Srinagar: Amid speculations that Indian Army may order a fresh probe into the infamous Pathribal fake encounter case, the families of the victims Tuesday ruled out to be a part of any fresh investigation by the Army, saying they have lost faith after the recent court martial verdict. However, they said they may cooperate with a civil court trial.
“We won’t be part of a fresh Army probe, the speculations of which are making rounds in Kashmir. Even if Army orders 10 probes, we’ll not come forward. We won’t play into their hands again,” said Abdul Rashid Khan, whose father, Jumma Khan was among the five people killed in cold-blood by the soldiers of Army’s 7 Rashtriya Rifles and later passed off as foreign militants on March 25, 2000, five days after the massacre of 36 members of Sikh community by unidentified gunmen in Chittisinghpora.
On Monday, the Press Trust of India reported that reopening of Pathribal case cannot be ruled out considering the controversy and the sensitive nature of the incident.
“Indications in this regard came on a day when Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh met Defence Minister A K Antony,” the PTI said.
In 2006, the CBI indicted Brig Ajay Saxena, Lt. Col. Brajendra Pratap Singh, Maj. Sourabh Sharma, Maj. Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan (all belonging to 7 Rashtriya Rifles) for gunning down the five villagers and dubbing them as foreign militants before the media.
In its chargesheet, the CBI had said the killing of innocents was a “result of tremendous psychological pressure on the Army unit to show results” after the killing of Sikhs.
The families of the victims, Rashid said, have repeatedly told the Army court how their family members were whisked away in the dead of the night, killed in a fake encounter, and dubbed as militants responsible for the Chittisinghpora carnage.
“Army should not take us for granted. We attended their court martial proceedings so that they don’t get an excuse to shift blame on us. It was on our counsel’s suggestion that we went to the Army court. However, we can’t commit mistakes again and again,” Rashid told Kashmir Reader.
On January 23, an Army spokesman in a late night statement issued from Jammu to some selected media outlets announced the closure of the case, saying evidence recorded by it clearly established that it was a joint operation of Army and police.
“Consequent to CBI investigation and order of Supreme Court in March 2012, Army had taken over the Pathribal encounter case from the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar in June 2012. A comprehensive and exhaustive effort was undertaken to record evidence against all the accused,” the statement said.
It said that over 50 witnesses were examined “including a large number of civilians,” state government and police officials. “Forensic, documentary and other relevant evidence has also been taken on record. For the convenience of the next of kin of the deceased and other civilian witnesses, the team recording the evidence moved to the Valley to record their statements,” it added
However, expressing willingness to participate in a civil court trial, Rashid said the families of the victims have no objection if the case is heard in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
“We always wanted trial to be held in a civil court. However, Army objected to it in order to save its guilty officers,” Rashid said.
The victim families, he said, will keep a watch on the developments and formulate a strategy how to pursue the case afresh. He said all eyes were on Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who has expressed his disappointment over the Army verdict.
“Pathribal is not just about the gruesome murder of five civilians. It’s a tragedy. Besides Pathribal victims, nine more civilians were shot dead by police and CRPF in Brakpora. Who’ll take responsibility for it,” Rashid asked.
“If the civilians were killed and burnt in a hut, as claimed by the Army, then the ammunition should have also been damaged. So, where did the Army get the arms they claimed to have recovered from the slain men? This too needs to be probed,” he added.
Shakoor Ahmed, son of Jumma Khan’s namesake, also rejected the possibility of attending any fresh probe, if ordered by the Army. “However, if Omar Abdullah assures transparency of the trial, we may consider the option of civil court trial,” he said.
“Even if Army orders a fresh probe it will be aimed to pacify the public outrage. It won’t deliver justice to us,” Shakoor said, adding “The ball is in the CM’s court. We’ll see what he comes up with.”