Condemn the Army verdict in the Pathribal false encounter case!

No to army rule in Kashmir!

People in Kashmir and democratic minded people all over India are outraged by the clean chit given by the Army to its own personnel who were charged with the brutal torture and murder of 5 ordinary civilians in Pathribal, Kashmir, in March 2000. The people of Kashmir have been waiting for justice for 14 long years, for these villagers who were randomly picked up by personnel of the 7 Rashtriya Rifles and shot dead, and whose bodies were then hacked and burnt and buried in a mass grave. MEL denounces this total travesty of justice and outrage against humanity. We call for an immediate end to the stranglehold of the Army over Kashmir.

It will be recalled that the murder of the 5 civilians in Pathribal closely followed the brutal gunning down of more than 30 Sikh residents of the nearby village of Chattisinghpora in Kashmir. The Chattisinghpora massacre took place just on the eve of the then US President Clinton’s visit to India, and the Indian state used it to launch a high profile blame campaign against Pakistan at the time of Clinton’s visit. Shortly after, the Indian state announced that the Army had caught 5 ‘foreign militants’ who had been involved in the Chhatisinghpora massacre, and that they had been killed after a fierce ‘encounter’.

This concocted story began to unravel when public opinion in Kashmir strongly opposed it. The then Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir was forced to agree to exhume the bodies of the so-called ‘foreign militants’ against strong opposition from the army and central government. DNA tests were conducted to establish their identity. A blatant attempt was made to falsify the DNA tests, leading to a second round of tests being conducted. These tests conclusively established that the bodies in the grave did not belong to ‘foreign militants’, but to certain local villagers who had gone ‘missing’, as so often happens to residents in Kashmir. The Jammu & Kashmir then asked for a CBI inquiry. The CBI inquiry after extensive investigation came out with its report in May 2006. The report established that the Pathribal ‘encounter’ was nothing other than ‘cold-blooded murder’, in its own words, and it identified 5 personnel of the 7 Rashtriya Rifles as being responsible, including a Brigadier and a Lt. Colonel.

The court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate convicted all the accused and this was upheld by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court. The Army then took the case to the Supreme Court, claiming that under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), army personnel could not be charged without the Army’s permission. The Supreme Court decisively intervened on the side of the Army. It gave the Army the choice of either giving permission, or else trying its personnel itself. The Army opted to hold its own court martial. On January 23 this year, this court martial delivered its verdict whitewashing the whole crime and completely exonerating the accused, without even bothering to respond to the detailed charges in the CBI charge sheet.

What does the whole saga of the Pathribal false encounter case show?

First of all, that in the conditions of Kashmir, where the rule of the bourgeoisie has had no credibility, it will continue to defend this rule through the jackboots of the armed forces. The ruling bourgeoisie has reiterated that the armed forces can commit the most outrageous atrocities with complete impunity in Kashmir. These are not "mistakes" but part of the official policy of the ruling class to crush the aspirations of the people of Kashmir for their human, democratic and national rights.

Secondly, that the government's its army's claim of ‘zero tolerance’ of human rights abuses in Kashmir are nothing but a sham. While there have been 1 or 2 instances of some low level army personnel being punished for some atrocity in order to get some "rewards", the government and the armed forces retain the right to decide what kind of atrocities are justified. No principles or legal process are followed, and the people of Kashmir have no rights vis-a-vis the Army.

The fact that the accused in the Pathribal case were completely exonerated despite the detailed and damaging evidence provided by the CBI itself, shows that the highest levels of the state, including the Army, the central government and judiciary, together colluded in this. All thinking people must ask why this was the case. It now appears quite likely that the horrendous Chhatisinghpora massacre and the Pathribal false encounter, coming just before and after the US President’s visit, were orchestrated to paint a picture of how terrorism in Kashmir is being organized from Pakistan. That is why the lid is being firmly pushed down on the whole case even when the truth came out in the open.

It is clear that Army rule in Kashmir is nothing other than the worst form of state terrorism, and it must be ended forthwith. The hated AFSPA must be repealed without any conditions. All cases of ‘missing persons’ and ‘encounters’ must be brought to light and re-examined, and the families of the victims must be given justice. This is the absolute minimum for any political solution to emerge to the problem in Kashmir.

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