Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s declaration in Srinagar on Monday that his government will not tolerate human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir might be difficult to implement because of the army’s policy of rewarding soldiers monetarily for each terrorist or infiltrator killed.
It is true that in the interiors of Jammu and Kashmir, the army has been doing commendable work by running development works, vocational training centres, schools, ensuring water supply, building bridges and roadside shelters to protect locals from the harsh winters. People in these border areas – not easily accessed by the civilian administration, especially during disasters -- see the army as the only face of democratic India. But this face has been smeared by some allegedly fake encounters in which ‘terrorists’ and ‘infiltrators’ have been killed by troops and officers eager to earn handsome rewards and promotions along with kudos from superiors.
Anger over what people see as fake encounters spreads to the rest of the Valley, sullying the army’s image and making a mockery of the central government’s declaration of zero tolerance to violation of human rights in the eyes of the people.
For each ‘terrorist’ killed, an army man gets a reward of Rs 200,000 and this is an attractive amount for soldiers and officers – some of who may care more for their bank balance than for human rights.
In the April 30 ‘encounter’ in Machail in Kupwara district (140 km northwest of Srinagar) near the Line of Control, three villagers in search of work were lured by fellow Kashmiris looking for some lucre and handed over to the army as ‘infiltrators’. They were promptly shot dead. The three ‘informers’ were paid Rs 50,000 each and the three armymen against whom an enquiry has been instituted, were paid Rs 150,000 each, said a well placed official source who did not want to be named.
The defence spokesperson and senior army officers were unavailable for comment on the killing and the army’s policy of giving rewards for killing terrorists and infiltrators.
Ordinary Kashmiris are not satisfied by the removal of Col. D.K. Pathania and the suspension of Major Bhupinder Singh of 4 Rajput Regiment as a beginning of the action against the suspected accused in the Machail ‘encounter’.
“Nothing more will be done after this to punish the armymen. We have seen all this in the past and this time will be no different,” said Idrees Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar.
“This is spilling of blood of innocents and it is being done by the Indian Army despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to zero tolerance towards such human rights abuses,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
The main opposition People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti has used this case to bring into focus the issue of demilitarisation and revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. “We believe that the presence of troops and the special powers they have got are at the root of such killings,” she said.
The J&K government on its part feels such killings harm its credibility and existence. “This amounts to destabilisation of our government,” the chief minister’s advisor, Mubarak Gul, told mediapersons last week.
Such killings indeed negate the good work done by the army in the border state. Indian troops, risking their lives, were the first to reach and rescue people in the March 2005 snow tsunami and earthquake in October that year.
“Our army has done a great job. They have virtually saved us from death and starvation,” Gulabo Jan, a resident of Teetwal had told this reporter who visited the area a week after the quake in 2005.
But with the Machail killings, fingers have again been raised against the army and the Indian state. And the army itself has given them a reason.