Families of the Machil fake encounter victims have welcomed the life sentences awarded to five army men through a court martial, but civil society in Kashmir does not perceive this as a commitment to
justice, or a watershed moment. The same army has denied charges of mass rape in Kunan-Poshpora and maligned not only the survivors by describing them as `greedy for compensation’ but also the group of women fighting a legal battle to find them justice, which has been accused of being ‘motivated,’ ‘suspicious’ and ‘mala fide’.
While the army alone knows the context in which these adjectives have been used, the attitude reflects its reluctance to administer justice. Therefore, the people of Kashmir have every reason to believe that the convictions in the Machil fake encounter are an isolated case.
This was also proved in Kulgam on Friday when a soldier killed a civilian. The army had made its stand on the Pathribal killings known in January this year. Though it admits a fake encounter, it has ruled out a court martial.
Time and again, it has been proved by the Government of India and its agencies, the armed forces in particular, that essentially impunity is the norm in Kashmir, and punishment an exception.
It has rejected the `Alleged Perpetrators’ report by a human rights group last year as baseless and far from the truth. Pertinently, the report has used information furnished by FIRs and official documents the group obtained through the RTI Act.
In the 1998 Sailan massacre of 19 civilians, clearly a fake encounter by the Indian army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the Indian army has taken no action and the CBI, investigating the case, appears to be pursuing low-ranking police personnel only.
Further, the Machil conviction is a political decision. The verdict was reportedly made two months ago, but has been made public now – with a purpose. Besides, it is still subject to confirmation by the chief of the army’s Northern Command. And together with the fact that, to begin with, a court-martial was held and not a civil trial, it is clear that the court-martial system is conscious of, and guided by, larger political interests.
This is not the first court martial conviction by the Indian army, and only nine officers feature in the 58 such arraignments held so far. Further, what is evident is that of these 58 cases, 20 appear to be quite clearly related to more minor crimes. Of the remaining 38, appropriate conviction and punishment appears to have been given in only twenty-one. Therefore, the court-martial process is rare, arbitrary, opaque, and not a commitment to justice or an effort to ensure accountability.