ANANTNAG: The family members of the victims of the infamous Pathribal fake encounter regret their decision to appear before the Army’s Court Martial that exonerated its soldiers from involvement in the carnage. On the 16th anniversary of the cold-blooded murders, the family members of the victims said that they would continue their fight for justice.
On Friday, the villagers will organise a meeting to pay tributes to the slain civilians. “We regret our decision to appear before the Army’s court. Our apprehension was if we did not appear, they would decide the case unilaterally. But despite our appearance, they did the same,” Abdul Rashid Khan, son of one of the five victims of the Pathribal fake encounter, Juma Khan, told Kashmir Reader.
“The army might think that they have closed the chapter but we will not give up our fight for justice. We will fight till the last breath”, Khan said at his Sonabrari village residence.
Five civilians — Juma Khan and his namesake fellow villager, both belonging to the Gujjar community, Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and Mohammed Yousuf Malik—were killed by police and army in a joint operation at Pathribal on March 23, 2000, two days after the massacre of 35 persons belonging to the minority Sikh Community at Chattisinghpora by unknown gunmen. The government claimed that the five persons killed at Pathribal were “foreign mercenaries” involved in the Chattisighpora massacre.
However, the claims became suspicious when five persons went missing in the adjoining areas. The charred bodies passed off as those of foreign militants were exhumed on April 6, 2000. There was circumstantial evidence that the bodies were of the missing civilians. A prolonged scientific process, which was even fudged by the police at one point, ultimately confirmed the identity of the civilians killed in the staged encounter.
An inquiry conducted by India’s premier investigating agency, Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) later sought exemplary punishment against five officers of 7 Rashtriya Rifles — Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan — when a chargesheet was filed in a designated court in Srinagar in 2006. The CBI held the five army men guilty of “cold-blooded murder” of these five innocent civilians.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of India on the basis of the CBI report asked the army to decide whether the indicted officers be tried in the civil criminal court or army court. The army chose the latter and ordered a Court of Inquiry that held hearings at Nagrota in Jammu and Awantipora headquarters of Victor Force. The CoI closed the case in January 2014 and exonerated its officers.
“I am not a coward. I will never give up my fight for justice. The verdict of the army court was no surprise for me because you cannot expect justice from the killers”, he said. “If I stop raising a voice for punishment to the killers, it will be grave injustice”, Khan added.
Shakoor Ahmad, son of another victim, Juma Khan said that they have been organising remembrance meetings every year to pay tribute to their loved ones. “This year too we have decided to organise a meeting on Friday. We recall the innocents on this day and convey to their killers that no lies and cover ups are going to break our resolve (for seeking justice),” Shakoor said. “Our wounds are fresh and we will not rest until the killers of our beloved ones are brought to justice”, he said.
Interestingly, the then-Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had promised that his government would find out legal means to counter the army’s verdict on Pathribal encounter. However, the government did not take any measure. “I will be asking my law department and my advocate General to examine what options are available to us in the state. We will approach the highest courts in the land as far as the legality is concerned. On the political administrative front, I will knock on all the doors, whether it will be the defense minister or the prime minister because it is too serious a matter to be closed like this,” Abdullah had told a television channel.