Machil verdict: What it hides and conveys  

The army’s court martial recently returned a verdict of unlawful killing through fake encounter of three youths from Baramulla’s Nadihal village at Machil near Line of Control in Kupwara district, the incident blamed by the state government as a precursor to 2010 unrest that left over 120 unarmed youth dead.

The accused including a Commanding Officer have been found guilty and awarded life sentence, according to the reports which hitherto are at variance about the actual number of those given the lifer—seven, six or five. No one has the actual figures.  The army too has remained silent to clear the air even as police had charged nine army men for killing three innocent civilians,Reyaz Ahmad, Muhammad Shafi andShahzad Ahmad, all in their twenties.

All the nine accused army men were booked under various sections of RPC including 302 (murder), 364 (kidnapping or abducting), 120B (concealing design to commit offence punishable with imprisonment) and 34 (act done with common intention).

The Machilverdict comes days after army said sorry for killing two youths at Chattergam and ten months after it closed Pathribal killing case, the incident found to be stage-managed by India’s premier investigation agency, the Central Bureau of India.

Whether timing had to do anything with elections is a different debate altogether. Many influential persons including the present Chief Minister of the state Omar Abdullah have described the verdict as watershed moment. Rights organisation, Amnesty International India, too welcomed the decision as indication to commitment to justice for human rights violations in Kashmirand hoped that it will mark the beginning of delivering justice in many other cases of human rights violations.  Welcome statements, by politicians are not without reason.The statement of local rights organizations have their fingers crossed that the verdict will not to be used to whitewash other cases in which army is involved.

The bodies of Nadihal trio were exhumed by police from a graveyard in a remote village of Kupwara, Kalaroos, and there are numerous others buried, mostly unidentified men killed in the Machil sector. In the middle of it, there has been a different demand and that too from direct sufferers, the victim families, demanding death for death. Is it emotional outburst which one may associate with the statements coming from certain others quarters or is there rationaleto it?

Nadihal is a village neighbouring Sopore, the native town of Afzal Guru, the last man hanged by India. It was on February 9, 2013, when Guru was executed to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of Indian society’.  While the family of Guru including his minor son was denied opportunity to even meet him before he was taken to gallows, the son of the Kashmir’s soil was also deprived of what others, like killers of Indian Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi and acquaintances of the brigand Veerapan, were permitted.

Since then, there was landmark judgment by Supreme Court, holding that prolonged delay in the disposal of the mercy petition by the president, causing agony to a death-row convict, is a good ground to set aside the sentence and commute it to life.  However, the apex court has not abolished the death penalty.

Lifer to guilty of murder in legal parlance is consideration of case as not ‘rarest of rare cases’, a standard set for awarding the death penalty by the courts. The rarest of rare cases test, the Supreme Court has said, depends on the perception of the society and not judge-centric. By sentencing guilty to life in jail, the army court has opined that the case is not as the ‘rarest of rare ‘ and apparently has not weighed perception of the society.

Why is then Amnesty happy with the quantum of sentence? There lies a reason. Amnesty propagates abolishing of death penalty. Out of 198 countries across the globe 150 have followed the suit but India is not one among them.

Is there any weightageto what victim families have demanded? After all punishment is a deterrent and revulsion felt by society against the murderer and can it be satisfied only by his death?