What after Avtaar’s arrest?

If Major Avtaar Singh is produced before the court in Srinagar, he has an option to skip the trial. All he has to do is to tell the court that he is interested in court martial.  Once this option is exercised the civil courts would cease to have jurisdiction

Jaleel Andrabi’s case, people believe, has taken a new turn with the arrest of his `killer’, Major Avtaar Singh in America. The police are hopeful of getting him extradited in a fortnight. What will happen after the erring Major is brought to Kashmir? Can Jaleel’s relatives get justice?

Jaleel Andrabi’s case has already exploded many a myth during the past fifteen years. Yet another harsh reality shall dawn on the people of Kashmir in the coming days. While justice seems a distant dream, the case has many a lesson for Kashmiris.
 In February 1996, Jaleel started feeling unsafe. One day he called on me in my office. I was the Associate Editor of Greater Kashmir then. He showed me some photographs. “These are renegades. I shot them with my camera when they entered my house the other day with the intention of killing me.”

He had been accused of resorting to cheap methods for getting publicity. Nobody trusted him.  How can you take photographs of your killers? The question was repeatedly asked.   Jaleel was my senior in the Bar. He would give me valuable tips and help me in my pleadings. I knew him well. He was a man of integrity. I was also aware of the dangers that loomed large over him during those days. We talked for half an hour and decided to go public over the issue. I talked to my editor, Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo. Fortunately he cooperated. Jaleel addressed the press in my room in Greater Kashmir office. He felt relieved but even the media persons did not trust him.

Soon after, Jaleel was picked upon March 8. His whereabouts were not disclosed. Finally his body was fished out from Jehlum on March 27. Every body was shocked and now every body trusted him. Had the press taken his story seriously, the situation would have been different today.

The problem with Kashmiris is that they do not trust each other. They do not help a person when he desperately seeks it. And when the person gets killed, all come forward and write beautiful obituaries. And this spirit does not last long as well. After a year or so, the martyr, the hero is forgotten.  Then the aggrieved family has to fight the battle alone.

Jaleel’s case also brought the helplessness of the judiciary to the fore.  In a bold confession, the   former Chief Judicial Magistrate of Budgam admitted in an open court that the judiciary had failed to administer justice in this case.
The learned judge observed: “The complainant party seems to be now justified in levelling aspersions against the court for its inability to procure the attendance of the accused.”(SIC)

 On July 7, 2007 the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) directed the Senior Superintendent of police, Srinagar to ensure the presence of the accused on August 21, 2007. The CJM also directed the then Corps Commander to provide assistance to the police officer in the matter.

On September 26, 2007 a written communication was received on behalf of RR 34 (JAT) which disclosed Major Avtar’s whereabouts as TA -42277 Major Avtar Singh, S/O Ex Subedar Major (Hony Lt) Amar Singh, Village Ponti, PO- Mandhar, Tehsil- Jagadhari, District- Yamuna Nagar (HR). However, the communication did not reveal the present address of the accused.
The police also received two more documents No.CRB/WSD/07/11682-84 dated July 26, 2007 and No. CRS/364/07-13442-43 dated August 3, 2007. After perusal of the said documents, the court came to know that Major Avtar Singh is reliably staying in Canada as per the information of Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP) and that CBI has already taken up the matter with Canadian embassy for issuing Red Corner Notice against the accused and his subsequent extradition. It was also learnt that IGP Crime and railways Jammu Kashmir is pursuing the matter by dealing with the CBI.

The CJM took strong note of state’s failure to produce the accused in the court. He held: “It is very astounding that the state of Jammu Kashmir despite being posted with the whereabouts of the accused is not taking effective steps in the matter for ensuring the production of the accused in this court.”

The learned judge received the shock of his life after he issued a warrant against the Major urging the Interpol to execute it. A police man with a piece of paper came to him. He wanted a similar warrant against the Hizbul Mujahedeen Supreme Commander, Syed Salah-ud-Din. The case had been consigned to records long ago but the police wanted the learned judge to go to the archives.

The writ of the judiciary was eroded slowly but surely by those who fought autocracy to usher in an era of democracy. In autocratic Kashmir, the all powerful ruler had the remorse to tender an apology to a magistrate on behalf of his wife who had urged the magistrate to take a lenient view in a case. But in democratic Kashmir a halqa president of the ruling party urged a high court judge to refrain from hearing a case.  The matter was brought to the notice of the then Prime Minister who supported his halqa president. The judge was told to obey the halqa president or quit. The process continues to this date.

 People by and large blame the `impunity laws’ for helplessness of the judiciary in the state. The impunity laws were enacted in early 1990. Was the position any rosy before 1990?  A little bit of impunity is provided by the ordinary procedural laws as well.  Something else and not the impunity laws, therefore, did the damage to the writ and credibility of the judiciary. And what was that?

 Since 1947 Kashmir has always been in a state of emergency. Fundamental rights always remained suspended here. In the first few years of the democratic rule, people would be taken to task for listening to Radio Pakistan. A police officer would extern a person. Not a single case challenging the exile order or seeking enforcement of right to listen to Radio Pakistan was filed anywhere in Kashmir. It seems the people were scared of seeking judicial intervention. Some good old men admit it. The state of emergency should have ended when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s political wilderness came to an end in 1975. But things did not change.

And last but not the least, bringing Major Avtaar Singh to Srinagar dos not guarantee justice. If Major Avtaar Singh is produced before the court in Srinagar, he has an option to skip the trial. All he has to do is to tell the court that he is interested in court martial.  Once this option is exercised the civil courts would cease to have jurisdiction.
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