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For a change, Army takes responsibility for Chattergam firing: Why?
Two youths had died and two others were injured on November 3, 2014 when soldiers of 53 Rashtriya Rifles opened fire on a Maruti car they were travelling in at Chattergam village in J&K's Badgam district.

An army statement says, "Based on specific intelligence reports about the movement of terrorists in a white Maruti 800 car on November 3 along Nowgam-Pulwama road, three mobile vehicle check posts were established. At about 5 pm. a white Maruti 800 car approached the first and second check points where soldiers tried to stop the car, but it did not stop. At the third check point, the vehicle tried to break through the check point, resulting into a firing incident.

"According to the police, all the victims were in their twenties. They were civilians, none of them had any guns on them and they had no militant links. "We have registered an FIR under Section 302 against the Army and are going to take strict action," IGP told the media.

But immediately after the incident, the Army issued a statement that two of its men were killed and two others injured when militants opened fire. But it changed its version on Nov 4, "Army regrets the loss of lives and has ordered an inquiry into the circumstance leading to the incident."

Bullet marks on the vehicle on which the Army opened fire tell a different story. It is very strange that a Maruti 800 car could not be immobilised at all the three check posts manned by the army by shooting at the tyres.

Basim Ahmad Bhat, a Class IX student, was in the car with his four friends when they were fired upon by army men. Basim survived unhurt to tell his side of story.

He refuted the Army version that there were three checkpoints and the car sped past two and rammed into the third one. "There weren't three checkpoints. Only a few soldiers were standing on the street and they whistled for us to stop, but Faisal, who was driving the car, did not hear it. We asked him to stop and he applied the brakes abruptly, trying to halt the car," said Basim. And then it started raining bullets.

The Army on November 7 admitted its mistake over the firing incident and said that the inquiry into the same would be completed within days and action taken against anyone found guilty of violating the rules of engagement. Lt Gen. DS Hooda, later told reporters, "We are targeting that the inquiry is completed within days and not months."

Hooda said that the Ministry of Defence has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the next of kin of the two deceased along with Rs 5 lakh each for the injured boys. As the army claimed it had initiated a speedy investigation, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also assured a "fair inquiry" as well as action against the guilty.

The record of the army and paramilitary forces on probing offences committed by their personnel does not inspire confidence. From Bijbehara (1993), where 43 people were gunned down by BSF personnel and no one was held guilty, to Pathribal (2000), where the army gave itself a clean chit 14 years after an alleged fake encounter that killed five civilians, military processes of justice have worked to protect, delay and acquit.

In Machil (2010), the army invoked the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to pull the case out of civilian courts, even though the police investigation pointed to murder and abduction, and it had not taken place in the "line of duty".

According to an Amnesty International report, many men were maimed, tortured and women raped between July and October 1987 after the military launched the operation following an attack by Naga rebels on Assam Rifles' Oinam outpost. The rebels killed nine soldiers and escaped with 150 guns and 125,000 rounds of ammunition.

Operation Bluebird was ostensibly aimed at catching the rebels and recovering the firearms. But activists say the soldiers ended up taking revenge from the innocent people of Oinam and 35 surrounding villages for more than three months. The villagers were also forced to make food for the soldiers for 65 days until they exhausted their granaries.

Nearly three decades on, many people in Oinam are still struggling to cope with the trauma of one of the darkest episodes in the revolt-hit state's history. Several villages were turned into virtual prisons during this period as security forces, armed with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, allegedly unleashed a reign of terror in the area.

Human rights activist Irom Sharmila has been on indefinite fast for 14 years to demand the repeal of the archaic law, which gives security forces wide powers to shoot-at-sight, search and detain anyone suspected to be involved in the armed revolt in Manipur. The military says the law is necessary for it to tackle insurgency.

Church deacon Ngaoni Shangne, now 94, says, "We were made to carry 50-kg loads from one village to the other without food or water. Some men were hung upside down and thrashed while women were buried up to their necks. Pregnant women, kicked and abused, were made to deliver in the field as the soldiers watched." Some village headmen were blindfolded and executed with their hands tied behind their backs. Naga rights groups put the number of deaths at 27 but the official figure was 15.

The legal fight to bring the Assam Rifles personnel to book ended in March 1992 without the final hearing. One of the judges was transferred after recording thousands of pages of arguments from the petitioners and Assam Rifles. He has not been replaced, nor has the date of the next hearing been set in these 27 years.

"If this country cannot provide justice, God will," says 57-year-old Bluebird survivor Shangvao Rong. "They (the soldiers) will die too, hopefully not like the way they made our brothers and sisters die."

Why do soldiers patrolling civilian areas in Kashmir and other NE states shoot to kill, so easily? The answer, in five letters, is AFSPA. The immunity that the Army gets under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act gives it the impunity to use what should be the last option first.

AFPSA allows soldiers to "fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death" against those violating the law; it also says "no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government".

Had this protective umbrella not been provided, it is possible to imagine that the soldiers would have adopted less dire methods to stop the car in Chettargam; perhaps they would have shot at the tyres to immobilise the vehicle.

The Jeevan Reddy Committee recommended AFSPA be repealed and some of its provisions incorporated in other laws. Many in the civilian establishment see it as an obstacle to efforts to normalise the "disturbed" areas where it is now in force and at least want it amended. The Army dismisses all such suggestions. But last Monday's incident makes it clear that AFSPA cannot continue, certainly not in its present form.

Had this shoot out executed in the night-hours, army might have stuck to its November 3 story of an encounter. National media also might have flashed out dutifully that terrorists from across the border were eliminated in a fierce encounter.

The Army under compelling circumstances per force accepted the responsibility. Its alacrity also stems out from another important event namely the ensuing Assembly elections. Lest, Mission 44+ will be in jeopardy.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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