Will probes ever help?

Apart from constructing shopping complexes and parking areas in Srinagar and elsewhere since 1996, successive state governments have been performing one more important task-ordering probes into human rights abuses. The number of probes ordered since installation of democratic rule in the state have not helped the government achieve much publicized ‘zero tolerance’. In fact probes have been directly proportional to abuses. More probes, more violations.

Dr Farooq Abdullah returned to power in 1996 after six years of hibernation in England. During his tenure he ordered as many as 40 probes into human rights abuses but all in vain. At one point in time he was seen pleading in New Delhi about the necessity of bringing the erring men in uniform to justice, but on other occasions his government was found involved in fudging reports submitted by enquiry officers and forensic experts.

Following the massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chattisinghpora, the police claimed killing of five ‘foreign’ militants involved in the massacre, at Panchatalan in Anantnag district. The DNA samples of the slain youth were taken to ascertain their identity when the people contested the police claims. The reports were fudged.

The leak of fudging created uproar in the Valley. Dr Farooq responded by making a suo motto statement in the Legislative Assembly. He said Justice G A Kuchey will hold inquiry into the matter and submit his report within two months. "We will convene a special session of the House and place that probe report before the members," he added. Neither was the special session of the legislature convened nor were the findings made public.

Another important event that took place in his regime was the killing of two Dutch nationals. The duo was killed in Srinagar by the BSF when they argued with them. The irresponsible electronic media linked the slain Dutch nationals to Al-Qaeda. As usual a probe was ordered and till this day the Dutch government is waiting for the findings of the probe to be made available.

This was followed by change of guard in the state. According to official data, 71 probes were ordered by the coalition government since November 2002 to August 2008. The officials said reports had been received in 29 cases and action taken against violators in 15 cases. In the remaining 14 cases, no action had been recommended by the authorities concerned. But according to independent sources action was taken in just six cases.

A total of 43 Judicial/Magisterial/ Administrative probes were ordered during Mufti Sayeed’s 3-year rule. Action was taken in 4 cases. However, the action taken against the guilty surprised and shocked the people. The guilty officers were reinstated.Twenty-eight probes were ordered by Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government. Action was taken in 2 cases. One was stayed by a court.Similarly six probes were ordered by NN Vohra. Nothing came out.

The incumbent Chief Minister saw murder of a physically challenged youth outside his residence on the day he assumed office. A probe was ordered. Findings are still awaited.

More than ten civilians have been killed since Omar Abdullah took over as the Chief Minister of the state. Probes were ordered in every case. A visibly perturbed Omar assured people proper action into Shopian killings the other day while addressing the media. He ordered a probe as well. And what else could he do? His father’s colleagues have stated that the Chief Minister (Farooq Abdullah) had no say in matters concerning security. According to them, New Delhi controlled everything including the infamous special operations group (SOG). "They ordered and we obeyed", they said.

Omar’s assurances should have pacified the people, but fortunately or unfortunately, he rules the State at a time when the defiant people are keeping their eyes wide open. They know all about probes. They know probes have not yielded anything in the past.

Some people have expressed surprise over the response of the Jammu Kashmir High Court Bar Association to the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah’s judicial commission. According to G N Shaheen, ”whenever a rights violation takes place, the government quickly orders inquiry to quell public uproar. This way they not only deflect the pressure but also aim to put up a clean image before the people. However, probes never reach completion."

The ‘cynicism’ of the Bar Association is not totally unfounded. The security agencies have not given a damn to the probes ordered by the state government. They have either pressurized the witnesses or simply ignored the process. There have been cases where the security agencies have questioned the powers of the state government to probe excesses.

On 22 February, 2006, afternoon, four children: Ghulam Hassan Bhat, Samaad Mir, Amir Hajam and Shakir were killed when troops of 33 Rashtriya Rifles opened indiscriminate firing on children who were playing cricket in a ground near Doodhipora village.

Massive protest demonstrations were held in Handwara and some other places. Police opened fire, burst smoke shells and resorted to Lathi charge to disperse the demonstrators injuring over 15 persons.

The Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad ordered a judicial probe assuring that the killers would be punished.Police registered an FIR bearing 22/06 under section 302 IPC against the accused army unit.Later the government, vide order No 3185-LD (A) of 2006, announced a judicial inquiry into the incident under the inquiry officer,Syed Tariq Ahmed Naqashbandi. At least, 24 villagers including an eighth class student deposed before him.The inquiry report was not forwarded to the government due to the non-cooperation of the army. However, after retirement of  inquiry officer, Syed Tariq Ahmed Naqashbandi, the probe came to an abrupt halt.

On 12 May, the newly appointed inquiry officer, Justice Muhammad Nazir Fida in a communiqué to the Commissioner Secretary Home of the State informed him that the proceedings conducted by his predecessor reveal that army’s non-cooperation was delaying the inquiry.

Government provided extension in the time period for inquiry into the killings by six months from the date of its expiry, that is July 22, 2007. However, the army filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of the state government to order the probe into the matter "regarding the armed forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir." The army argued the state of Jammu and Kashmir could not make any law with regard to the matters falling under the entry-2 and 2(a) of the list-1 and the matters which had been excluded in entry-1 of list III of the 7th schedule of Constitution of India. It sought withdrawal of the notices against army personnel. A long legal battle ensued. Questions ranging from applicability of Article 246 of Indian constitution to entry 2A of the Union List and the Concurrent list were raised by the president of the High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom. Question of legislative powers of the state and the power of appointing a commission of enquiry to probe any incident involving the army were also raised. Nothing moved.

Ordering probes will not help unless the guilty are brought to justice. Omar Abdullah says he enjoys credibility among the people. If he really means it, he has to punish the guilty. Remember New Delhi has already accorded sanction to prosecution in 270 cases. The Chief Minister must initiate proceedings against them. This is the way out. Why blame New Delhi for state’s incapability?