English News


Lifer to Captain in Shopian fake encounter case will boost Indian Army’s image

J&K LG Manoj Sinha (left centre) with bereaved families of fake encounter victims (Pic, Courtesy Twitter/@hayatumar78)

Srinagar: The recommendation of the Army’s Court of Inquiry for life imprisonment of an officer found guilty of killing three innocent youths of Rajouri as ‘terrorists’ in a fake encounter in Kashmir’s Shopian district, will definitely add to the institutional credibility and accountability within the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even as the officer’s involvement in the criminal misconduct has been established by the COI and recommended by the Summary of Evidence, it is still technically subject to approval and confirmation by the higher authorities in the Army. The court recommendation has come two-and-a-half years after Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signal, walked to Tarkassi village and called on the bereaved families with commitment of compensation and government jobs—for the first time by a Governor/LG in such an incident.

In one of the rarest cases on Sunday, the Army court recommended life imprisonment for Captain Bhupinder Singh after it was established in the Summary of Evidence proceedings that the troops of a unit under his command exceeded their powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It broadly matches an investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police into a First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Army, coupled by a missing report from some civilians of Rajouri, in July 2020.

According to the investigations, Captain Bhupinder Singh of Rashtriya Rifles 62 battalion, locally known as Major Bashir Khan, led his troops to Amshipora, Shopian, on 18 July, 2020, claiming that three foreign terrorists were hiding in the village. After a shootout, the officer reported to the local police station that three “unidentified foreign terrorists” had been killed in an encounter. Their bodies, along with two pistols, were claimed to have been recovered. On the Captain’s report, the concerned Brigade Commander claimed at a news conference that “three unidentified foreign terrorists” had been killed in the ‘encounter’.

According to a missing report filed in Jammu’s Rajouri district, three youths—Imtiyaz Ahmad (20), Abrar Ahmad (25) and Mohammad Abrar (16)—had left for Shopian on 17 July 2020 but had lost telephonic contact with their families. Days later, they approached the police in Shopian while claiming on the basis of some pictures that the three persons killed as ‘terrorists’ matched the identity of the missing trio. They told the police that the missing youths had gone to Shopian routinely in search of work in the fruit harvesting season.

While the police filed a report on the Rajouri residents’ complaint alongside the Army’s FIR, bodies of the three youths were exhumed in Baramulla on 3 October, 2020. Their physical features, subsequently corroborated by the DNA analysis, established that they were the innocent civilians of Rajouri and not the ‘foreign terrorists’ as claimed by the Army.

Following the exhumation and their identification, the bodies were handed over to the families for their last rites in Rajouri. On 26 December, 2020, Police filed a charge sheet in the local court against Captain Bhupinder and his two Kashmiri counterinsurgent helpers.

The Army started its own COI which established that the ‘encounter’ at Amshipora was not real. The COI, followed by Summary of Evidence, established that Captain Bhupinder Singh had exceeded his powers under AFSPA and misled the Army.

Even as the sentence is still subject to confirmation of the higher Army authorities, various political parties and civil society groups across Jammu and Kashmir have appreciated the action initiated by the forces. The officer was arrested and subsequently dismissed from service.

The Army court’s recommendation is significant for the fact that many such incidents had been ignored, disowned or condoned in the past. The Army as an institution has been at the receiving end of a well-coordinated tirade in which all—separatist as well as mainstream politicians, media, lawyers, academia—played a contributory role ever since the eruption of insurgency in 1989-90.

Arguably the biggest controversy arose after a CBI investigation established that 5 innocent civilians had been killed in a fake encounter and labelled as “foreign terrorists” and “killers of 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora” in March 2000. The Army provided institutional supports to the 5 officers indicted in the fake encounter at Pathribal. Quite a number of such incidents and investigations met a similar fate.

Denial of action in such fake encounters came as the biggest advantage for a large, well-coordinated anti-India propaganda ecosystem across the world. Even after such incidents and complaints stopped pouring in after 2007, the anti-India propaganda network maintained, without break, that the security forces were “continuously committing human rights abuse” in Jammu and Kashmir. This notwithstanding the fact that no complaint of rape or molestation came in for around 25 years and only one fake encounter was established—killing of three civilians of Nadihal Baramulla in Kupwara in April 2010.

The fake encounter at Amshipora, Shopian, occurred 10 years after the last one in Kupwara which was investigated in FIR No: 23 of 2010 at Police Station Panzla, Rafiabad. Later, Sopore Police filed a charge sheet against the Army officers, including a Colonel who had allegedly killed some civilians as “terrorists” in fake encounters to earn awards and higher rank promotions.

Even the fake encounter in Kupwara happened years after the killing of five civilians in staged encounters in Ganderbal as also the killing of five Hindu labourers who had been picked up as porters from Gandhi Nagar, Jammu. However, the frequency of the violation of human rights and misuse of AFSPA reduced drastically after Superintendent of Police of Ganderbal, Hans Raj Parihar, was arrested and prosecuted along with over a dozen personnel of the Special Operations Group. Later, a Commanding Officer of Border Security Force was arrested and prosecuted for ordering fire on a teenager in Nishat area of Srinagar.

With a host of such corrective measures and in-house actions, security forces in Jammu and Kashmir have restored their institutional credibility. The action in the Shopian fake encounter, if confirmed by the higher authorities, will for sure increase accountability among the troops and shut many anti-India mouths across the world.

Also Read: Desperate opposition rides the human rights bandwagon to stage comeback in Kashmir