Unanswered Questions

Eighteen years have passed since Jalil Andrabi was murdered, but his family continues to be denied justice. The lawyer’s killer shot himself and his family members to death in California two years ago, but several questions remain unanswered. Major Avtar Singh, who had abducted Andrabi on March 8, 1996 when the human rights activist was returning home, could not be traced for quite some time. He surfaced in early 2012 in America following a dispute with his wife. The discovery that he had been hiding in the US evoked an immediate response in Kashmir, with concerned quarters seeking his extradition.

The government of Jammu and Kashmir which had registered a First Information Report (FIR) issued a statement saying that a team of experts had been dispatched to New Delhi to raise the issue of the army officer’s extradition with the ministry of external affairs and the home ministry. Two days later, another statement was issued saying that the team from Jammu and Kashmir was preparing papers to seek his extradition. But it dawned on the slain lawyer’s relatives soon that the state government had sent no such team.

In his report in the Open magazine, Hartosh Singh Bal claims that he had interviewed Major Singh in June 2011. “If my extradition is really initiated, I will not be able to return alive. I know too much and will not keep quiet,” Bal quotes the then ‘absconding’ army officer as having said. In response to a Bar Association petition, the Indian defence ministry filed an affidavit in the High Court stating that it was not aware of Major Singh’s whereabouts. It was a brazen lie. The government of India had issued travel documents to the officer to avert the administration of justice.

A dreaded renegade, Omar, an accomplice in the murder, was tracked down by the police. His statement before a judicial magistrate reflects how `state craft’ is used to defend killers under the pretext of so-called national interest. Omar told the court that Avtar Singh was accompanied by Suken, Balbir Singh, Waid, Mushtaq Haider and an army doctor when he brought Andrabi. It should have been relatively easy to find out who these men were, but none of the others has been named for the murder.

Proceedings in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) in Budgam proved the hollowness of the system. The Magistrate admitted his helplessness openly in the court. “The relatives of Jalil are justified in casting aspersions on the judiciary for its failure to dispense justice,” he said.

The killer is dead, but justice has not been done.