Every month a few Kashmiris die for complete independence from Indian military rule.
Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan region, is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or for its merger with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilian Kashmiri Muslims, dead.
Large parts of Indian Kashmir shut down on Friday the 31st January and protests were held against a military courtverdict last week that exonerated five army officers involved in the killing of civilians 14 years ago. Most shops and businesses were closed and public transport halted in the main city of Srinagar and other areas of the restive region after separatist groups called a strike over the court’s decision.
The Kashmir Valley witnessed a shutdown on a call for protest by senior pro freedom leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq against the closure of the Pathribal “fake encounter” case by a court of inquiry of the Army. Commercial establishments remained closed, traffic was off the road and attendance in private and government offices was thin in Srinagar and other district headquarters and major townships.
Freedom leaders organized demonstrations at Jamia Masjid Nowhatta and Maisuma. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman, Yasin Malik, led a demonstration at Maisuma. Addressing the gathering, Mr. Malik made scathing attacks on “Indian democratic institutions,” saying they had lost credibility after the “fraud” played in the Pathribal case. The demonstrators clashed with the police at Pulwama in South Kashmir, at Maisuma, Safakadal and Gojwara in Srinagar; and at Baramulla, Sopore and Bandipura in North Kashmir.
While the CBI has held five Army officers guilty of abducting and killing the five civilians at Pathribal, a police investigation, the S.R. Pandian Commission of Inquiry and two departmental Inquiries in the past 13 years, have established the charges of murder against the seven CRPF and J&K police personnel.
But the Army court of inquiry concluded earlier this month that the charges of murder had not been established against the five Army officers. It closed the case and gave a clean chit to all the accused. The Union Home Ministry has denied sanction for prosecution of the four CRPF officials found guilty of the “murder” of eight Brakpora demonstrators. The J&K police have withheld the challan prepared against the three police officials. Consequently, all the 12 personnel are continuing in service.
The army, as its usual tactics to save the skins from punishment, claimed the victims were "foreign militants", accusing them of being responsible for the massacre. A subsequent probe by India’s top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, described the killings as "cold blooded murder", paving the way for a trial in a military court held behind closed doors.
The five soldiers were however cleared last week as "the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused persons", according to an army statement. In its verdict, the military court did not dispute the CBI’s findings that the victims were civilians but it added that they were killed during an operation "based on specific intelligence".
The decision has been denounced by rights groups and Kashmiri separatists and fueled anger in the already tense region. Security forces, particularly paramilitaries and army personnel, in Indian Kashmir are routinely accused by human rights groups of using excessive force and torture.
The local government was preparing a "legal recourse" to try to reopen the case, but it is unclear how this could be achieved since the military court handling the case was outside of civilian jurisdiction and scrutiny.
Angry residents of Brari Angan village in Anantnag district staged a demonstration demanding justice to the five civilians killed and labelled as “foreign mercenaries” in an allegedly fake encounter by the police and security forces at Pathribal on March 24, 2000. They called for exemplary punishment to the seven Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu and Kashmir police personnel found responsible for killing eight civilians in “unwarranted firing” at Brakpora on April 3, 2000. Most of the 13 civilians killed at Pathribal and Brakpora were residents of Brari Angan and Utarsoo and adjoining villages in South Kashmir.
Police detained more than a dozen activists after they tried to stage a protest near a central commercial district in Srinagar. Hundreds of residents also protested near the graves of the five civilians in the southern village of Brari Angan, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, chanting "we want justice", according to a police officer.
Scores of protesters shouting anti-India slogans pelted stones during clashes with police and paramilitary forces who fired tear smoke canisters to disperse them in the city’s old town area. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who also heads a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a grouping of pro freedom organisations, urged Kashmiris to "raise our voice against the verdict.
Of course, when civilian judges deliver judgments as per the instructions they receive from the regime, the military judges cannot be expected to be honest and fair in justice delivery.
But how to end Indian crimes in Kashmir valley?