This family in the north Kashmir town of Sopore has been waiting for justice for the past thirty-nine years. On February 15, 1975, one of its members was subjected to extra-judicial execution. The then government had ordered a probe, but the findings have not been made public till date.
Hectic political activity was going on in February 1975. The Plebiscite Front had ratified the Indira-Abdullah Accord and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah had assumed office of the Chief Minister with Congress support. The 22-year-old political wilderness of the leaders had ended. At some places people registered protest. A young man, Ghulam Muhammad Bulla of Sopore, also registered protest in the main chowk of his native town. He was taken into custody and reportedly tortured in the local police station. Later, he was shifted to the Srinagar Central Jail where he succumbed to torture.
Late in the evening that day, a police van came to a screeching halt in Sopore’s Nau Hammam area. One family was called out, and shown a loved one lying dead in the vehicle. Weeping family and friends were silenced with rifle-butts. The body was finally carried to a graveyard near the local degree college and laid to rest by eleven persons in a grave dug by the police. It was the body of Ghulam Muhammad Bulla who had been tortured to death in police custody. The body had been washed and wrapped in a shroud at the Central Jail where Bulla was lodged for a couple of days after his arrest.
The Sopore town reacted with searing anger. Thousands defied curfew and came into the streets, raising slogans against the police. The government responded by appointing the then sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) for Srinagar as enquiry officer. But the police prevented people from appearing before the probe. The findings of the inquiry have not been made public till date. The aggrieved family had rejected the compensation offered by the magistrate. Its quest for justice continues to this day. People close to the family want a case of murder registered against the guilty.
What may not have been so common nearly 40 years ago has become rampant in Kashmir since the early nineties, replicated in every detail, including hiding the truth, shielding the guilty, and denying justice to victims. During the past two decades, successive governments have ordered around 150 probes into custodial murders, fake encounters and torture. But their findings have never been made known. Announcing official inquiries has become one of the ways to deal with public anger over forces’ atrocities and give the world the mistaken impression that Kashmir is governed by the rule of law. The government’s claims of legitimacy could sound a little less hollow if findings of the numerous probes ordered in the past decades of turmoil are made public, with cases like that of Bulla included, and the guilty brought to book.