An edited version of this article was published in The Kashmir Reader
A day after Bollywood star Salman Khan was sentenced to five years in prison. A special investigation team (SIT) has closed the file on Tufail Matoo, a seventeen year old teenager who was shot dead on June 11, 2010. Apparently, the circumstances of the cold blooded murder of Tufail have been found mysterious enough to close the case. No surprises there.
Tufail has become one of the many faces that are buried in the endless graveyards of Kashmir. Like their slain bodies, justice is buried with them. It’s astounding how police has not taken the responsibility of not only Tufail, but the 127 other youngsters killed in police action in 2010. As if the bullets rained down during that summer and these youngsters had their ‘halam’ lap waiting to be hit by them.
Here not only the state investigation has made mockery of ‘investigation’ but insulted the hopes of an entire generation to implicate the guilty. Next time a ‘chopper’ journalist shoves their mics in their face and asks “What do you want?” or a hysterical “Why do you want it?” They can point them to the graveyard where the truth lays hidden.
Coming to the Salman Khan’s case, it took Indian justice system 12 years to finally come down to the conclusion that Salman Khan is a murderer and his place is behind the bars. His charge being of hit-and-run over people who were sleeping on the footpath. If this is a benchmark to such a case, why are the Indian courts refusing to take the hundreds of Army vehicles into question that run over Kashmiri pedestrians every year? (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/jk-12yearold-girl-crushed-to-death-by-an-army-vehicle-in-handwara/512728-3-245.html)
What’s the difference between Salman Khan who runs over these common pedestrians? And that of Indian Army vehicles that mow down Kashmiris with impunity? Army vehicles mowed down over a 11 year old girl in Handwara in 2014, a 12 year old boy in Anantnag and then it rampantly killed two more teenagers Faisal and Mehrajuddin in Budgam.
Do these victims count for nothing? Or is the Indian Army, a protagonist of a Grand Theft Auto’s Kashmir version where killing civilians from guns and vehicles counts for points and gives them more time to crush the aspirations of the people. Likely so, as every time the Indian Army is held account for its crime, the usual response is delivered in the form of an inquiry.
The responses elucidate the attitude of the Indian state to deliver justice. The outright delay and later denial strategy has created a usual routine when such cases are pursued.This completes the alienation that thrives on discrimination and national interest to deny the basic human right i.e justice. This has created a sense of acceptability of such crimes, as most people are aware of the inability of the courts to prosecute the troops under question.
When Ashraf Matoo, the father of Tufail pursued the case of his dead son to seek justice from the very system that today has condoned his killers, he went on a symbolic journey. A journey that was met with harassment, unwanted surveillance and a fight against pessimism pervaded by the environment. His hope to see his only son’ killers has not only dented whatsover hope he had left but also comes as a setback for many families who were also fighting their respective cases.
As Salman Khan was sentenced, a lot of Indians appreciated the decision of the courts although the usual fanboys felt dismayed at it. The actor’s verdict has shown to them that Indian justice does really work despite its prolonged processes.
The attitude changes when it comes to an Indian forces killing, raping and torturing Kashmiris. This stems from their nationalism which cannot see the saintly army killing an innocent life or raping an innocent soul. For these ‘fanboys’ the victims ironically became the perpetrators of injustice.
The killed becomes ‘wrong time wrong place’ and the raped ‘she is lying and spreading Pakistani propaganda’. These justifications are not only outrageous but in turn vilify and demean the entire population as ‘sub-human’ who indeed do not deserve justice.
Like how the judgement on Afzal Guru devoid of circumstantial evidence was hanged to ‘satisfy the collective conscience’ of the Indian people. This collective conscience is created by overdose of nationalism in TV studios which have become a barometer for the way policies of India will be carried in future.
Selective justice is an open secret in Kashmir. Where the killing of a teenager will only result in the cosmetic measure of removing a bunker. It’s clear that justice system is not only selective but it’s racist and condones the killings of Kashmiris to upkeep the morale of the Indian forces. A logic that prevails from maligning the characters of the rape survivors of Kunan-Poshpora to claiming self-defense when shooting the youngsters in their chests during the intifadas.
As Malcom X denotes that justice system in US was a means of racial control. It is apparent in Kashmir that the justice system is a means of controlling the lives of the occupied people. Like the Armed Forces Special Powers’ act which provides immunity to the Indian soldier armed to the teeth. Question remains even if India didn’t have AFSPA in place would it have prosecuted its troops for committing rampant human rights abuse? Well the symbolic judgement of Salman Khan which the media plays as ‘nobody is above law’ while condoning the human rights abuses in Kashmir proves a point.
Justice has become a dream which has been crushed in the anguish of Shakeel Ahanger to the lost faces of many countless Kashmiris. Would it not help if the pro-freedom leadership start pursuing these cases in the international human rights courts? At-least it could put pressure on the institutions. For the rest of us, the pursuit of justice is not an individual’s responsibility but a collective act. A duty that not only needs to encourage such individuals but also share the journey. Even if the verdicts disappoint the obvious, it becomes important to shoulder each others responsibility.