Body bags, not blossoms, in Kashmir’s spring

Killings in Shopian never investigated fully, justice is thwarted

Body bags, not blossoms, in Kashmir’s spring
Fingers always remain crossed when it comes to predicting any type of weather in Kashmir. For the last few years all seasons have been shadowed by gloom that has only been punctuated by the question of what will happen next.

This year, 2018, did not start with a glimmer of hope that could have made people’s lives tolerable. And now that Spring, one of Kashmir’s most cherished seasons, is coming, we enter the season with bad news. Four civilians were killed by the Army in Shopian in an action which it is struggling to justify.

For the average Kashmiri it was a routine affair as killings like this have been taking place for a long time and the only way to cope is to mourn. The blossoms are replaced with body bags. Indeed, Shopian has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for quite some time now. In January, three civilians were killed by the Army while defending itself against a mob. The defiant population has been putting up a stiff resistance, though justice remains elusive.

What is more painful is that the truth remains obfuscated in the versions of each side. In this case too, the Army justified the killing of civilians, saying that they were, “Over Ground Workers” accompanying a militant who was in travelling in a car with them. The militant and his associate were also killed. The actual circumstances are not known and may not come to light ever as has been the case for scores of such incidents that have soaked the soil with blood.

Consider this: On day one (March 4) the Army maintained that they were OGWs. The next day, (March 5) it amended its version. “It is a matter of investigation. There is a very thin line between a civilian and an Over Ground Worker. They were definitely civilians. It is a matter of investigation as to what extent they were involved in supporting the militants,” Brigadier Harbir Singh, Commander 12 Rashtriya Rifles (a counter-insurgency force of the Army) told reporters. So even if an investigation is completed and they will be declared innocent, who will bring back their lives?
While the police maintained that they were investigating the matter, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that they were civilians killed in crossfire. This is a serious contradiction, as the Army did not use the word "crossfire"

While the police maintained that they were investigating the matter, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that they were civilians killed in crossfire. This is a serious contradiction, as the Army did not use the word “crossfire”. How they would have come in the middle of crossfire is ambiguous? The end result, however, is that four civilians have lost their lives.

What can bring closure to this incident is a fair investigation. That, however, has not been the case with previous incidents. Justice remains at a distance as different versions that suit one or the other side define the narrative. Here the situation is interesting as the state government may not even dare to file the First Information Report (FIR) that could pave the way for an investigation. The state government had to bite the dust just a day after these four killings took place.

In the case of civilian killings in the same area (Shopian) on January 27, the police had filed an FIR against the Army, led by Major Aditya of 10 Garhwal. There was much hue and cry and most of the TV channels which have taken the agenda of nationalism upon themselves, rallied behind the Major and justified the civilian killings. For the first time a family member of a serving Army officer went to the Supreme Court and had the FIR and investigations stayed.

The role of the state police was completely diminished. Ironically, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was invoked at the initial stage only as till now we know that it bails out some armed forces personnel who have erred, at the time of prosecution. The unbridled powers of the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir have thwarted justice in a number of cases but the way it has come to play now is aborting the process of delivering justice at the very beginning. A magisterial probe ordered by the government earlier also becomes irrelevant and the fate of investigations in Kashmir over the last 27 years is the same. Interestingly, the state government has held back itself on ordering a magisterial probe this time as it was routine. Perhaps it felt awkward about doing something that would have no tangible effect on the situation.

South Kashmir of which Shopian is a part, has been caught up in a grind of violence for the last few years. Public anger against the state has reached a crescendo. It was one of the nerve centres of the 2016 unrest in which Kashmir was locked down for six months when the sufferings of the people reached unprecedented levels. The loss of nearly 100 lives and chaos prevailed for a long time. The strategy to control public outrage was to use pellet guns that blinded young Kashmiris. Their despondency and frustration spurred many to join militant ranks. Sources in the police admit that 130 local youngsters have joined the militants in the last one year. “But that does not change the pattern,” a top official told TFT, acknowledging that, “Their joining the militant ranks increases public support for violence and that is the cause of concern.”

Most of the locals who have joined militancy are locally trained and don’t have many weapons. The political shift and growing unrest in South Kashmir is the outcome of the denial that Kashmir is no longer a political problem and “only a hardline, muscular and military approach will settle it”. That unfortunately has proven to be counter-productive. Denial of justice in the latest round of killings in Shopian will aggravate the situation and push more people towards the path of violence. Major Aditya and his supporters might be celebrating the SC order, but it is largely the Indian state which is losing it in Kashmir.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Srinagar (Kashmir) and can be reached at