’ intelligence and military operatives, such as ‘informers’, SPOs and VDC (Village Defence Committee) members. The Report chronicles the legal journey of the survivors before the State Human Rights Commission, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, and in relation to the High Court ordered fresh investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigations, which have shown little progress in the last year and a half since they were ordered in November 2012.
It details the various attempts made by state functionaries including police, army and state backed SPOs to scuttle the legal case, including attempts to clandestinely bury the corpses, falsely registering an FIR against ‘foreign militants’, filing a status report making dubious claims about the destruction of the entire investigative file in a fire, constant delays, contumacious acts and obstruction tactics in court, and continued freedom and total impunity to the named perpetrators. The legal and social history of the Sailan Massacre which this report uncovers, exposes how the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir is made real, not just through the control of physical territory, but by deep social penetration, acts of collective terrorisation, and the active collaboration of all state institutions in the illusion of legal procedures and rule of law.