Machil encounter verdict: Was it timed to perfection for the J&K polls?

The military court’s verdict in the Machil fake encounter is a landmark judgment in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. For the first time since the early 1990s, when armed insurgency broke out in the region, the Indian Army has indicted its own men for killing three civilians for cash rewards in a staged encounter.

While Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has called the verdict a "watershed moment" in the state where people had given up hope of justice in such cases, hardline Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani has termed it as "politics of appeasement". However, the timing of the verdict has surprised many in Kashmir with Hurriyat leaders calling it an "election stunt".

"They want to appease voters. There are hundreds of cases like Machil in Kashmir in the last 25 years. Giving punishment to accused in one case won't do justice to Kashmiris," said Gilani. Moderate Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, welcomed the Machil verdict, albeit with a caution, "Army’s should make the verdict transparent and people should know whether the accused have been really punished or not."

 Machil encounter verdict: Was it timed to perfection for the J&K polls?

Representational image. PTI

Human rights defender, Khurram Parvez, whose organization, Coalition of Civil Society, has documented hundreds of rights abuses cases, too, believes the ruling of military court in Machil fake encounter was made public due to political considerations. "It is an illustrative case of the manner in which political considerations and interests of the Indian Army overrule larger principles of justice and accountability. The process of justice normally leads to change, but today we saw another killing of civilian in Kulgam,” he said.

A civilian was killed Friday when forces opened fire at a group of people who were protesting the killing of two Lashkar militants in a 20-hour-long encounter in Kulgam. The incident was condemned by Hurriyat as well as the opposition Peoples Democratic Party which is banking on an anti-incumbency wave against Omar’s National Conference to form the next government in the state. The state is going to polls from November 25.

Omar’s National Conference is marred by charges of misgovernance, corruption and rights abuses. The PDP had emerged as a strong contender in this election after it bagged all the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir Valley, but a series of controversies took away sheen from the party’s performance in the parliamentary elections. A new political equation has emerged in the state with the BJP in a dominant position.

The Machil verdict is important for many reasons. The BJP leadership is working on multiple fronts to achieve its 'Mission-44', i.e., to install the first Hindu chief minister of a Muslim majority state. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the state in the coming week, it is not hard to guess why the Machil verdict was made public.

"The verdict came more than a month ago and the papers must have gone to Delhi for approval. The process is still on. It is just a coincidence that the decision became public two weeks before the elections in the state,” a senior Army official told Firstpost.

However, the timing of the verdict should not matter. What should matter is the truth must prevail and justice is done. There are thousands of cases where armed forces and militants have indulged in rights abuses in Kashmir. These cases lie at the heart of the problem of Kashmir. It is important that they are investigated and perpetrators booked so that the victims get justice.

The Machil verdict is great news for the victims and their families for whom justice seemed a far cry till now. A perception has seeped into the psyche of people in Kashmir that ‘men-in-uniform’ are beyond the rule of law, alienating them from Indian mainstream. The Machil verdict should be a beginning to change that perception.

It is also important that the Army acts in other such cases also, like Pathribal fake encounter, which will restore confidence of Kashmiri people. The BJP government at the center doesn’t carry the baggage of proving its “nationalistic” character, like Congress had to. The party can surely turn a new chapter in the troubled history of Kashmir.

Let Machil be a starting point.

Updated Date: Nov 16, 2014 17:49:12 IST