Ghulam Mohammad Mir (69) has lived with overwhelming sorrow for six years. His son Bilal Ahmad, a driver with the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Corporation, was shot dead by the state police in 2001 in what is widely believed to have been a fake encounter. All these years, Mir has been trying to get the state to investigate his son’s death, without success.
Last week the Srinagar High Court, based on a petition Mir filed two years ago, directed the state to explain what happened to Ahmad. How much longer the case will drag on is anybody’s guess.
But what is clear is that extra-judicial killings all over the country are coming under increasing public and judicial scrutiny. The killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a petty thief, and his wife a year ago by the Gujarat police grabbed the nation’s attention after the Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to expedite investigations into the deaths. Indeed, the investigation is increasingly being seen as a test case of the Indian state’s commitment to the rule of law.
During the long, vicious struggle in Kashmir between security forces and secessionist groups, extra-judicial killings have become almost banal occurrences, say human rights groups. Lawyer Parvez Imroz said he has documented 32 cases of civilians branded as terrorists and shot by security forces over the past five years alone.
Imroz lamented that civil society outside Kashmir had not taken up cases of extra-judicial killings in his state. “In Sohrabuddin’s case, the entire country’s media and civil society joined hands to expose the killers,” he said. “But in Kashmir, they ignore extra-judicial killings, which have become accepted as a part of the system.”
The police denies the prevalence of fake encounters in the state. On Thursday, the state’s governor staunchly defended the army. “The army’s respect for human rights is exemplary,” said Lt. Gen. SK Sinha, adding that violations were aberrations.
The ruling coalition of the People’s Democratic Party and the Congress claims it has increased accountability among security forces.
“For the first time in Kashmir’s history, a police officer was arrested for staging fake encounters,” Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, referring to HS Parihar, who along with six other officials, was arrested for killing carpenter Abdul Rahman Paddar in a fake encounter.