Monday, September 17, 2007
THE PANDITS's OPEN WOUND-by Iftikhar Geelani(in PIONEER)
Bitta Karate, who murdered dozens of Kashmiri Pandits, walked out of court laughing this month when another attempt to convict him failed.It wasn't his victory, but the failure of the Indian state
One winter evening, late in 1989, a zooming Ambassador slowed down in the Chanakhan locality of Sopore town. A person wearing a Kashmiri gown (phern), apparently a Pandit, was thrown out and gun shots rentthe air. The bleeding person had not lost his senses. Holding hisbullet wounds he crawled to take shelter under a closed shop. Lawlessness had taken over the Kashmir Valley. Nobody would listen to anything but Azadi, to achieve which it was necessary to clear theValley of "informers" and leaders having the potential to "sell-out". The man who lay dying slowly of bullet wounds was crying for water inhis feeble voice. But the people of the neighbourhood, who were used to being hauled off by the security forces for harbouring anybody deemed a "militant" were in no mood to help. Instead of rushing to his rescue, they carried him by his arms and legs and tossed him into the Jhelum river which flowed nearby. That ended his misery.Till date, nobody has any answers for this strange behaviour -- a summary execution of sorts. The only explanation given was that thedead man used to live in a nearby village. He was a Kashmiri Pandit who had been kidnapped for providing information about militants tothe security agencies.
A contrast came a few months after this incident in a nearby SofiHamam locality, when militants raided the homes of Pandits in broad daylight. Almost all Pandit families had left for Jammu by then,barring a young boy. Ashok, who had stayed back for some unknown reasons. Militants believed he was helping the security forces bypinpointing targets. People literally gheraoed the whole locality and shoed the militants away. But, in the dead of night, they returned.This time, they cut off the roof of the house to drag out Ashok. After few days his dead body was found on the banks of river Jhelum.
The neighbours of the Pandits for centuries, the Muslims of KashmirValley were not particularly happy about the killings of Pandits. Onoccasions they remonstrated the militants. Even today, the full separatist spectrum consisting of hardliner Syed Ali Geelani tomoderate Yasin Malik recognise the Pandits as part of Kashmiri society. Their migration out of the Valley has disturbed Kashmiri society, they admit.
At the start of armed movement in 1989, strategists in both India and Pakistan disallowed any Kashmiri leader to take the centre-stage,which could have at least controlled the events. While India detainedleaders, militant groups at the behest of Pakistani agencies launcheda venomous campaign against them. They even resisted staunch pro-Pakistan Kashmiri leaders to ensure that the levers of control were with Islamabad and to avoid the re-emergence of a Sheikh Abdullah. Baring some honourable exceptions, this vacuum got to be filled by ruffians and street stalkers who had procured guns. They began to regard themselves as leaders and mujahids. They killed more civilians than they confronted the security forces.
Among such characters, Farooq Ahmed Dar, alias Bitta Karate, emergedas one of top leaders of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).The then Governor, Mr Jagmohan, later wrote in justification of the detention of traditional leaders and providing ascendancy to theelements in the JKLF: "I wanted to weaken the hold of the fanatics and fundamentalists, and also the pro-Pakistani groups by facilitating the ascendancy of those elements in the J&K Liberation Front who had thelatent disposition to be moderate and whom I could subsequently tackle to accept my idea of security real freedom for the Kashmiri masses, within the larger framework of the Indian Constitution.
"But, on Bitta Karate's emergence, Mr Jagmohan's policy went all wrong.Blamed by the Pandit community for a string of killings of itsmembers, Bitta Karate walked free on October 27, 2006, after 16 years of incarceration. An anti-terror court while granted him bail, arguedthat there was "no justification in continuation of his incarcerationwhen other co-accused facing the same allegations are enjoying fruitsof liberty".
Earlier, in 2001, Justice GD Sharma of the State HighCourt had ordered the transfer the cases against this notorious killerof the Pandits to Jammu.Farooq Ahmed Dar, against whom 23 FIRs -- mostly related to murder --had been lodged, was a martial arts practitioner. That gained him fameas "Bitta Karate". What earned him the wrath of Pandits was the "confessional statement" run by the official media soon after hisarrest, in which he accepted his role in the killings.
Even the separatists and the dominant JKLF faction-led Mohammad Yasin Maliknever espoused his cause, or even asked for his release for several years because of the negative image he had earned.Since then, there has been stiff opposition to his release, promptingthe Government to repeatedly slap the Public Safety Act (PSA) -- apreventive detention law that provides for detention without trial for a maximum of two years -- on him. Each time the term expired, it wasrenewed.Despite filing various cases against Karate for the killing of 30Pandits in 1990 and creating a fear psychosis, the State Government failed to file a chargesheet against him. His release may be treatedas a failure of our criminal justice system. The Pandit community,which is now thronging the streets seeking his re-arrest, failed toprovide a single witness against Karate in the court of law. There can be no excuse of lack of security, because the trial was going on in aspecial court in Jammu, where witnesses could have felt much safer.
The State Government, too, totally relied on the invocation of the Public Safety Act (PSA) rather than resorting to investigations andprocuring witnesses for convictions. For over two decades the rampant use of the PSA with ease quite dampened the investigation capabilitiesof the Jammu & Kashmir Police. It is used on all and sundry, from timber smugglers to terrorists, because the PSA is such a short-cut to the end of the troubles of the police force.
The policemen have become lazy, for no longer are demands of securing prosecution placed on them. It has not only completely shattered the investigating machinery of the State police, but the law also falls short of the fundamental requirements of justice. There is no such concept as equality before Law. The police could rest assured thatthere was no need to present an accused person before a magistrate, what to talk of looking for witnesses to examine.Bitta Karate eluded justice because the criminal justice system inJammu & Kashmir is quite dead. The State's failure to bring to justicea mass murderer and ethnic cleanser like him should not be viewed in narrow terms. It is high time the security agencies are reminded ofthe fundamental duty of their craft - to secure convictions.--
The writer is a noted expert on Kashmir issues