Two months apart, a young woman and four Indian Air Force officers were on two different roads in Srinagar when militants swooped in. Weeks and months apart over the past two decades, ordinary Kashmiris were raped, killed and brutalised.
The young woman was 23-year-old Rubaiyya Sayeed, daughter of former J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who was then the Home Minister of India. She had taken a bus from the Lal Ded Memorial Hospital on an icy Friday afternoon on December 8, 1989, headed home after her day as an intern. Rubaiyya was released after a 122-hour crisis. Then on January 25, Squadron Leader RK Khanna and three other Indian Air Force men stood waiting for a pick up when they were sprayed with bullets.
Two decades later, no one has yet been convicted in both the cases — and most others related to the insurgency in Kashmir. In a huge number, trials have not even begun.
This is the great judicial tragedy of Kashmir, a mountain of thousands of pending cases, never fast-tracked or retried despite such precedents being set now — most prominently after the Gujarat riots. These include human rights violations by security forces to disappearances, rapes and other widespread abuses; and numerous cases of murder, arson and attempts to murder involving Kashmiri Pandits.
“We need fast track courts for such cases. Letting them linger in court is to let wounds fester. It is cancerous,” said leading Supreme Court lawyer KTS Tulsi.
“Courts must deal with these cases with a sense of urgency. Traditionally, in areas of conflict, the judiciary has taken a backseat … even in Punjab or Assam, the judiciary did not discharge its proper responsibility, as it should have.”
The accused include a range of influentials — from soldiers and officers in the army, paramilitary and police accused of widespread human rights abuses, to separatist leaders like Yasin Malik, a former militant leader accused in both the Rubaiyya Sayeed and the Air Force killings cases.
“Fast track courts are needed for cases like rapes in rural areas by security forces, custodial killings, disappearances,” said leading J&K lawyer Zafar Shah, who also represents Malik and the other accused in the Rubaiyya Sayeed and air force cases.
“But the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force here, requires central government permission before such trials.”
From 1989 to 2002, Yasin Malik, former militant leader, has 23 criminal cases pending against him. Despite the provisions of the Passport Act of 1967 prohibiting it, his passport is renewed every year by the Central government, and he has often travelled abroad with the permission of courts.
“It has to be acknowledged: there has been conviction in only a handful —maybe less than 10 — such cases affecting Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits, although tens of thousands of people have died,” said a senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is nothing formal — it is an informal decision. The government of India believes that separatists should be issued passports for one year,” a senior intelligence official said.
“Politics requires that these cases must linger. But that is hardly a long term strategy,” said Tulsi.