PROTECTORS OF LAW ABOVE LAW

The cold desert may no longer be spared of the influence of rest of the state. It seems to be warming up sadly to the gloomy and dismal trend of harassment by the men in uniform. The recent incident of army personnel barging into three hotels in Leh and harassing foreign tourists on the pretext of some militant connections staying there is a case in point, shocking because there has been no history of militancy in the area. Unfortunately, army’s increasingly boisterous role elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir is encouraging the armed forces to increase their ambit of operations. The reasons are obvious. Because its brutalities go unchecked, with no system of accountability in place, they are likely to grow in tenor, shape and size.

Already, in other parts of Jammu and Kashmir, a huge presence of armed forces, coupled with other paramilitaries has allowed wanton destruction of civil liberties of civilians. The army sets the trend, protected under the halo of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the paramilitaries follow, taking a cue, and the police is only too overzealous in emulating the ways even though both police and some para-military forces are out of the purview of laws like AFSPA. Impunity is enjoyed by all, not just through exercise of extra-constitutional laws but also a culture endorsed politically and officially.

The Bijbehara ‘hit and run’ case and the Doda girl’s suicide, both exposing the highhandedness of the police once again, may seem like a speck in the massive landscape of cases of irresponsive, incompetent and brutal cops, whose rogue like qualities are only increasing by the day. Though this is almost a common problem throughout the country, Jammu and Kashmir is one of the rare exceptions, where police indulges itself with the luxury of legitimising everything in the name of counter insurgency. And, hence such a shocking trend.

In the Bijbehara and Doda cases, the accused cops may be cooling their heels in jails, but it is rare to find such prompt action in case of brutalities by men in khaki, even rarer in the case of armed forces and paramilitaries. Two other illustrious cases are the Ganderbal fake encounter and the evidence tampering in Amandeep murder case. The Ganderbal case is particularly interesting since a constable was first picked up on basis of evidence and then the DySP and the SP. There is a whole line of officers in between missing, making one wonder whether the prompt action was part of some witch hunting and not some conviction in principles of legal justice. In majority of other cases, victimised and the public are just expected to forget the atrocities and move on with their lives, accepting that police is not for protection, it is all powerful, mighty and can choose to do what it wants. Even when police is not brutal, it is successful enough in stonewalling itself from the public, irresponsive to their complaints and showing that it is in authority, in command, manouevering the very movements of public through rash orders without an iota of politeness. And there is complete, absolute impunity in whatever they do.

Looking at the history of cases of such brutalities, one does not know how far justice in Bijbehara hit and run and Doda suicide cases will go. In majority of other cases, cops easily got away and the test case is the Shopian rapes and murders, where there is enough evidence to point out their involvement at least in deliberate and pre-meditated tampering of evidence. But all out efforts have been made to bury the truth in pursuit of saving their necks. Tufail Mattoo murder case is following the Shopian way with a cornered police trying to save its skin by creating confusion since it cannot even sound convincing. This, despite several directions and strictures passed by the court. The chief judicial magistrate’s latest observations, that SIT has done precious little in finding in culprits and has instead been focusing on attempt to discredit the witnesses, is significant.

Brutalities by men who are supposed to protect people are bad practices in a democracy. What is worse is that the legal justice system never percolates down in such cases. Most of the accused men in uniform don’t even get tried, leave alone be punished. In the 118 killings last summer, even the basic FIRs have still not been lodged, even though the government itself claims that 100 of these were ‘innocent’. Perhaps, both the police top brass and the political dispensations find themselves duty-bound to go the extra mile in saving men guilty of not just misconduct and dereliction of duty but also murders, loot and rapes. If they didn’t, half the police force may have been in jails by now.