Reports say the Indian army’s Udhampur-based Northern Command has confirmed the life sentence, handed by a court-martial, to six army personnel, including a colonel, in the Machil fake encounter case of 2010. It must be clear that this rare instance of the Indian army punishing its personnel for human rights abuses in J&K is the exception that proves the rule. It is likely that this instance is now going to be used as propaganda to make the claim that the Indian army does abide by ‘rules’ when it comes to punishing crimes against civilians. It is also meant to make an argument against demands for the revocation of AFSPA; and it will be no surprise if the Indian media now launches a drive to buttress the army’s image in Kashmir and further the propaganda that there is an institutional mechanism in place to deal with human rights abuses committed in Kashmir. For Kashmiris, this verdict will come as no consolation; instead, it will reaffirm the fact that this rare case, at this juncture, is being used to elide all the other crimes – a list that is so long that even voluminous reports by various state and international right’s bodies have yet to fully cover ground on what has been done to Kashmiris – committed by the army and other state forces.
The Machil fake encounter case broke out into the news because there was a massive upsurge when it became clear that the three people killed had been lured by offers of jobs, taken to the border and shot, and then the claim made that militants had been killed. This was done, as in many other cases, by the government forces, for awards and promotions. There also were reports that a sort of tussle between the police and the army, in this case, had led the former to ‘conclude’ in its investigations that this was a fake encounter. And, when the uprising in 2010 happened, over a hundred youngsters, some of them not even teenagers yet, were killed primarily by the state police and paramilitaries in the streets of Kashmir. In many cases, incredible as it may seem, cases were lodged against those shot down in cold blood.
This verdict, then, is also meant to elide the fact that the basic problem is suppression in Kashmir due to political demands of the people – and human rights are violated because those political rights are sought to be suppressed by force. This verdict will neither change that, nor the record of brutality against Kashmiris.