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Kashmir – Sikh carnage and after:
Who is shielding the guilty?
By Sara Wani
|Srinagar: Kashmiri Sikhs are angry. On Wednesday, March the 20th, the second anniversary of the Chitisinghpora carnage in which 35 of their members were killed by a group of gunmen who came in army attire for the routine cordon-and-search operation, Sikh leaders said the governments at Srinagar and Delhi have dithered them both.
"We want the perpetrators be brought to book. We fail to understand why government is not initiating the probe into the incident even after making a formal announcement more than a year back. Let government come clear and call spade a spade", said Charan Singh Bali, President Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), Kashmir unit.
But the anger against the government transcends beyond communities. The Sikh carnage that shook the subcontinent at a time when the then US President Bill Clinton was in town, triggered a series of massacres. Even though one massacre was probed and another judicial probe was announced recently to investigate why the special investigation in another massacre led to tampering of vital evidences, the people in general are puzzled why the government has miserably failed in hammering out the truth. Though the strife-ridden state has witnessed near about 100 major massacres during last 14 years, the killings which started from Chitisingpora were globally reported and debated.
Holding militants responsible for the Sikh carnage, the government claimed they have arrested "the butcher" of the Sikhs and on March 26, the army and the state police's anti-militancy Special Operations Group (SOG) claimed they have killed the five militants responsible for the massacre at far-off Gujjar village of Panchalthan. Most of the five bodies were roasted beyond recognition. Even though the police thought they have closed the file, the subsequent developments proved it otherwise.
Between the Chattisinghpora massacre and Panchalthan "encounter" as many 17 persons had gone missing in the belt. Locals, who were hunting for their missing members, found clear indications and evidences suggesting the slain were in fact five of them. They launched a movement to seek the exhumation of the five bodies. Most of the south Kashmir remained paralysed for a week and the government with her mighty forces remained unmoved.
On April 3, 2000 when a huge procession of villagers was on its way to meet the district authorities in Anantnag, they were stopped in the peripheral village of Brakpora and fired upon. Eight civilians were mowed down and 14 were injured. The dead included the son of missing Juma Khan, who had traced some belongings of his father from the site of the "encounter". The government was forced to act. Barring five, all the missing persons returned home to tell their families that they were "rescued by the police from an army camp".
Everybody demanded investigations in the trial of death that started from Chattisinghpora. Government accepted the demand partially. Justice S R Pandian, a retired judge of Supreme Court of India, was appointed to conduct a probe of the last of the three incidents which was actually the culmination of the earlier two incidents. He completed the inquiry in over five months time and submitted his 255 page report to the government in October 2000. Three personnel from SOG and four from CRPF were indicted.
"We have accepted the report in toto", said the Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah on October 31, 2000 while releasing the report at his Gupkar residence. "This is a chain and needs to be solved", said Dr Abdullah. "Pathribal (Panchlathan) happened because of Chattisinghpora and Brakpora was because of Pathribal so it is a chain", he added. After Justice Pandian refused to go for another enquiry, the request of identifying a suitable judge was refereed to the union government. A response is awaited even in March 2002.
However, the Brakpora massacre forced the government to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the police to investigate the Panchalthan "encounter". On April 6, 2000, when corpses were exhumed, their kins identified all the five as those of Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and Juma Khan, Mohammed Yousuf Malik and Juma Khan son of Amir Khan. Though they were returned to their claimants, to ensure that the bodies belonged to the families, a decision to use the DNA fingerprinting technique was taken. The 4-member forensic expert team from the state run Government Medical College Srinagar took out their DNA extracts which was to be matched with the samples of their relatives. Samples of the dead were taken from serum, certain specific tissues, hair as well as skull, abdomen and chest. The samples were belatedly dispatched to the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad.
Nobody knew what actually happened. It was on March 6, 2002 that the Times of India carried the banner that DNA samples were actually fudged to mislead the experts. The samples of the dead were to be matched with the samples taken from the female kin’s of the dead. In three cases, according to the report the samples labeled with female identities turned out to be that of males. In one case, the samples of two persons were mixed and sent in the name of another female. The report said that officials tampered with the samples in order to mislead the investigations. The report from the Hydrabad Centre had come to the state government on February 26, 2001.
Initially the government tried to manage the damage saying the samples sent to Central Forensic Laboratory in Kolkotta were awaited. A few days later when a similar damning report came from this laboratory, the government had no option but to announce a judicial probe. Justice (retd) G A Kuchay, who earlier headed the state run Human Rights Commission was appointed to investigate as to who from the medical fraternity or the police fudged with the samples to mislead the investigations. Four doctors, one police officer of the rank of Dy SP and a couple of para-medics were placed under suspension. Fresh samples were collected from the surviving kin’s of the slain five and sent to the two laboratories under watchful eyes and media gaze.
Even though one probe has concluded, another was announced recently to enquire into the tampering of evidences there is a question that remains un-answered. Why the Central government is not nominating a retired apex court judge who would look into the all three incidents starting from Chitisinghpora? The Pandian Commission that probed the Brakpora massacre has suggested it and the state government has accepted the recommendation and sought help from Union Home Ministry. Whom New Delhi is shielding by not identifying the judge?
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