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Mountain of cases in Valley of misery

This is the great judicial tragedy of Kashmir, a mountain of pending cases, never fast-tracked or retried despite precedents being set now, most prominently after the Gujarat riots, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2008 23:19 IST
Neelesh Misra

Two months apart, a young woman and four IAF 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 Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, then Home Minister of India. She was heading home in a bus after her day as an intern from a hospital on an icy afternoon on December 8, 1989, when she was abducted. She was released after a 122-hour crisis.

Then, on January 25, Squadron Leader RK Khanna and three other IAF men were waiting for a pick-up when they were sprayed with bullets.

Two decades later, no one has been convicted in the two cases and in most others related to the insurgency in Kashmir. A huge number of trials have not even begun.

This is the great judicial tragedy of Kashmir — a mountain of pending cases, never fast-tracked or retried despite precedents being set now — most prominently after the Gujarat riots. These include human rights violations by security forces to disappearances, rapes; and numerous cases of murder and arson 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.”

The accused include a range of influential people — from soldiers and officers in the army, paramilitary forces and police accused of human rights abuses to separatist leaders like Yasin Malik, a former militant leader accused in both the Rubaiyya Sayeed and IAF killing 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 IAF cases. “But the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force here, requires central government permission before trials.”

From 1989 to 2002, Malik 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 often travels 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.

“Politics requires that these cases must linger. But that is hardly a long term strategy,” said Tulsi.