Anantnag The Army might have closed the Pathribal fake encounter case but even after 18 years the families of the victims remain defiant, vowing to fight for justice.
On the 18th anniversary of the killings, the victim families are organising a remembrance meet in Brari Aangan village of Shangus in Anantnag district on Sunday to remember five people killed in the stage managed encounter by army and the subsequent killing of eight protesters in Brakpora village by police and CRPF.
“The army might have given clean chit to the officers involved in the cold blooded murder of our kin but that certainly has not broken our resolve to fight for justice,” says Rashid Khan, son of one of the victims and a key witness in the case.
Khan’s father Jumma Khan, 42, a laborer by profession from Brari Aangan village was among the five civilians killed in the fake encounter. The victims were later dubbed as foreign militants.
“The killings inflicted wounds which could never heal but the mental torture we have undergone in these years is beyond expression,” said Rashid Khan, aged 40 now.
Khan says though they felt dejected after the army closed the case but for them verdict was on expected lines as they never expected justice from army.
“How can you expect justice from those who are themselves the perpetrators of the crime, but then let me make clear that we won’t give up. This is why we have once again approached the Supreme Court for a trial in open court,” says defiant Khan who was 22 at the time of the killing of his father.
He also sought the intervention of international humanitarian organizations to bring the culprits to book.
“We appeal to the international humanitarian organizations to probe the matter and provide us justice,” he said.
Khan said that they are organizing a remembrance meet on Sunday to convey it to the Army and the government that they have not forgotten their loved ones.
“The army might be in denial but it does not matter for us as everybody knows the truth. So we are organizing a meet and holding special prayers in Brari Aangan village to remember our loved ones,” says Khan.
What makes this Jumma Khan’s story different from other four victims of Pathribal fake encounter is that his younger son Rafiq Ahmad Khan, then 16, was also killed only a week after on April 3, 2000, when police and CRPF opened fire on protesters who were demanding exhumation of bodies of the five persons killed in Pathribal encounter.
The villagers of Brari Aangan and adjacent villages had taken out procession towards the deputy commissioner’s office in Islamabad town. The protesters were fired upon at Brakpora village – 6 kilometers from the town on April 3, 2000, killing eight more persons and injuring many.
“It took eight persons to die for the government to order exhumation of bodies of five persons, dubbed as foreign militants, for DNA examination,” says Rashid.
Jumma Khan is buried alongside his younger son in a graveyard of the village dedicated for the victims of Pathribal and Brakpora.
The other four civilians killed by army included Jumma Khan’s namesake, 50, a laborer by profession of same Brari Aangan village, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, 22, and Mohammad Yousuf Malik, 25, both from Halan, Kapran village in Verinag-Dooru area, and Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, 20, of Moominabad locality of Anantnag town.
Both the Jumma Khans were picked up from their houses by the army during the dead of the night before being killed. Malik and Bhat had a joint sheep business and were picked up from Sherpora locality of Anantang town. Zahoor Dalal was picked up by the police and the government gunmen (Ikhwanis) near his house.
On March 25, 2000, five persons, who were picked up from different areas of Anantnag district by army and police, were killed near Pathribal village of Shangus in South Kashmir district of Anantang. Their bodies were charred beyond recognition after the fake encounter.
Army passed them off as foreign militants, purportedly responsible for massacre of 35 Sikhs five days ago on March 20 at Chattisinghpora village of Anantnag district when the then US president Bill Clinton was visiting India.
The state government in the year 2003 handed over the case to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which in April 2006 indicted five army personnel, Brigadier Ajay Saxana, Lt Colonel Brajendra Pratab Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxana and Subedar Idress Khan of 7 RR in the fake encounter killings and described the encounter as “cold blooded murders.”
The 18-page CBI charge-sheet had said that after the gunning down of Sikh community members, the army unit operating in the area was under “tremendous psychological pressure” to show results because there was allegation of inefficiency and ineffectiveness on their part.
The CBI said the army personnel entered into a criminal conspiracy to pick up some innocent persons and stage manage an encounter to create an impression that the militants responsible for the Chatisinghpora killings had been neutralized.
The Supreme Court on May 1, 2012 gave the army eight weeks to decide whether the accused should be tried by a regular criminal court or face a court-martial.
On June 29, 2012 the army decided to opt for Court of Inquiry to try five officers and subsequently the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Srinagar (designated CBI court) transferred the whole record of Pathribal case to army authorities for initiating proceedings against the accused army men under the Army Act.
However, on January 23, 2014 army decided to close the case saying the evidence recorded couldn’t establish prima facie case against any of the accused.
The families, in April 2016, again filed a writ petition in the High Court seeking re-opening of the case and conducting trial of all accused in the criminal court, however that was dismissed.
The Pandian Commission set up by then government into the killing of eight people protesting the Pathribal stage managed encounter at Brakpora village, while recommending an inquiry commission for all three incidents – Chatisinghpora, Pathribal and Brakpora – had stated that the incidents were inter-linked and need to be probed together.
“What happened to the findings of the commission remains unknown,” the families lamented.