Saturday, August 29, 2009

Understanding Shopian Tragedy in a context

Home Minister of India P Chidambaram gave a clean chit to army and the paramilitary in the Shopian rape and murder case even while his own agencies are still carrying out the “investigations” over it. As reported in Greater Kashmir, while speaking in the Parliament on Wednesday, July 21, Chidambaram accused the “divisive elements” of launching a vilification campaign against the paramilitary forces in Jammu and Kashmir and said, “Such attempts would not demoralize the forces…. These forces are not involved in rape and murder and violation of human rights”.

One wonders as to why the Home Minister of India is so anxious that he resorts to the extraordinary measure of nervously prejudging the outcome of the investigations still going on? Isn’t he indirectly directing the investigating agencies working under him to expedite the outcome of the investigations in a manner that the question of the involvement of the Indian forces is ruled out? This despite the fact that they are the prime suspects in the collective pubic knowledge with strong circumstantial reasons in Shopian case and even more compelling reason of their continual involvement in numerous well documented cases of rape and murder across the length and breadth of Kashmir. No wonder the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) working under the Home Minister has complied with the direction and probably changed the slides so that the identification of the criminals by DNA testing becomes impossible.

The reputation and conduct of the armed forces in Kashmir in general coupled with the circumstances of the crime in Shopian establish beyond doubt that this crime could not have happened without the participation, connivance and knowledge of CRPF. The battalion was moved to south India after the crime. Nor could it happen without the participation, connivance and knowledge of the notorious counter-insurgency force of India the Rashtriya Rifles (RR).

These Indian forces enjoy the immunity of draconian Indian laws, like AFSPA, such that even an investigation into their conduct becomes impossible. But why did the Government of India (GoI) go to such extreme lengths to cover up the involvement of CRPF and the RR in this crime even though public rage and anger on day one was clearly directed towards these Indian forces? The public could not have been directed by any possible vested elements at that early stage. In fact, the District Administration was mulling to propose shifting of the CRPF camp near which Neelofer’s body was recovered.

How did the Jan Commission qualify conduct of CRPF as “full cooperation” even though the redeployment and movement of CRPF personnel, to facilitate a cover-up, was witnessed by the locals of Shopian in the dead of night just one week after the rape and murder? Was Justice Jan under pressure to end the scope of CRPF involvement in the crime?  Or was this retired judge chosen for the cover-up? Otherwise how could a level-headed person qualify CRPF behavior as “full cooperation” and say this in the same report: “It does not appeal to reason that an individual civilian would, on his own, take a grave risk of detection, by carrying the dead bodies in the early hours of the morning of 30th May, 2009 between 2.30am to 5.30am, with full knowledge that his suspicious movements at odd hours would attract the attention of security guards posted in the area, unless the person would be sure of connivance from the watchful vision of the guards.”

In the words of noted legal luminary and writer, A G Noorani, a cruel and monumental fraud was played on the people of Kashmir. Is it a natural sequel to a series of constitutional frauds perpetrated on the people?

This anxiety by the Indian Home Minister and the systematic attempts by all the state institutions including labs and courts falls in a context as the news of five thousand (5000) kanals of forest land being grabbed by the army in the vicinity of Shopian town for a fresh army  camp there surfaces.

If involvement of Indian forces in the Shopian crime remains in the realm of prosecution would that make bringing up this “important” and huge army camp difficult? This camp is to cater to the forward positions of Poonch and Rajouri sectors, where new advancements in weapons and tactics have made Indian army positions more vulnerable to Pakistan, particularly in Noushera and Chhamb-Jurian sectors. It was because of this that Army was taking a special interest in early completion of the Mughal road project as can be confirmed from the engineering wing executing the project.

Had this public anger not been managed and controlled by the various state institutions in a certain direction away from the criminals, it would be difficult to establish another camp over 5000 kanals of land in the same area where their counterparts had committed such a heinous crime.

Public anger would have discouraged this hyper militarization of an already highly militarized area. The crime in Shopian is a result of militarization which fosters forced contact between the subdued local population and the military forces. This quantum jump in militarizing a small place like Shopian means that every girl of this area is a potential Aasia and a Neelofer with very little scope for even the kind of protest that followed their rape and murder.

The fresh military presence of this scale will subdue people even further and promote un-reported and un-protested crime by the army as in the areas bordering Line of Actual Control (LoC) with all other attendant consequences. Will then entire Kashmir be transformed into a suffocated border zone?

It was this objective of keeping the forces of army and the paramilitary out of the focus of the public rage and anger. It is for this purpose that some apologetic ‘senior citizens’ were activated as crisis managers to ensure that public anger does not  articulate and address itself to the global conscience and expose the designs and highlight the hyper-militarization of this highest militarized area of the world.

People of Kashmir and particularly Shopian, under the guidance of Majlis-Mashawarat, have shown tremendous courage and a will to sacrifice to defend their honor and dignity. Although there have been sustained efforts to de-contextualize their struggle for uncovering the criminals and seeking justice, it seems the Majlis has begun to realize more fully that an administration like this can not be expected to uncover truth or deliver justice.

This administration sustains itself on heavy militarization which creates the conditions for such crime, thus necessitating special laws to protect its armed forces from investigation and prosecution against all canons of international and human rights law and norms of civilized behavior. The Majlis pronouncement about a people’s probe is an indicator of this understanding. In Greater Kashmir of Sunday, the 23rd of August the spokesperson of Majlis Mr M Shafi Khan is quoted: “we have certain reservations about the investigation by CBI as the agency’s track record is not good when it comes to Kashmir. Since the police and the Paramilitary personnel are involved in the gruesome act of double rape and murder the central investigating agency might adopt a different approach here…. We will let the whole nation know about the ground realities and how the government and its investigating agencies have been trying to shield the real culprits and hush up the case”.

While investigations have emphasized the procedural conduct of the police in their handling of the investigation, they failed to focus on the actual crimes that were committed, the identification and prosecution of perpetrators, or the conduct of the state institutions. The investigations concentrated on locating collaborators and manufacturing scapegoats to subdue public outcry.

‘Control’ rather than ‘justice’ is the aim of the state apparatus. Through the conduct of inquiry into the deliberate mismanagement of the criminal investigations, the police were selectively implicated while the actions of CRPF personnel were not placed under diligent scrutiny. The police, it must be noted are understood as local, while the CRPF is understood as an Indian force.

The CRPF has been increasingly trained to function in corresponding capacity to the military. Its increased authority and use of force has been well documented. While the state government might seek to prosecute police personnel, its authority does not extend to the Army and Paramilitary forces. This, coupled with the immunity provided by various draconian laws, and powers to interfere and intrude into the daily lives of people are causal to the crimes committed by these Indian forces.

This state of immunity and exemption accorded to and expected by these forces encourages perpetration of crime over the weak and vulnerable native population perceived as hostile by the perpetrator. In the sex scandal case of March 2006, according to reports published in newspapers, thirteen out of the fifteen persons arrested, filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court of India, arguing that these personnel had previously served in counter-insurgency operations and that such service must bear on the case at hand and serve to neutralize the decision.

It was asked that violence perpetrated by the security apparatus be overlooked in lieu of services rendered in suppression of people. Such reasoning is admissible only if the task of security personnel is the suppression of civil society in Kashmir. Such logic automatically culminates in rewarding Indian forces for the acts of violence and reveals the fluid boundaries between fair and unfair in context of militarization in Kashmir.

The investigation has already fallen into a very familiar pattern of such probes and commissions of enquiry into rape and murder cases, including that of Badasgam Kokernag, Chanapora and Pazipora(1990),  Bahie Kokernag and Kunan Poshpora (1991), Chak Saidpora (1992), Haran (1992), Theno BudaPathri kangan (1994), Wawoosa (1997), etc. All of these were neither officially acknowledged nor investigated. Official acknowledgement of the sexual offensive against Kashmiri women would not only dismantle India’s grand narratives of national security; it would also thoroughly undermine state authority and the legitimacy of India in Kashmir. Asia Watch and Human Rights Watch noted in their report on rape in Kashmir: “rape by state forces is not a privately-motivated form of …abuse…but an abuse of power that implicates public responsibility”.

The system that works to control an entire people and their resources, preventing them to choose their own future, can not be expected to deliver justice. Demilitarization is the only way forward in ensuring justice to the victims of Shopian in particular and the people of Kashmir in general.

Shopian is not a simple case of rape and murder in a human rights sense alone, but a case of war crime so often used as a weapon by the Indian forces in Kashmir. Since Kashmir is an acknowledged international dispute, all cases of human rights abuse (war crimes) including Shopian should be heard by the international justice system rather than by the courts of the authorities. In an illegal military control like Kashmir the top police, CRPF, army and executive authorities should be made parties in cases like Shopian double rape and murder.

Justice can not be done in a heinous crime of this sort in the sense that nothing can be done to rehabilitate families of Aasia, Neelofer and the deeply bruised psyche of public in general. What is possible is to uncover the truth to end conditions that foster such crimes against humanity, particularly against women.

A Station House Officer or SHO, a local level police officer, can crack this crime and identify criminals provided he has the freedom and jurisdiction to investigate the Indian Paramilitary and Military forces stationed in Shopian.

Here the story is different. The criminals are still at large. The witnesses are also there. Only the long arm required to reach them is missing. This hoopla about all the evidence having been destroyed is being repeatedly played up deliberately as if there is no other way of establishing the identity of the criminals; as if all such crimes committed are cracked only after DNA investigations. Just think about how the crimes committed by civilians are cracked within few days by routine officers when they have the will and freedom to investigate.

No comments:

Post a Comment