Bail to Machil convicts

  • RIYAZ AHMAD
  • Publish Date: Aug 12 2017 9:45PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 12 2017 9:49PM
Bail to Machil convicts

                                                  Widow of Shahid Shahzad Khan

Mothers Recall their Slain Sons  


In April 2010, when Riyaz Ahmad along with his friend Shahid Shahzad Khan had returned home in the late evening from a tiring journey of the border on the first day of their purported  engagement as a labourer with the Army, he effusively described the day to his mother.

“Mother, not even your angels could tread where I was today,” Naseema recalls him saying, her eyes welling up. When she asked him who had taken them there, Ahmad named Bashir Ahmad Lone, a contractual cop with J&K Police.  What is more, he had something more to show to her, a Rs 500 note which Lone had given to him and also to Shahzad as the wages for the day when actually they had done no work.

“We had to go to the Line of Control but a sudden rain made it difficult for us to reach our final destination. So we returned,”  Ahmad  told the mother. And now they had to go again the following day. Lone had promised them Rs 2000 wages a day for their alleged work at the LoC but for that day he had offered them Rs 5000 each.

Family of Riyaz Ahmad

 

The two departed  early in the morning. Lone was ready with a vehicle.  But while they were leaving the village they saw their friend Mohammad Shafi on the roadside and invited him too to come on board for what they thought was “a joyride to the border”. They never returned. The distraught families had to wait another 29 days before their bodies were exhumed from a graveyard on the border.  The youth had been killed in a fake encounter by the Army and passed off as terrorists infiltrating from across the border.

The details of what happened to them are now too well-known and corroborated by the police and the Army investigation to bear repetition. Six Army personnel responsible for the killing were sentenced to life imprisonment by a General Court Martial in 2015. Others personnel were identified as Captain Upendra Singh, Havildar Devendra Kumar, Lance Naik Lakhmi, Lance Naik Arun Kumar and Rifleman Abbas Hussain Shah of Territorial Army.

But all of them have now been granted bail in a revision of the order by the Armed Forces Tribunal. The new judgement has revisited the conviction of the personnel by re-introducing the suspicion that the three youth could have been militants  as they wore “Pathan suits” and were present at the LoC.

“The fact that the accused persons were terrorists… cannot be ruled out because they were wearing Pathan suits which are worn by terrorists,” the Armed Forces Tribunal said in its bail order.

 “There was absolutely no justification for a civilian to be present at such a forward formation near LoC, that too during the night when infiltration from across the border was high. If a person is a civilian, he would certainly not be in combat uniform, much less he would carry fire arms and ammunition with him”.

It is this order and the consequent bail which has re-opened the wounds of the families at Nadihal in Baramulla. For them and also the villagers, new order is both shocking and ridiculous.

“You know my son was young. They had dyed his face with mehendi so that he looks like a jihadi. My son  had not gone to the border but he had been lured there by deception. A job had been promised to him,” Naseema said. “And this bit about weapons being found on their body. These weapons had been planted on them as proved by the Army’s own investigation. My son was not a terrorist”.

Aisha, mother of Shahzad and Zahida, mother of Mohammad Shafi similarly express deep hurt at the turn of events.

“Now that you have granted bail to guilty personnel after conviction and sentencing, it is better that you acquit them. You should also release Lone who is in the custody of police,” goes the refrain. “Where is the law? It means there is no system at all. No justice. What message does it send across to soldiers? Kill Kashmiris and nobody will touch you. Those who killed our children can now kill us too and get away with it”.

Parents of Mohammad Shafi

 

Faced with a renewed accusation that her son might have been a militant, Naseema  feels the desperate need to defend him again. When her son didn’t return from the border she recalls how she frantically rushed to Bashir Lone’s  house asking him where her son was.

“I asked him ‘Bashir, you took my son with you to border, how is it that you are back at home and my son didn’t return’. He declined that he had ever taken my son anywhere and instead shouted expletives at me and the mothers of the other two youth,” she said.

“It was then that we went to police and registered an FIR against Bashir. In police custody, he soon broke down and told police everything including the location of the graves of our children”.

The villagers later burnt down Lone’s house. The killings touched off a storm of protests which continued for five months leading to killings of 120 more youth.

But when in 2015, Army’s Northern Command confirmed the life imprisonment to six army personnel by a General Court Martial, it became the first such sentence  of its nature in the thirty years of militancy in J&K.

Machil had become one among the major cases of the human rights violations in the state, which symbolized everything that had gone wrong with the security management of the state beginning with early nineties massacres through Pathribal and Ganderbal fake encounters to the curbs on everyday life.

The conviction in the case thus proved to be a watershed, signalling for the first time Army’s willingness to hold its personnel responsible for the excesses - something it had evaded doing under the blanket cover of AFSPA which discourages trial in a civilian court and requires central government sanction for prosecuting erring Army personnel.

But with bail to the guilty personnel, and the Army Forces Tribunal invoking again the terrorist allegation for the victims, the entrenched cynicism in Valley against the trials of the security personnel is likely to deepen further. 

Families, meanwhile, have been left to grapple with a lingering pain.

“My son was the raja of our house.” says Aisha about Shahzad. “Now he is buried inside a grave by the side of the village road.  I always avoid passing by the road  and instead take a longer route through orchards”.