Finding the truth in the Chittisinghpora Massacre
Five days after the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora, on 25 March 2000, troops killed five men in Pathribal village of Islamabad district claiming that the victims were “foreign militants” responsible for the attacks.
Decade on, justice eludes Pathribal victims
KHALID GUL-Islamabad, Mar 24: “I know the troopers involved in the murder of my son won’t be punished. I don’t expect justice from the perpetrators. I only want to see the faces of killers once so that I would ask them the reason for snatching my beloved,” says Raja Bano of Moominabad of this south Kashmir town.
Her only son, Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, was among the five persons killed by the Army in a fake encounter at Pathribal village and dubbed as foreign militants responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs five days earlier at Chittisinghpora.
For 10 years, the house of Raja Bano is locked and she is living with her brother in a nearby house.
“Zahoor, my only son among five daughters, was only four years old when his father died during Haj pilgrimage,” says Raja. She says that he picked up a business at a tender age and was doing quite well with the support of his maternal uncles.
Recalling the fateful day, when Zahoor, aged 25 went missing, Raja says, “he left for evening walk never to return. His friends told us that while they were walking, a red colour van stopped near the CRPF camp outside our house and whisked him away. After running from pillar to post for five days to know his whereabouts, a villager in Pathribal handed to one of our relatives a torn piece of maroon sweater he was wearing. Soon we came to know that he too was among the five people killed in a fake encounter by the army in Pathribal.”
“I have kept every belonging including the clothing of Zahoor locked in an almirah and each time he comes in my dreams asking me to donate them to poor,” says Raja with tears brimming in her eyes.
Zahoor’s uncle Nazir Ahmad Dalal says that despite the investigating agencies identifying the culprits, they are still at large.
“Though the successive governments had assured of bringing the perpetrators to book, all their promises turned to be hollow,” said Nazir.
The other four civilians killed by army include Muhammad Yousuf Malik of Kokernag, Bashir Ahmed Bhat of Kapran Dooru, Juma Khan (son of Faqeer Khan) of Brari Angan and Juma Khan (son of Sher Ali Khan) of Brari Angan.
‘For the families of the five killed civilians, the past 10 years have been an agonizing struggle to forget. The mere mention of Pathribal means revisiting the day and the dreaded night of March 22, 2000 when their kin went missing, only to be exhumed a week later from jungle graves. For the two Gujjar families of Brari Angan, the horror started at midnight with a knock on the door. And for the other three, their sons disappeared, one after the other, in broad daylight. ‘When my husband was taken that night, I thought he would be freed because he was elderly. But they killed him,’ says Roshan Jan, wife of Juma Khan, who was one of those killed.
Five days after the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora, on 25 March 2000, troops killed five men in Pathribal village of Islamabad district claiming that the victims were “foreign militants” responsible for the attacks. Official reports claimed that after a gunfight, troops had blown up the hut where the men were hiding, and had retrieved five bodies that had been charred beyond recognition. The bodies were buried separately without any post mortem.
Locals and political activists doubted the official reports however, pointing out that if there had been a gunfight, some of troops would have sustained injuries - but none were. Over the following days, locals began to protest, claiming that the slain men were civilians killed in a fake encounter and were no “foreign militants.”
According to them, up to 17 men had been detained by the police and “disappeared” between March 21 and 24. On March 30, local authorities in Islamabad relented to growing public pressure and agreed to exhume the bodies and conduct an investigation into the deaths.
With no action being taken with regard to the promised investigation into the Pathribal deaths, the local population grew increasingly restless. On 3 April 2000, an estimated 4000 to 5000 protesters started marching to Islamabad town, where they intended to present a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner demanding exhumation of bodies. When they reached Brakpora, 3 kilometers from Islamabad, the paramilitary CRPF men posted in a nearby camp and Special Operation Group (SOG) of Police opened fire on the protesters killing seven and injuring at least 15 more, of whom two succumbed to injuries later.
TAMPERED DNA SAMPLES
On 5 April 2000, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah ordered exhumation of bodies from Pathribal killings, which began the next day. DNA samples were collected from the five bodies as well as 15 relatives of the missing young men, and were sent to forensic laboratories in Kolkata and Hyderabad. However, in March 2002 it was discovered that the DNA samples allegedly taken from the bodies of the Pathribal victims (all of whom were men) had been tampered with, when, according to a report from the Times of India, lab workers found that samples had in fact been collected from females. Fresh samples were collected in April 2002, which, upon testing, conclusively proved that the victims were innocent local civilians, and not foreign militants as government had been claiming for two years.
Meanwhile, the government headed by Dr. Farooq Abdullah ordered a judicial enquiry into Pathribal fake encounter case and Brakpora firing under Justice S R Pandian.
Later on, the Pathribal case was handed over to the CBI. In 2006, CBI found five Indian military officers guilty and charge sheet was presented in a local court. They included Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col (then Major) Bijendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan, then attached with 7 RR.
However, the army appealed in the Supreme Court maintaining that the state government had no jurisdiction to punish the army as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was in force in the state.gk
Gill calls for CBI probe into Chittisinghpora Sikhs’ massacre
Express news service.com
Posted: Sat Apr 29 2006
New Delhi, April 28:
Former Chief Election Commissioner and MP M S Gill today called for a ‘complete and comprehensive’ investigation into the massacre of Sikhs in Chittisinghpora. He was reacting to The Indian Express report on the CBI move to chargesheet five Army officers in the infamous Pathribal ‘‘encounter’’ in Anantnag in March 2000.
‘‘The massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chittisinghpora in March 2000 was one of the most tragic incidents in our country’s history. Now that it has been proved that the five Kashmiris killed by the Army were not responsible for the act, the question arises as to who was behind the massacre? Why has there been no CBI inquiry into the massacre, timed to coincide with US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India?’’ asked Gill.
He asked as to why, if the state government could call for a CBI probe into the deaths of five youths who were held responsible for the killings, a similar probe could not be ordered into the massacre itself.
‘‘Did the death of five people outweigh that of 40 others that no need for a CBI inquiry was felt?’’ ‘‘It is strange that the Sikh minority in the state was targeted for the first time when it had remained largely untouched by militancy over decades. How did the Sikhs get on the wrong side of the militants all of a sudden? Why has the role of the army and the state police not been examined in the case?,’’ he questioned, hinting at a possible political angle to the massacre.
Blame J-K cops, not just us for Pathribal: Brigadier to DGMO
Posted: Mon May 15 2006
NEW DELHI, MAY 14:
With the CBI filing chargesheets against five Army officers in the fake Pathribal encounter and the case listed for hearing on May 24 in a Srinagar court, Army Headquarters plans to ask the court to let them hold a court martial instead of subjecting the officers to a trial after a CBI probe.
The Indian Express has learnt that Brigadier Ajay Saxena, the seniormost officer named as an accused by the CBI, has written a letter to Lt General Madan Gopal, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), pointing out how five Army personnel (four officers and a JCO) have been singled out for “harassment, ignominy, humiliation, agony and financial strain” over an operation conducted jointly by the Army and J&K Police.
Brig Saxena has said that the operation was ordered by a senior Army officer (Sector Commander) of the Rashtriya Rifles on the basis of information provided by the SSP of Anantnag.
Records show J-K police had big role in 2000 fake encounter
Express news service.com
Posted: Mon May 15 2006, 00:00 hrs
NEW DELHI, MAY 14:
While the CBI has chargesheeted five Army officers, including a Brigadier, for the killing of five civilians in a fake encounter in Pathribal six years ago, the fact remains that the J-K police too played a major role in the encounter. This is what The Indian Express found out:
• The FIR filed by the 7 Rashtriya Rifles described the fake encounter as a “joint operation” with J-K Police
• Daily diary reports of Sherbagh police post clearly indicates that on the orders of the then Anantnag SSP, Farooq Khan, a SoG (Special Operations Group) party was sent for a “secret operation”. In fact, ASI Bashir Ahmad wrote about the “secret mission” in his departure report
• Tajinder Singh, then DySP (SOG) Anantnag, and Col Ajay Saxena explained the “joint RR-police operation” with the help of an extensive site map to then Union Home Minister L K Advani, giving graphic details about the killing of five Pak-based Lashkar terrorists who were behind the massacre of Sikhs in Chittisinghpora.
India admits killing wrong men for massacre
Five men killed by Indian forces for the massacre of more than 30 Sikhs have been proved innocent, India has said.
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters)
Five men killed by Indian forces for the massacre of more than 30 Sikhs had been proved innocent, India has said.
At the time the central government claimed that the five killed were militants responsible for the massacre of Sikhs but local people insisted they were innocent civilians who had been picked up from the streets and killed in cold blood as scapegoats.
"The deceased were not foreign terrorists as claimed by the forces who led the operation, but innocent civilians," chief minister of Indian Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, told the state assembly.
He said he had called for a federal investigation into the incident which caused an uproar in Kashmir "in view of the gravity of the offence".
Thirty-six Sikhs were killed in March 2000 in remote Chitisinghpora village in the disputed Himalayan region, hours before a visit to India by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Clinton strongly condemned the killings.
Four days later, security forces said they had killed five militants who they said carried out the massacre. The forces identified them as "foreign terrorists" from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen groups.
Both organisations denied involvement and blamed India for the massacre which they said was aimed at discrediting the Kashmiri independence cause during Clinton`s visit.
Local people staged massive street protests, saying security forces had picked up five innocent youths, shot them and burnt their bodies beyond recognition.
The protests prompted authorities to exhume the bodies and carry out forensic tests. The procedure was repeated this year after two forensic laboratories found evidence of tampering and the state government admitted officials had faked the samples.
Human rights groups have accused security forces in the past of widespread abuses. The Indian government says it investigates all allegations and punishes wrongdoers.
Scenic Kashmir, at the centre of a seven-month military stand-off between India and Pakistan, has witnessed a series of massacres since a bloody separatist revolt erupted in 1989.
When President Clinton arrived in Delhi after a lightning visit to Bangladesh, he learnt that 36 unarmed Sikhs had been massacred in the village of Chittisinghpora in Kashmir. It was the worst such killing in Kashmir's 10-year insurgency.
The timing of the incident and the targeting of Sikhs, a community previously untouched by Kashmir's long unrest, led some commentators to suspect that it was the work of Indian intelligence. But within hours India's national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, was claiming unequivocally that the massacre was a clear case of "cross-border terrorism". He went so far as to name the organisations believed responsible, two Pakistan-based militias, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen. Later the central government ruled out holding an inquiry into the atrocity, saying there was no doubt about the identity of the culprits.
But in an important reversal, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Dr Farooq Abdullah, has announced that he is launching a judicial inquiry into the massacre, more than seven months after the event. The inquiry will also investigate the killing of five alleged militants a few days after the massacre. At the time the central government claimed that the five killed were militants responsible for the massacre of Sikhs but local people insisted they were innocent civilians who had been picked up from the streets and killed in cold blood as scapegoats.
"We have decided to initiate a probe into both these incidents," Dr Abdullah told a press conference in Srinagar. "There is an immediate need to wash off the doubts from [the people's] hearts and assuage their hurt feelings." Both incidents would be investigated, he added, because they were connected. When asked whether the central government was aware of his decision, Dr Abdullah retorted angrily: "Why should the centre know about our inquiry...? It is my state."
The announcement was the latest of several gusts of fresh air to blow through Kashmir's cobwebs of suspicion and paranoia this week. Two inquiries organised by Dr Abdullah reached damning conclusions about the behaviour of security forces in two other incidents, one of which will result in seven paramilitaries and police officers facing murder charges.
Kashmir's second massacre of this year occurred on 1 August, when 32 people, most of them Hindu pilgrims, were cut down by gunfire at Pahalgam, a famous beauty spot in the Kashmir Valley which is the base camp for a famous annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Amarnath, high in the Himalayas. Again the Indian authorities blamed Islamic militants for the massacre but Dr Abdullah's three-man inquiry concluded most of the deaths were caused by excessive retaliatory firing by members of the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary corps.
In a separate inquiry, a former supreme court judge, Justice Pandian, blamed paramilitaries and police for firing on a protest march on 3 April in the town of Brakpora, where nine people died. He recommended seven officers involved be put on trial for murder.
In the Kashmir Valley, cynical voices point out that Dr Abdullah, a seasoned political operator, is mustering his forces for local elections, and this week's cluster of announcements can only improve the position of candidates of his party, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. It was also mentioned that the chief minister is engaged in a trial of nerves with the central government coalition: his party is the most improbable member of the National Democratic Alliance coalition headed by Hindu nationalists but has been increasingly estranged from it since Dr Abdullah's demand for autonomy for Kashmir was turned down in the summer.
By threatening to embarrass the government with inquiries and murder trials, Dr Abdullah is seen by some to be putting it under pressure to adopt a friendlier line and cough up more grant money.
But the mass of people in the valley are quietly grateful this week that at last some of the most terrible crimes in Kashmir's recent history will at last be subjected to proper scrutiny.