CUSTODIAL KILLINGS UNACCEPTABLE

The killing of a young teacher in custody highlights the vulnerability of Kashmiris and also exposes the hypocrisy of the state with respect to international conventions.

The custodial killing of a 28-year-old principal of a private school, in the aftermath of hundreds of random arrests across Kashmir, once again highlights the vulnerability, sense of insecurity and helplessness of the people of the Valley caught between the two guns. The teacher, Rizwan Asad Pandit, was picked up from his home in Awantipora by the police in raids on Sunday but landed up in Custody of Special Operations Group. It is not clear why he was targeted in the first place. Rizwan was picked up for his possible Jamaat connections (his father was an active member of the organization) but an official police version maintained that he was being questioned in a militancy related case. His family has alleged that he was earlier picked up by the police and harassed in custody in 2015 and 2017 and detained under Public Safety Act for six months in 2018.

Though, as per procedures a magisterial probe has been ordered, it does not undo the wrong done. Besides, Kashmir has a history of probes that are treated in a ham-handed way or never reach their logical conclusion. So far, there is no evidence to support Rizwan’s involvement in any case of militancy. Whether or not there was suspicion about any such involvement, the killing by torture is unjustifiable and illegal. The Indian laws are pretty clear about custodial killings. As per law, the prisoners are entitled to fundamental rights and that makes torture unacceptable as it flouts the basic rights of the citizen recognized by the Indian constitution. Torture and death by torture in police custody is one of the worst kind of crimes in a civilized society, governed by the rule of law and poses a serious threat to an orderly civilized society.

Despite such legal clarity, custodial killing is a reality across India, including conflict areas like Kashmir where no one is held accountable for even extra-judicial killings that happen with much more regularity. Kashmir is littered with stories of abuse on a daily basis including killings, pellet injuries, disappearances, sexual abuse, detentions and arrests. None of these have been ever fairly probed and a culture of impunity perpetuates the cycle of abuse, which is also feeding frustrated and disillusioned youth into militancy. Instead, everything gets legitimized and patronized in the name of insurgency in abject violation of existing laws and global humanitarian principles. The killing of a detenue in custody of law-keepers is not only an onslaught on his dignity, it is a case of serious abuse of power. This cannot be papered over by denial of accountability on the pretext of insurgency and wrongly invoked ‘national interest’. Men in uniform charged of culpable homicide cannot be let off the hook. They must be tried fairly and punished if their guilt is established as per the domestic laws of the country.

India is also signatory to the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) according to which states must take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction. UN conventions cannot be selectively picked up in cases and completely glossed over in cases of custodial deaths. It would be hypocrisy to talk about Geneva conventions over the issue of prisoner of war and ignoring the issue of custodial torture. Besides, India’s failure to abide by the commitment of UN Convention Against torture are also likely to queer the pitch for extradition of Indian fugitives like Nirav Modi and Vijaya Mallaya, the latter and many other fugitives in the past having used the pretext of poor jail conditions and third-degree torture in his plea in British court. The state must ensure complete intolerance to custodial deaths which is inhuman, criminal, defames the country and also has the potential of creating hurdles in international procedures.