‘Eighteen years after the Indian army carried out the Pathribal fake encounter, they have faced no consequences for their actions.
On 25th March, 2000, personnel of the 7 Rasthriya Rifles (7RR) carried out an operation to take down five “foreign militants” in the forests of Pathribal in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir. The army claimed the slain men were responsible for shooting 36 Sikh men five days before, on 20th March, 2000, in the incident now known as Chittisinghpora massacre. It later emerged that the five men were actually residents of villages around Pathribal, who had been abducted by army and police in the couple of days before the encounter. When civilians came out on the streets to protest the extrajudicial killings, they were met by open firing by personnel from the CRPF and SOF in Brakpora, with another eight people losing their lives. In all, 49 civilians were killed in a matter of 15 days. Several pieces of incriminating evidence and a damning CBI investigation later, the army still stands shielded by the state machinery.
Pathribal fake encounter is perhaps the best example to illustrate the kind of impunity that is enjoyed by the army in “disturbed” areas of the country. It also shows the perils of employing a force meant to deal with external security threats against citizens of their own country. Despite heaps of evidence against certain members of the armed forces, and a CBI investigation clearly declaring the army to be guilty, the laws defined by Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Army Act, and Army Rules are such that they allow the army to walk away scot-free. Following is a timeline of the events that transpired in wake of the Chittisinghpora massacre.
20th March, 2000: 36 Sikh men shot dead in Chattisinghpora village, Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir, hours before then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India.
23rd-24th March, 2000: Five men abducted by police and personnel of 7RR from villages in Anantnag district.
25th March, 2000: Farooq Khan, the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Anantnag, announced in a press conference in the presence of then Home Minister LK Advani that five “foreign militants” responsible for Chattisinghpora massacre had been killed in a “joint operation” carried out by 7RR and the Special Operations Group (SOG) of J&K Police. On the same day, a villager from Pathribal sees the bodies of the men killed in the encounter and recognises one of them as Jumma Khan, one of the abducted men.
3rd April, 2000: Around two thousand villagers take out a peaceful procession demanding justice for the victims of Pathribal fake encounter and return of the victims’ bodies to their families. On reaching Brakpora, they are openly fired at and eight civilians are killed.
6th-7th April, 2000: Bodies of the Pathribal victims are exhumed. Although they have been burnt beyond recognition, the families were able to recognise the men from certain marks and peculiarities. Blood samples from the bodies were also taken for establishing their identities through DNA analysis, but these samples were fudged twice.
14th February, 2003: Investigations into Pathribal fake encounter are handed to CBI.
9th May, 2006: CBI concludes investigation and files a chargesheet against 5 personnel of 7RR, while accepting that others were also involved. DNA analysis done under CBI proved that the five men were the ones who were abducted from their homes before the fake encounter. CBI also found other facts challenging the army’s claim that the encounter was genuine, such as the fact that while the bodies of the victims were burnt beyond recognition, their “hideout” place was not.
1st May, 2012: The army approached Supreme Court after years of failing to cooperate with the investigation. The Supreme Court passed a ruling saying that no court can take “cognizance” of any crimes committed by the army while it is on official duty without seeking prior sanction from the government. This had implications for all future investigations against the army as even in cases where it could not be said that the army was acting on official duties, such as in the case of Pathribal, no action could be taken without government’s sanction. Further, the Supreme Court gave the army the option of deciding between a court martial and criminal court for proceeding with the Pathribal case. The army chose the former.
20th January, 2014: The army closed the matter after the Summary of Evidence stage stating that there is no evidence against the accused. The case never reached the stage of a court martial, which directly flouted the Supreme Court’s order to carry out the trial by court martial.
30th January, 2014: Relative of one of the deceased seeks a copy of the Summary of Evidence from the army.
28th May, 2014:The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Srinagar dismisses the application seeking the Summary of Evidence.
April 2016: Families of Pathribal victims file petition in J&K High Court challenging army’s decision to close the case. They sought the court’s intervention for the guilty army officials to be tried under normal criminal procedures. The petitioners also contended the army’s decision to re-investigate the encounter when CBI investigations had already established the nature of the incident.
27th April, 2016: J&K High Court dismissed the petition saying the army had the option to close the case on grounds of “no evidence” as the Supreme Court had allowed them to carry out the trial by a court martial, failing to note that the proceedings never reached that stage.
27th July, 2016: The families now approached the Supreme Court as all other avenues of justice had been closed. They filed a petition highlighting all the problematic aspects of the various investigations and proceedings. The petition also poses the question that if AFSPA and other army rules allow for the right of a citizen to a fair and impartial investigation to be violated, then are those army acts constitutional?
August, 2017: The Supreme Court admitted the plea and issued notices to the Central government, J&K government, the army, and CBI, giving them six weeks to respond to to the petition.
The matter has not come up for hearing in the apex court since then. Next date given is 8th May, 2018.
Courtesy: News Click