The Pathribal Case

The testing field for Army and CBI…

On 20 March 2000, on the eve of American President Bill Clinton’s visit to the Subcontinent more than thirty innocent Sikhs were killed by unidentified gunmen at Chattisinghpora hamlet in Anantnag district. The killing was most unfortunate incident in trouble torn valley of Kashmir with a motivated purpose of creating wedge between Sikh and Muslim communities. But, just five days after Chattisinghpora incident, what followed was more shocking. The gruesome killing of innocent civilians by security agencies at Pathribal on March 25 and a cover-up by dubbing them as foreign militants responsible for Chattisinghpora killing created shock waves throughout the valley. The series of loopholes and follies on part of the architects of Pathribal encounter cast aspersions on the working of security apparatus and under compulsion authorities ordered investigation to ascertain the facts. However, the whole investigation process was thwarted by vested interests and hurdles were created from the day one. At that point of time the then Inspector General of police Kashmir range with brazen authority claimed Pathribal victims were foreign militants responsible for Sikh massacre at Chattisinghpora, but the public outcry compelled the authorities to exhume the bodies of victims and investigate the matter through a special investigation team. Fudging of DNA samples of relatives of victims collected for investigation and subsequently hushing up the communication regarding discrepancies in DNA samples from Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics Hyderabad and the Central Forensic Science Laboratory Kolkata speaks volumes about shoddy and mala fide handling of Pathribal incident. Under public pressure and intervention by rights organization of the country the state government appointed justice (retired) Kuchey to inquire into fudging of samples and ordered collection of fresh samples which finally proved that the victims were innocent local civilians,’ not foreign militants.

After CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) country’s premier investigating agency in 2006 accused several army personnel of abduction and cold-blooded murder of the five civilians and filed a charge-sheet in a Srinagar court, the Army invoked the proviso and claimed immunity from trial citing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). However, several years later in March 2012 at most remarkable and crucial stage of Pathribal investigation CBI submitted before the Supreme Court of India that their investigation revealed, it was a coldblooded murder and the accused deserve to be punished with exemplary punishment. And thus at this phase of investigation two prestigious institutions of the country, the Army and the CBI almost confronted each other and on the option given by the apex court the Army expressed its willingness to institute a Court of Inquiry and try the accused in a military court. This was the most appropriate opportunity available with the Army to prove its credentials as professional and credible institutions of the country. In light of the CBI investigation, findings and submissions before the apex court the role of Army and particularly that of its internal investigation and justice delivering mechanism were under scrutiny by one and all, and any laxity on part of military authorities cannot provide any second chance to restore their reliability in Pathribal shame.
Not to the satisfaction of anyone, on 23rd of January 2014, the Army declared the case closed! Saying “the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused”. Interestingly, the Army release further said, “The evidence clearly established that the encounter was a joint operation by the police and the army on specific intelligence” thus passing the buck to state police. Now after fourteen years of investigation and option of trial by choice the outcome of the trial cannot be considered acceptable in a society boosting of its egalitarian values. Particularly in light of the findings of the special investigation team and CBI, substantiated by forensic and other material evidence the authorities both at national and state level should reconsider the issue and order an independent inquiry of highest order with a mandate to scrutinize the findings of all the investigating agencies associated with   Pathribal incident and also look into the trial conducted by the Army and derive a conclusion that can deliver justice to the best satisfaction of the existing legal system in the country. As otherwise people will lose faith in institutions like CBI and Army because in this case both of them stand on opposite side of the thin line of truth and justice.