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Killing of civilians in Valley: Justice is not only crucial, but critical

The army has a right to give its version of events but it is important that it joins the magisterial inquiry in the interest of justice, because no one can refute the fact that three civilians died because of army bullets.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2018 10:17 IST
Harinder Baweja
Harinder Baweja
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Killing of civilians,Army firing,Shopian killing
Paramilitary soldiers stand guard during restrictions in downtown area of Srinagar.(HT File Photo)

The father of an army officer has petitioned the Supreme Court asking for the quashing of an FIR in which his son is named. The father has a right to defend his son, Major Aditya, but the controversy surrounding the killing of three civilians in south Kashmir’s Shopian has revealed many ugly warts and prised open several wounds.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti ordered a magisterial inquiry soon after the January 27 Shopian killings. According to an FIR lodged by the state police, a company of the 10th Garhwal battalion led by Major Aditya was on its way for official duty when it came under attack.

A few days after the FIR was registered, the army gave its own version of events to the police, claiming it opened firing on the protesters in self defence after seven of its personnel were injured.

The army has a right to give its version of events but it is important that it join the magisterial inquiry in the interest
of justice, because no one can refute the fact that three civilians died because of army bullets.

Mehbooba’s alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is not helping by publicly demanding that the police FIR be quashed. This not only weakens an already beleaguered chief minister but also sends an unpalatable message that the army is above reproach.

Mehbooba has steadfastly refused to budge and made it clear that the inquiry will be taken to its logical conclusion.

She, in fact, told the state assembly that she had ordered the probe after speaking to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The BJP’s open defence of the army is not surprising but the party needs to ask itself if its position increases the trust deficit between the army and the common Kashmiri.

There are other Kashmir-related incidences for which army courts have found soldiers guilty.

One example is that of the Machhil encounter, which led to the unrest in the Valley in 2010. While the army found five of its personnel including a Colonel-rank officer guilty of luring three labourers and shooting them dead as ”unidentified infiltrating militants”, their life sentences were overturned by an Armed Forces Tribunal in July 2017.

Many Kashmiris have been asking how such excesses can go unpunished.

The question is more than valid in an alienated Valley that has been crying out for political resolution. The Narendra Modi government has appointed an interlocutor and Mehbooba has withdrawn cases against stone pelters, but a lot more needs to be done.

The army has the unenviable job of operating in a hostile environment, and it is in its own interest to back the process of justice. Kashmir is not where the BJP should be leading with its nationalistic card.

The ground reality calls for a mature approach in which fairness and justice are not just crucial, but critical.

First Published: Feb 09, 2018 09:51 IST