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Fake Killings in Jammu & Kashmir: Need for Checks and Balances

B.S. Sachar was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • February 13, 2007

    The recent uproar in Jammu and Kashmir over 'fake killings' has once again turned public attention towards the issue of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies. The State is witnessing wide scale protests and demonstrations with the support of all sections of society, and political parties are backing the call for an impartial inquiry and strict action against the concerned personnel. Though 'fake killings' have been reported several times in the past, yet this time the voices of the grief stricken families of the missing people can no longer be ignored and need serious attention. The issue of a large number of missing persons in the State has also gained spotlight and will need to be addressed on priority. However, amidst these genuine voices, the disturbing fact is that hardliners and extremist elements in the State and their backers in Pakistan may use this concern to their advantage, to focus popular attention on their oft-repeated slogan of 'large scale human rights violations' by Security Forces (SF). These negative forces need to be prevented from destroying the gains of peace building in the State.

    In counter-terrorist operations in J & K some innocents do get killed by way of 'mistaken identity' or in the crossfire between the SF and terrorists as in any other conflict theatre. The 'fake killings' in the limelight are apparently the handiwork of some Special Operation Group (SOG) personnel, possibly motivated to gain awards and permanent recruitment into the police force. The Army and the CRPF have rightly ordered inquiries to ascertain the involvement of their forces in the 'fake killings' and they must take strict action if the hand of their personnel is detected. These are, however, not as widespread as may appear apparent at this moment.

    The issue of 'fake killings' and 'missing persons' must not only be probed at the surface but must be analysed in detail for detecting its underlying causes and eradicating it from the roots. First and foremost, the system of awards and incentives based solely on 'kills' must be stopped immediately by all government agencies and forces. The police have recruited a large number of Special Police Officers (SPOs), many of whom are surrendered terrorists working for a meagre salary and the carrot of permanent absorption into the police force dangling in front of them. In their enthusiasm and hunger for 'doing well' and pleasing the senior police hierarchy so that they would thereby get absorbed into the force, some SPOs seem to indulge in stage-managing fake encounters. The SPOs recruited on a temporary basis over the years must be thoroughly screened to weed out the undesirable elements amongst them and permanent recruitment into the Police must occur only through proper procedures and screening as well as transparency.

    The issue of 'missing persons' in the State must also be addressed head on. This can only be possible through a collective effort by all concerned. It is seen that parents of misguided youth who join the terrorist ranks seldom report the 'disappearance' of their wards for fear of action by the police. Seeking employment outside the State is their oft- repeated explanation for the absence of their wards from the village. Some of these youth move to remote areas with terrorists for training and operations where they may get killed in encounters with the SF and be buried under the tag of 'foreign or unidentified terrorist', since they cannot be identified and are not on official police records. They join the list of 'missing persons' while their parents live under false hope. The police, on their part, must make all out efforts to identify the killed persons and ensure that their kith and kin are traced and immediately informed. Thousands of local youth have, over the years, gone to Pakistan for training in terrorist camps spread all along the border and are finding it difficult to get back due to the enhanced security measures instituted by the Army. They must be encouraged to come back to the State, provided they abandon the path of violence. Their names must be recorded, for which purpose the help of NGOs on both sides of the border could be sought. Only then will their disappearance get accounted for and the list of 'missing persons' get appropriately reduced.

    The Government must set up a reliable mechanism to check human rights violations in the State and there should be no room for custodial killings and fake encounters. The investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the killing of innocents must be transparent and swift justice delivered. The credibility of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had promised "zero tolerance in human rights violation in the State," must be upheld. The difficulties and challenges that Security Forces have been facing during the last two decades in fighting terrorism, restoring peace and protecting human lives and property even in harsh terrain and adverse climatic conditions must not be lost sight of. They should not be demoralized at this crucial juncture and continue to receive the backing from all quarters for their just battle. The extremist elements must not be allowed to turn the clock back and take the state back to arson and anarchy. An urgent need for co-operation is thus required on all fronts, from civil society, from the Security Forces and from the government. They must join hands in this crucial hour when hope has resurfaced and peace and normalcy appear not too distant.