Blame the System, Not the Sucker
By David Lepeska
Zero tolerance. It's a phrase Kashmiris have heard a great deal in the past couple of years. A promise of behavioral discipline on the part of Indian armed forces in Kashmir, made first by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad when he assumed his post in late 2005, and again six months later by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They swore "zero tolerance for custodial deaths." But what is zero tolerance, exactly? What does it mean, in practice, in reality? Recent events demand we take a closer look.
Last week a routine Ganderbal police investigation uncovered a falsified encounter with militants that ended in the killing of Abdul Rahman Padder, a 35-year-old Kokernag carpenter who made the fatal mistake of trusting Farooq Ahmad Padder, his ostensible friend and a low-level SOG officer.
In early December Farooq Ahmad, finding himself in possession of a cache of seized militant weapons, called Abdul Rahman in Batmaloo and told him to wait for him; apparently he had told his acquaintance that he could help him. Instead, he snatched up Abdul Rahman and brutally killed him, then hurriedly buried the young father and offered his superiors a few previously seized weapons as proof of his victim's (falsified) militancy. W ithout any questioning or investigation, Farooq Ahmad and his fellow constable were immediately awarded Rs 1.2 lakhs each for the killing of an enemy of the state. Despite the fact that they had almost zero evidence to support their claim and that they had in truth committed pre-meditated murder on an innocent, law-abiding Kashmiri, a crime for which any one of us would be condemned and punished with the full force of the law, these two officers were rewarded handsomely. This is not zero tolerance; this is a deeply flawed system.
As details of the story spread the Valley seethed, with open expressions of anger and cries for vengeance, while further investigations turned up three more potential incidents of recent trumped up encounters with militants that resulted in civilian deaths. (On Friday, the victim of another such encounter – a perfume seller that had gone missing a year ago – was identified by his wife.) Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad denounced the Ganderbal incident and called for a judicial inquiry into the Padder killing. Meanwhile, frustrated Kashmiris turned bloodthirsty; thousands of angry locals attended Thursday's disinterment of Abdul Rahman in Sumbal, throwing stones at military personnel and demanding that the guilty parties be hanged.
Indeed, it is all too easy to focus our rage and frustration on Farooq Ahmad. If, as it appears, he was the mastermind of this gruesome and unjust slaying, he is a liar and a murderer and a traitor to his own people, deserving of neither forgiveness nor sympathy. Yet Farooq Ahmad is no more than a sucker, a warped Manchurian candidate and the product of a demented security apparatus that degrades human life – Kashmiri lives, to be specific – to the point of negation. For Indian security personnel the line between good and bad Kashmiri was blurred long ago, ever since several soldiers opened fire on protesting civilians in Bijbehara in 1993, or perhaps even sooner. Under the Special Powers and Disturbed Areas Acts Indian forces have been killing Kashmiris on mere suspicion for nearly two decades, receiving not punishment but rewards and promotions as a result. According to an international rights group that released a detailed study of abuses in Kashmir late last year, such practices have become embedded in the culture of Indian security.
"Police and army officials have told Human Rights Watch that security forces often execute alleged militants instead of bringing them to trial," HRW wrote recently. "Most of those summarily executed are falsely reported to have died during armed clashes between the army and militants in 'encounter killings.' This is done with the knowledge of superior officers and has led to a culture where security forces feel they can murder persons in their custody for rewards and promotions."
Indeed, in September 2003 Abdul Hamid Ganie was killed by officers of this same department – the Ganderbal SOG – because of a debt owed to an SOG officer by his brother Rashid. Afterwards, the perpetrators forced a local dentist untrained in autopsy to sign papers claiming the death had occurred in a gun-battle. A subsequent professional examination revealed torture and pointed towards a custodial killing, but over three years later no charges have been filed and the accused officers still hold the same jobs.
"'These people are like trained killer dogs,'" one senior police official told Human Rights Watch, referring to the SOG. "'Once unleashed, it is difficult to keep them in check.'"
So is it any wonder that Farooq Ahmad killed Abdul Rahman, and that fake encounters and custodial killings continue to occur with regularity? The Indian armed forces put the carrot out there long ago, for all to see. All Farooq Ahmad did was reach out and take a bite.
For his part, CM Azad has altered his tune, saying Thursday that the insurgency made maintaining zero level of human rights violations difficult. He then underscored his argument by pointing out the inability of the all-powerful U.S.A. to eradicate human rights violations in Iraq.
Although weak-kneed and incomplete, his point is well-made. With some 7 lakh security personnel patrolling the state, there will inevitably be some mistakes, some of which will be fatal violations of human rights. It's unfortunate, but it's also the nature of imperfect man; no matter how vigilant the Indian government, keeping watch over every soldier every hour of the day is simply not possible.
Keeping this in mind, then, why not take the next step? Since individual soldiers can never be completely controlled, the system itself must be changed. Soldiers should not be rewarded for murdering Indian citizens, for instance, nor should they be able to kill, arrest, and harass with impunity. Not only because it is morally and socially wrong, but because these practices foster the very cycle of violence they are meant to stamp out; fake encounters and unjust custodial killings inspire Kashmiris to turn militant, precipitating further battles and Indian army deaths, thus justifying future rights violations by Indian security personnel, and so on.
Although he later retracted his statement, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq called last month for an end to the violence, claiming the militants "have not achieved anything other than creating more graveyards." Coming from the leader of a supposed separatist faction, this was an unprecedented and powerful statement, signaling a potential sea change in Kashmiri sentiment vis a vis India. Further, the total death count for 2006 was about 1000, the lowest total since the war began in 1990 and a mere one fifth of the total killed as recently as 2002. Clearly, the climate in Kashmir is changing, and if the Central Government wants to foster any semblance of goodwill in the local populace it should alter its policies to reflect this cooling of hostilities.
And here, right on cue, is the perfect opportunity for Azad and, by implication, Singh, to prove their mettle. Here they have a case in which, by all appearances, human rights were violated and a horribly unlawful custodial death was the result. The evidence seems clear: Farooq Ahmad's number on Abdul Rahman's mobile phone in the days and hours leading up to his early December disappearance; a quickie burial; and false claims of Pakistani origin and armed militancy. How should they proceed? Get the DNA results, investigate the crime with an open and transparent judicial inquiry, and, if the findings merit it, punish the perpetrators of these crimes: put them on trial and send them to prison or death, whatever is deemed appropriate.
But more importantly, revamp the system. Zero tolerance is not just a penalty to be meted out after the fact; it is as much about prevention as punishment. The culture of operating above the law, of killing Kashmiris for reward, must be altered. The Central Government must use its security apparatus to display its intolerance towards these offences and violations, towards unlawful kidnappings, abuse, and custodial killings. In light of a less violent, more diplomatically engaged political climate in Kashmir, the Centre should be capable of making concessions to Kashmiris, who have for a generation suffered grave losses and been understandably unsure of their loyalties. End the black laws. Disband, or at least re-train and rein in, the renegade Special Operations Group officers. If rewards must be handed out they should be offered only when foreign rebels are killed on Indian territory and after concrete proof –more than mere weapons – has been confirmed.
For until zero tolerance is actually enforced – until the state-sponsored perpetrators of these vile acts face justice and the Indian security forces' contemptible culture of falsifying killings and rewarding murder is eliminated – peace in Kashmir will be no more real than the militancy of Kokernag carpenter Abdul Rahman Padder, may he rest in peace.
--David Lepeska is a keen Kashmir Observer
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" src="http://www.kashmirobserver.com/images/commentname.gif"> Editor 03.02.
Very Well written David. Completely agree with these views. Its time for India to act decisively and transparently.
" src="http://www.kashmirobserver.com/images/commentname.gif"> Kaushal Desai 03.02.
Its nothing new. Such Genocides are taking place in KASHMIR by the Indian security forces everyday .Its nothing but SHAME for India.I am an American who was in kashmir in 2003.During my trip i was really shocked to see how Indian Forces treat Kashmiri people which i cannot even explain.This has to stop. Moury Becker San Francsico
" src="http://www.kashmirobserver.com/images/commentname.gif"> firstname.lastname@example.org 03.02.
These incidents are shocking and horrifying but not surprising to Kashmiri's. People like Farooq have committed a grave crime but they have been given an oppurtunity by the demented security apparatus that makes Kashmir a war zone. In criminology, the Rational Choice Theory adopts a practical belief that man is a reasoning actor who weighs means and ends, costs and benefits, and makes a rational choice. It assumes that the rational decision is always the decision that will maximize gain and minimize pain for each individual. Therefore, if the actor is rational, the state can influence any given decision by ensuring that the perpetrators of the crime are brought to book and given a tough punishment. This is supposed to serve as a deterrent both specific (the person will not do it again) as well as general. Now take the case of Kashmir. Indian forces enjoy special powers; they can question, arrest, torture and kill anyone and they are not accountable for tnything they do. There is a bonus too and every killing fetches monetary rewards, encouragement and promotion. It is, therefore, no surprise that hundreds and thousands of innocent Kashmiri's have been arrested, tortured, killed and many more have been subjected to enforced disappearance. When you give a free hand to kill, it is only natural to have horrifying and shocking incidents happening on a daily basis. India may have initiated a peace process and it vows to settle the Kashmir dispute by peaceful means but for a common Kashmiri it means nothing. As long as the special powers act is in place Kashmiri's will continue to endure death and destruction. The biggest confidence building measure would be to repeal the draconian law; in fact this should have been a pre-condition of Huriyat Conference to participate in any kind of peace process. If the killings persist the peace process will cease to make sense and so will the Huriyat.
" src="http://www.kashmirobserver.com/images/commentname.gif"> Sameer 03.02.
In same Gandrebal area wandhama massacre was done by these Muslims. Who bothered? Other Hindus ran away, some houses are occupied, some vandalized, some thrown away in distress sale, some occupied by security forces, this is all gift of Muslims to the Hindus in the villages of Kashmir. And how many of them were killed there? History as they say repeats itself. Murdering the people, then cutting them to pieces, binding the people by rope to the jeeps and then drag them through villages so that they die by striking and fiction on the stones on road was first done by Muslims in villages of Kashmir to the Hindus, that was the Jihad to kill local by the local, now these people are killed on the same pattern, the difference is that these people were killed secretly and people in 1990 were killed openly with most brutal fashion without regard to the human rights of those Hindus, What these people will tell now, look like crocodiles as they are????? Sixty massacres of Hindus in J&K on their head? Where is their cry for justice? WHERE IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS THERE?
" src="http://www.kashmirobserver.com/images/commentname.gif"> kishore 04.02.