In its response to the State Human Rights Commission on the Kupwara massacre of January 27, 1994, the state’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has held the army responsible for the carnage that left 27 civilians dead.
Soldiers of the Punjab Regiment had opened unprovoked and indiscriminate fire near a bus stop in the northern town to avenge a shutdown locals had observed on India’s Republic Day, that is January 26, in response to a bandh call by separatist leaders. Second Lieutenant S Bakhshi had been commanding the unit that carried out the killings.
Though the police had registered a case under Sections 302 and 307 of the Ranbir Penal Code, and eyewitnesses examined by it clearly indicted the army unit, the military stone-walled further investigations by refusing to disclose the identities of personnel deployed on road opening that day – something the inquiring officers wanted to know. The army claimed to have set up its own court of inquiry in the case, but made no information about its results or proceedings available to state investigators. Finally, the police closed the case as “untraced” in April 1997, when three years of asking the army for details proved futile.
On January 28, 2003, human rights activist Muhammad Ahsan Untoo took the case to the State Human Rights Commission which then listed it for hearing on March 11. The order came after the Home Department of the Government of India forwarded to the Commission a report by the IGP of J and K’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) that conceded that the Indian army had been involved in the massacre and stressed that it intended to dig deeper into the case. For good measure, the report had covering letter from the state’s Director General of Police (DGP) himself.
But the SHRC is only a recommendatory body and cannot take action on its own. Following its ruling in the unmarked graves case, the government has almost rendered the Commission defunct. With just two members, and struggling to deal with a mountain of cases, the SHRC is in a tight corner without a chairman.
In the instant case, the culprits stand identified and the police have enough evidence to support a charge sheet. But instead of initiating the process of bringing the culprits to justice, it has chosen to close the case as untraced – a glaring example of how the state helps perpetrators. For the information of the police, legal experts have held that Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) does not debar the police from filing charge sheets.