Justice Buried, Exhumed, Buried Again: It's Been A Six-year Wait
26 April 2006
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Nazir Ahmad Dalal identified his nephew by his half-burnt maroon sweater. Roshan Jan knew the body was that of her husband because of the beard and the chin. Relatives identified Juma Khan by the ring that was intact on his finger. As the bodies of five missing men were exhumed on April 6, 2000, besides the shock, the widespread apprehension in the Valley was that the truth of the Pathribal encounter would always lie buried. Now with a CBI chargesheet on its way, relatives can hope for a shot at justice. It was justice that was stalled at virtually every step. Consider the sequence of events: • On March 25, 2000, then Union Home Minister L K Advani was on a visit to Chittisinghpora in South Kashmir where five days earlier, unidentified gunmen had lined up 35 Sikhs in front of a gurdwara and killed them. • Advani was welcomed by the local police and Army officers with good news: the five Lashkar-e-Toiba mercenaries responsible for the massacre had been eliminated in a 'surgical operation' by 7 Rashtriya Rifles and local police the previous night. • Colonel Ajay Saxena, one of those accused in the chargesheet, and Deputy Superintendent of Police Tajinder Singh explained the 'operation' using a detailed map. • Local residents said five men had gone missing from the nearby villages of Brariangan, Halan and Anantnag and alleged that the police and the Army had killed them in a fake encounter calling them 'killers of Chittisinghpora.' • Relatives of the five missing men came out on streets and protests intensified across Anantnag forcing the government to order a judicial enquiry. • On April 3, 2000, the protesters marched towards the Deputy Commissioner's office. Ten of them were killed in police firing, including relatives of the missing men. • Under pressure, the Farooq Abdullah government suspended Anantnag's Senior Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan and an SHO besides ordering exhumation of the bodies and subsequent DNA test to ascertain their identities. On April 6, a team of forensic experts from Government Medical College, Srinagar, exhumed the bodies to take samples for DNA tests. The men were buried in graveyards at Vuzkhah, Sumlam and Chogamm villages, which were miles apart. * Anantnag Police exonerated Mohammad Yousuf Wagay alias Chatti Guuafter months of investigation. Wagay was the man shown as the link between the Chittisinghpora massacre and the Panchalthan encounter by no other than Union Home Secretary Kamal Pande. Wagay, a milkman from Chittisinghpora, had been arrested immediately after the massacre and was accused of being the local helper of the 'foreign militants' who killed the Sikhs. Wagay was interviewed by The Indian Express in jail on November 19, 2000. He was then in preventive custody after his father had requested the police to keep him behind bars for his safety. • On April, 9, 2001, Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag quoting the report submitted by the police's Special Investigating Team admitted that the five men were innocent and ordered Rs 1 lakh as ex gratia relief. • The state government over time reinstated the police officers responsible for the killings. Then when the fudging of DNA samples surfaced from laboratories in Hyderabad and Kolkata in 2002, the J-K Government again suspended Senior Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan. Khan was, however, reinstated recently.