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End culture of brutality, impunity
Military methods alone with abject failure of accountability are a flawed prescription in Kashmir
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The Supreme Court last week agreed to review its 2016 verdict that mandates a compulsory police inquiry for extra-judicial killings by the armed forces in areas under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) after the Centre filed a curative petition batting for more sweeping powers and immunity from legal procedures to armed force personnel operating in conflict zones like Jammu and Kashmir and north-eastern states. Six decades of the special law in north-east and almost three decades in Jammu and Kashmir reveals the absence of any accountability imposed on the security personnel operating in these areas. The law gives the armed forces powers of search and arrest without a warrant and licence to use force or open fire under a range of circumstances. It also grants them protection from prosecution, especially in civilian courts. This has allowed the security forces to get away with atrocities and to deny justice to the victims. The law provides fool-proof impunity to soldiers accused of gross violation of human rights as it stipulates that prior permission from the state or central authorities is required to prosecute the alleged perpetrators in civil courts. After charges are framed by the police, it can be processed only if the ministry of defence or the ministry of home affairs for permission to prosecute. In many cases, the police are hesitant to register cases and keep dragging their feet unless there is political pressure or public protests. Responses by defence ministry to several RTI applications have shown that atleast in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, prosecution has not been sanctioned in a single case. In face of allegations of human rights abuse and patterns of impunity, the Centre often weaves a tale of dispensing justice in cases. The statistics of 100 plus prosecutions or so pertains to cases that are decided in military courts where trials, transparency and quantum of punishment are characterized by a complete failure of accountability. In many cases, the accused are let off with mere suspensions. The essence of justice dictates that justice need not only be done but it should be seen to be done in a bid to assuage the wounds of the victims.

The ongoing tensions in Kashmir Valley reinforce the need for transparency and judicial mechanisms to make security forces accountable, not turn them into a lawless force. The acute public anger and frustration spilling out on the streets in the form of protests including violent protests does not only stem from political aspirations of the people but also due to continuum of repressive policies, crushing of civil liberties and gross violation of human rights, which is ultimately a consequence of the unresolved political dispute. The more the security forces try to crush this only by force, the more the public protests get strengthened and energised. In a span of less than a decade, the Valley has transitioned from peaceful assemblies to mild stone pelting to more morbid forms of civilians in combat with security forces, in most recent cases obstructing the latter's operations during encounters with militants. It is important to understand the genesis of this trajectory and its vital link to obnoxious graph of human rights violations rather than looking for convenient explanations of religious radicalization and motivation through money. There can be no denying that security forces appear to be fighting an extremely difficult battle against a hostile population. The circulation of a recent video showing Kashmiri youth jeering at and even pushing and jostling a handful of security men returning from their duty was made much about in the electronic media by looking at the images, the authenticity of which is yet to be verified, from a myopic lens. This narrative being built up neither took into account the far many counter videos, revealing brutality by security forces, into account; nor did it look at, in the same video, the youth, who far outnumbered the security men, asking their friends to show restraint. Public wrath against security forces could have been far more lethal in cases where a handful of security men are trapped amidst a hostile population. But the video clearly shows this was not the case. This reveals both the possibility and potential of worsening things in the Valley, which could well be beyond the control of any sort of military might, as well as the small window of hope - of an available space for engaging with the public angered beyond word. The prescription to the present situation does not lie, as suggested by the present army chief Bipin Rawat, in imposing more curbs, crushing public anger brutally and giving shoot at sight orders but in backing up military strategy, which should be employed with restraint and aimed at neutralising militants, with a process of engaging with all sections of the deeply alienated population. By focusing simply on the military methods, the Centre is not only further accentuating the Kashmir conflict, it is also turning its vast size of security forces into scapegoats who would then be valourised for every act including the illegality of using civilians as human shields, as depicted by another video in circulation.

News Updated at : Sunday, April 16, 2017
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