The July 18 Amshipora encounter and further developments in the incident have again brought to light the need for greater accountability in Kashmir. However, Army’s acceptance that “powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded” was a first, so was the exhumation of the bodies and returning them to the families. It was surprising to see Army admitting that they were at fault and that they would set up an inquiry into the matter, something that gave hope to the families of the victims that though they lost their loved ones, they may still look forward to get justice.
Three labourers from Rajouri including a minor had travelled to south Kashmir’s Shopian to work as labourers back on July 16. Two days later, the Army claimed killing three militants in an encounter in Amshipora, Shopian, the same area where the three labourers were living on rent. The families of the labourers had, in the meantime, lost the contact with the trio. Two weeks later, they were shocked to see a photograph of the three dead bodies of the “militants” which bore stark resemblance to their kin. As it became more and more clear that the so-called gunfight could have been a case of ‘fake’ encounter, the Army came up with a statement that “the Dos and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened” in the course of the operation. The Army did not elaborate on exactly how the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was exceeded and the guidelines were contravened but said that disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act will be initiated against those found prima facie answerable. However, their acknowledging that something was wrong was indeed a surprise.
Also, what was reassuring was the stance of the Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha who promised that justice would be done in the case and guilty would not be spared if the claims of the three Rajouri families are proven correct. Eventually, the DNA test proved that the three so-called militants were indeed the innocent labourers from Rajouri. Last week the bodies of the trio were finally exhumed after 77 days and returned to their families. So far, barring the unfortunate incident, the subsequent developments have been encouraging providing a great opportunity to the administration and the armed forces to get things straight. It is expected that those responsible for the killings should be identified as soon as possible and the guilty must be punished at the earliest. Families of the slain labourers too have demanded stringent punishment against those involved in killing of the three youth. To restore the faith of the people in the system, one expects there should be complete transparency in the entire process of bringing the culprits to the fore. The justice should be served and served completely.