Not only the Kashmiris but also the Indians were surprised to learn that their valorous army had resumed fake encounters to terrify the Kashmiris so that they dare not speak a word against the atrocities of Indian army and security personnel.
The army spokesman announced that `militants’ were holed around Amshipora village Shopian district. India media flashed news and videos of troops carrying out a search operation in a thick forest. They are heard firing warning shots to force the `militants’ to surrender. In another video and news broadcasters, it was announced that the `terrorist’ refused to surrender. As such the army had to shoot them down. The `encounter’ took place on July 18 and in a press release, the occupied Kashmir police corroborated the military version that “the encounter had been executed on inputs from the local army unit and the J&K police along with the CRPF, who had joined later”.
A police spokesman said, “On a specific input by 62RR about [the] presence of terrorists in village Amshipora area of district Shopian, an operation was launched by them in the said area. During the search, terrorists fired upon army personnel and encounter started. Later on, police and CRPF also joined. During the encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Dead bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of the encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists are being ascertained”.
This operation, conducted in wake of abrogation of the occupied state’s special status, created the impression that the Valley was firmly in grip of militants who were being hunted and shot down. In the past six months, over 150 `militants’ had been killed, necessitating abrogation of the special status.
Cracks in army version
The army did not return the dead bodies to the families. They claimed that they have been buried in a remote border area.
Meanwhile, some families became concerned that their kin kidnapped by the army had not returned home. Those abducted included Mohammed Ibrar (21), Ibrar Ahmad (18) and Imtiaz Ahmad (26). Hey approached local police who was initially reluctant to investigate the case as the Armed Forces Special Power Act barred them from taking cognisance of the case. However, later the police came across some dead bodies. Upon exhumation the DNA matched data shared by the families with the police.
To avoid embarrassment, the army directed the civil court to hand over the case to them. Their plea was that “the army is in the process of taking over proceedings against a Rashtriya Rifles officer in the Shopian fake encounter case from a civilian court where a charge-sheet has been filed against him. The Army has decided that the officer, an Army Captain, will be tried in a court martial. A Junior Commissioned Officer is also to stand trial in the case in the military court”.
The initial reports including one from the BBC had indicated that a major was the chief architect of the fake encounter. But, the army devolved the blame on a captain. There was no mention of the Commander of 12 Sector RR, Brigadier Ajay Katoch, the Commander of 12 Sector RR, who held a press conference on July 19 to announce that three terrorists had been killed in the encounter, giving a detailed account of the “encounter”.
Brigadier Katoch had brazenly said, `The officer [Captain Bhoopendra Singh ] and two soldiers accompanying him came under heavy fire, they retaliated, and police and CRPF were also rushed to the spot. The “search party” came under fire from a house and “in the ensuing action, three terrorists were neutralised”.
On the bodies of the terrorists recovered by the search team, Katoch had said arms, ammunition and IED material were found.
The precedent for a transfer of any case involving an Army officer from a civilian court to the military court was set with the 2012 Supreme Court judgment in the Pathribal case following the Central Bureau of investigation indictment of five officers. The Supreme Court ruled that no cognizance could be taken of any offence committed by a soldier in the course of official duty without prior sanction from the government.
The Supreme Court also gave the Army the option of choosing the “venue” of the trial between a civilian and a military. The Army had invoked the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to argue that the men could not stand trial in a civilian court.
The army lets the offenders go by with a slap on the wrist. In case of Major Leetul Gogoi, the army chief quickly awarded him a commendation certificate for parading a Kashmiri around several villages, tied to the jeep front. When, later, he was arrested in a Srinagar hotel in objectionable condition, he was ignored.
Other methods to stifle dissent
Ancestral properties of Farooq Abdullah were confiscated when he publicly criticised abrogation of the so-called “special status”. Money laundering and terror-financing charges were slapped on ailing Yasin Malik (Liberation Front) and Shabbir Shah (Democratic Freedom Party). The court was told that they are in robust health. Several other Kashmiri leaders are languishing in jails. They include Asiya Andrab (Dukhtaran-i-Millat or Daughters of Nation, Masarat Alam Bhat, and Mohammad Ashraf Sehraie. Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Mehbooba Mufti are also under house arrest.
Those jailed are not even allowed newspapers and books (Indian Express dated December 30, 2020).
Besides the AFSPA, Indian army has a slew of other laws to declare anyone a traitor and put him behind the bars with impunity. For instance, professor SAR Geelani was sentenced to death on the basis of a mistranslated two-minute conversation in Kashmiri language. The words “What is happening” was translated as “what have you done” to link him with the attack on Indian parliament. Afzal Guru was hanged. But, later arrest of police officer Davinder Singh revealed that the officer himself colluded with militants. He used to extract confessions under torture. Guru was innocent.
A cursory look at Kashmir press is horrifying _ Sedition cases were slapped on three Aligarh- University Kashmiri students for trying to hold prayers for Hizb militant Wani, Kashmiri students and traders at Wagah border were forced to chant anti-Pakistan slogans and post them to Facebook. Kashmir students and traders were attacked or looted throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to the Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to the Valley for safety. Kashmiri journalists in Indian states were roughed up, mercilessly beaten, and told to go back Meghalaya governor officially directed to boycott everything Kashmiri. Some Kashmiris petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene. In its order, the Supreme Court directed 10 states and various institutions to take remedial steps, but in vain.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was dismissed for exposing fake encounters. She called Kashmir a Guantanamo Bay. India clamped Public Safety Act on her and Omar Farooq to keep them under detention (February 2020). Mehbooba revealed her government was dismissed for expressing ennui at central-government atrocities, not returning dead bodies of `encounter’ victims and burning them, not allowing funeral prayers, demanding talks with Pakistan, registering an FIR against an army officer, resisting change in Kashmir’s special status, and so on (Indian Express dated April 18. 2019).