What amounts to ‘substantial progress’ in a 12-year-old case of custodial death is that investigators are yet to determine whether the victim met with an accident or died under torture. Were it not for the alarming incidence of such tragedies over the past two-and-a-half decades, the investigation could have been hailed as a landmark in police work, and a high point in rulers’ accountability to the public. Ghulam Nabi Bhat, from the Makhdoom Sahib quarter of Old Srinagar, is not the only Kashmiri to have met death in circumstances that authorities feel were better kept under wraps.
Cock-and-bull stories of captured militants being killed when their associates tried to free them with force of arms were legion in a particular period of the late nineties, and continued well into the new century. It would often appear that a pro forma statement had barely to have names of places and persons changed before being furnished to the public. And this was a minor variation. Earlier, arrested militants would often get killed when leading security personnel to a booby-trapped hideout or arms dump. The regularity of such incidents, and the religiosity with which security agencies recounted them, word for word (names of persons and places changed, of course), led to just one conclusion – the monumental stupidity of the forces in losing their catch to the same ploy, time and again.
But Ghulam Nabi Bhat was not picked up in a militancy-related incident. He was held when shopping for groceries, and later, according to the Border Security Force, jumped into a nullah to escape, and suffered mortal injuries. What touching candour. To admit that a puny prisoner, bound and probably gagged, could get the better of a posse of hefty BSF captors, and be able to make a run for it. This touching pleading of inefficiency does not work even in a Bollywood pot-boiler. In Kashmir, it has worn thin.
Any investigation worth the name could ascertain the veracity of the forces’ claims within a matter of days, not to speak of weeks. But twelve years? And the State Human Rights Commission has already held, in 2007, five years after Bhat was arrested and killed, that he died under torture. May it be mentioned in passing that a First Information Report (FIR) was registered in 2008. This is a tid-bit that the new eloquent law minister of India could have chewed on had his illustrious predecessors not regurgitated it repeated attacks anorexia.
Incidentally, Jammu and Kashmir’s indefatigable SHRC had also, as far back as 2007, recommended Rs an ex gratia relief of Rs 1 lakh for Bhat’s family, and a Class IV job for one of its members on compassionate grounds. It has, as usual, fallen to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to remind the state government of this recommendation. Over a month has passed since the HC order, and the government is yet to hear of it. What promise does the probe hold?