Thursday, November 30, 2023

Blow to justice

A recent order of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT)on November 9 in suspending the life sentence awarded earlier, to Captain Bhoopendra Singh of the 62 Rashtriya Rifles in March 2023, has literally dealt a death blow to victims of military atrocities in the north east and Nagaland in particular. Suspension of life sentence delivered to Captain Bhoopendra Singh of the 62 Rashtriya Rifles was suspended in November eight months after conviction. In July 2020, three labourers were killed at Amshipora in Shopian district. Army officers had claimed they were Pakistani terrorists and with their killing, terror threat was eliminated in the district. However, days later, locals alleged that the three young men killed were cousins from Rajouri district who were working as labourers. After protests by the families, the army ordered an investigation. In the subsequent investigation, Captain Bhoopendra found guilty of killing three local youths from Rajouri in a “staged” encounter in Amshipora in Shopian district, Jammu & Kashmir in December 2020 and awarded life sentence by an army court. However, the AFT intervened to order suspension of the sentence besides granting bail to the accused. The AFT observed that the evidence that was relied upon to convict Captain Bhupendra Singh was not convincing enough to hold him guilty in the case. Both the Black December 2021 Oting massacre by the Special Forces of the 21 Para Commandos and the cold blooded killing of three innocent civilians in Shopian, J&K in July 2020, exhibited the same modus operandi of cold blooded murder of innocent, helpless and unarmed civilians by some rogue elements within the armed forces.Such brutal and cold blooded killings have been going on for decades under the cloak of AFSPA.Captain Bhoopendra Singh was clearly looking to earn glory for himself through notoriety. He was indirectly facilitated by the “so-called intelligence inputs” that indicated presence of some Pakistani terrorists in the area. Similarly, the Major of the Special Forces of 21 Para Commando Ankush Gupta, wilfully laid the ambush at the wrong place.The unit waited for the so-called militants and when the innocent coal mine labourers, were returning home in a Bolero for Christmas to Oting village, the waiting Special Forces of the 21 Paras slaughtered them. There were several vain attempts to explain that the December 4 killings was a botched ambush or that it was when the vehicle carrying the labourers, when asked to stop, attempted to speed away(to a higher elevation).Some would say that the two unwarranted incidents where civilians were knowingly killed are undeniably intertwined with the desire for glory-hunting. This is not a new phenomenon among some in the armies of the world and also India. Unfortunately, the gongs or medals come at a high price after innocent civilians are sacrificed. On April 14,2023, the department of Military Affairs under the Ministry of Defence denied sanction to prosecute the 30 Army personnel involved in the December 2021 firing incident in Nagaland’s Oting village. This was followed by the decision of the Supreme Court on July 20,2022 in staying the proceedings of the Nagaland against 30 personnel of the 21 Paras involved in killing 14 people on December 2021. There will be Shopians and Otings but a democratic nation has to uphold justice for its people as it cannot afford to allow defenders to become offenders.

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