Published in I-Express: March 07, 2011
Fourteen years ago, Justice Bilal Nazki had issued an order for the arrest of Major Avtar Singh and impounding of his passport after a police investigation revealed his alleged involvement in the custodial murder of a noted Kashmiri human rights lawyer, Jaleel Andrabi, and eight others including four counter-insurgents.
Avtar, however, was never produced in court and fled the country.
With Avtar being arrested and subsequently released in a domestic violence case in the United States recently, Nazki, who retired as Chief Justice of Orissa High Court, says, “Singh’s case symbolises what is wrong with Delhi’s approach towards Kashmir.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Nazki says if the government ensures a similar “amount of democracy and fair play” in Kashmir that is available to an individual in Mumbai or Delhi, there will be a redeeming change.
He feels the J-K High Court has been ineffective in taking the Jaleel Andrabi murder case to its logical conclusion. “In 1997, when I was hearing the case, we had set up a Special Investigating Team (SIT) of the J&K Police to probe the murder. I am personally convinced that the SIT’s investigation was best,” he says. “Major Avtar Singh should have faced trial.”
“Soon after I passed orders in the case, I was transferred to Hyderabad. The High Court didn’t take any interest afterwards.”
On March, 8, 1996, Jaleel Andrabi was driving home in his car with his wife when he was taken away by the Army personnel on Indira Gandhi airport road in Srinagar.
Andrabi’s wife Riffat approached the nearby Sadar police station to file a complaint.The police instead promised that they will contact the (Rashtriya Rifles) unit.
“There was an attempt to abduct Jaleel even in February that year. Some counter-insurgents had come in Army vehicles to his house but failed to abduct him. He took their pictures,” says Jaleel’s brother Arshad Andrabi.
On March 27, 1996, Arshad was called by the police to identify his brother’s body which was recovered from Jhelum. A case regarding the lawyer’s disappearance was registered on March 14, 1996 under the directions of the J-K High Court, which also ordered setting up of an SIT to probe the case.
The SIT report identified “an Army Major posted in the Rawalpora Camp of the 103 Territorial Army as prima facie responsible for the death”. The report also nailed Avtar and his soldiers for killing several counter-insurgents who are said to have witnessed Andrabi’s murder.
Army representatives, however, told court that Avtar did not commit the offence “in his official capacity”.
As Avtar disappeared, the case attracted national and international attention with National Human Rights Commission as well as Amnesty International and Asia Watch taking a keen interest in its progress.
Avtar’s arrest in the US, says Nazki, is “like God’s intervention. There is no grievance redressal system in Kashmir”. He says little attention to local grievances could make a huge difference.
“There is demand for a solution to Kashmir (problem) outside the ambit of Constitution. But if the government gives people all the rights enshrined in the Constitution and puts in place effective systems, this place will change.”
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