In Good Faith
by Bashir Assad
Army Court’s recommendation of life imprisonment for the officer involved the
infamous Amshipora Shopian encounter case is a big leap towards restoring people’s faith
in the Army and the system of governance
IN less than a year, an Army court has completed the court-martial proceedings of the infamous Amshipora Shopian fake encounter case and has recommended life imprisonment for the Army Captain involved in the encounter.
The recommendation has restored the credibility of the Army court and is being widely hailed, particularly in Jammu & Kashmir. This merits a mention that three youngsters from the Rajouri district namely Imtiyaz Ahmad, Abrar Ahmad and Mohammad Ibrar were killed in the Hirpora area of the Shopian district in South Kashmir on July 18, 2020 and were passed on as “terrorists”. Pertinently, this was an operation “stage managed” by the Army unit and of which the Jammu & Kashmir police was not a part. Usually, anti-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir also have inputs from the Jammu & Kashmir police. So, immediately after the encounter, eyebrows were raised at the veracity of the operation. The families of the deceased who identified their relatives by the photographs shown to them, had immediately filed a complaint with the Jammu & Kashmir police, claiming that their
wards were innocent civilians who had gone to the Shopian district as labourers. And in
fact, the locals of Hirpora village had refuted the claims of the encounter in the area;
rather, they had claimed that the three youth were brought to the area and dumped in an
abandoned shed in an apple orchard and were killed in cold blood. Though an officer of
the Brigadier rank had tried to defend the action of the Army officer Captain Bhoopendra Singh in a press conference on July 20, 2020, the 15 Core headquarter at Srinagar was hesitant to endorse the statement as the Jammu & Kashmir police, by then, had constituted a special investigation team to look into the allegations levelled by the general public and the family members of the deceased against this encounter and the
Army unit concerned. After a few days, 15 Core of the Army in Srinagar informed that it
had started an investigation based on the allegations of the people. As the encounter
created a furore, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha, at the
instructions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visited the families of the deceased at Rajouri
by the end of July 2020 and conveyed the commitment of the Modi government towards zero tolerance of human rights abuse and assured of justice and fair play.
In the mean time, the Army promptly constituted a Court of Inquiry which found prima facia evidence against the Army unit concerned of “exceeding” powers vested
under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSEA).
The court of Inquiry asked the people privy to the developments, to depose as a part of
recording the summary of evidences. In December 2020, the Court of Inquiry had
almost completed the preliminary inquiry and established that the accused Army officer
Captain Bhoopendra Singh had indeed exceeded the powers vested under the AFSPA. In the mean time, the special investigation team constituted by the Jammu & Kashmir police filed a charge-sheet in the case, accusing the Army officer of fudging with the material evidences.
On the other hand, the identity of the three youths killed in the fake encounter was
confirmed through a DNA test and the bodies were subsequently handed over to their
families in Baramulla in October 2020 for final burial in their native village in Rajouri.
At the recommendation of the Army top brass, court-martial proceedings against the
accused, based upon the findings of the Court of Inquiry, were initiated. The Army had said
in a statement that it was committed to the ethical conduct of the operations. And
indeed, in less than a year of the proceedings, the Army court has come up with the
recommendation of life imprisonment for the accused in the instant case. The decision is being widely hailed by the people in Jammu &Kashmir and has indeed restored the credibility of the institution in the eyes of the general public. The decision is being seen as unprecedented and as a part of the commitment of the Modi government towards zero tolerance against human rights violation. There have been many shocking incidents in the past where inquiries were ordered but the perpetrators were never booked. The general public had lost faith in the so-called inquiries and investigations. So in that light, this decision of the Army court has not only restored the credibility of the Army, but also people’s faith in the system.
Erring officials – be it from civil life or from the armed forces – if acting against the rule
book, should be subjected to appropriate punishment under law and that is precisely
what reposes people’s faith in the system. Any unnecessary delay in acting against erring
government servants creates mistrust. Every individual has to be made accountable for his
or her actions to restore public’s faith and ensure transparency in the system of governance. So this case has indeed been a huge, positive leap. Kudos!