The brutal killing of a youth in north Kashmir area of Handawra by the army on Saturday, preceded by the abduction and murder of two young sisters in Sopore on January 30, marks the return to civilian killings at the hands of the trigger-happy security forces armed with blanket powers and a culture of immunity. As usual the forces came out with a cock and bull story by first claiming that the youth, identified as Manzoor Ahmed Magray was shot dead by the soldiers of 4 Para who had laid an ambush in Chowgal area. Later when the killing, which the family members of the deceased described as cold-blooded murder, sparked massive protests the forces described it as a case of “ mistaken identity”. The victim happened to be the son of a ruling National Conference activist and the family members claimed that he was taken out of the house by the soldiers and severely tortured resulting in his death. Unlike in several other cases of killing of innocent civilians, chief minister Omar Abdullah rushed to Chogal to personally convey his condolence to the family and assure them that a fair probe would be conducted. Omar said that the incident could have been averted if the suggestions made by him at a meeting of the Unified headquarters had been implemented. He had “ given categorical directions to the Army, security forces and the police in the Unified Headquarters meetings to apply highest degree of caution and restraint and stick to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to avoid any killing of civilians under all circumstances”. It is a clear admission of the fact that the chief minister’s writ does not run as for as the functioning of the security forces is concerned and his directives are flouted with impunity. Obviously, the killing of innocents, torture and harassment of the citizens and other grave human rights abuses are inherent in a situation where the armed forces enjoy blanket powers to kill any one, set any building on fire merely on suspicion and have been provided immunity for their acts under the draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
It is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that the grave human rights abuses taking place in the troubled state cannot be brought to an end as long as the armed forces are occupying the civilian space and they are armed with blanket powers under the draconian laws and treated as holy cows. The directions given to the security forces by the rulers for using maximum restraint or follow the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) can only be sermons which are never followed by those for whom these are meant. During the initial years of militancy the army had claimed that the 15 commandments for the forces are the guarantee for the respect of human rights during operations in the insurgency-affected areas. But such grave HR abuses continued unabated despite such commandments and repeated assurances by those at the helm that there would be no violation of the human rights. Not only such abuses have continued unabated but even not in a single case any independent probe has been held and guilty punished. With the presence of armed forces in a large number in the civilian areas, who are not under the control of the civil administration, and the enforcement of the lawless laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act it is naivety to think of any improvement in the situation on the human rights front. The heavy deployment of forces, more weaponry, equipment, surveillance and presence of bunkers and occupation of civilian space by the security forces have turned the state into a huge military camp making an ominous presence. The conditions in the troubled state cannot be normal and human rights of the people cannot be guaranteed if extra-ordinary powers remain conferred on the security forces. The Indian security forces are empowered with a regime of draconian laws and they are not accountable for their acts of omission and commission. The National Human Rights Commission has no jurisdiction over them and the State’s own Human Rights Commission is not only toothless but also cannot deal with the cases of HR abuses by the armed forces. For putting an end to the human rights abuses the pulling out of armed forces from the civilian areas, removal of bunkers, vacation of civilian space by the forces and abrogation of draconian laws which virtually provide a license to the forces to resort to grave human rights abuses is paramount. Both New Delhi and the State government are, unfortunately, dithering on the question of revocation of draconian laws. The chief minister, who had initially advocated repeal of AFSPA later backed out, presumably under the central pressure.