Let me begin at the very beginning by expressing my vindication to note that the Supreme Court on February 12 has very rightly stopped the Mehbooba Mufti-led Jammu and Kashmir from initiating any coercive action against Major Aditya Kumar who has been named in the FIR registered by the state police in connection with the death of three youth – Suhail Lone, Javid Bhat and Rayees Ahmed in their 20s in Army firing in Shopian on January 27. The Supreme Court took less than a minute to stop Jammu and Kashmir police from taking any coercive action against Major Aditya Kumar. Prima facie, there seems to be no strong case for initiating action against Major Aditya!
How can it be ignored that these three youth were a part of more than 300 strong mob who without any reason had started brutally attacking an Army convoy and were about to kill a JCO? How can it be ignored that to save the JCO who was brutally attacked by a mob which included these 3 youths and were about to lynch him even though he was talking with them politely and wanted to kill him when he tried to pacify them, the soldiers were compelled to fire as there was no other option to save him from those stone pelters and Maj Aditya Kumar was not even among those who had fired? Then how could FIR be lodged against Maj Aditya Kumar?
How can it be ignored that soldiers are protected under AFSPA? How can it be ignored that soldiers did not fire on peaceful protesters but on a huge crowd who were doing stone pelting and who instead wanted to kill the soldiers? How can it be ignored that these stone pelters were not listening even after being repeatedly warned and did not spare even a JCO who was not armed and who was instead pacifying the stone pelters but still they attacked him and were about to lynch him?
As it turned out, while the police FIR accuses the 10th Garhwal battalion of murder and attempt to murder among others, the Army has stated that it fired in self-defence. A three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court issued notice to the Jammu and Kashmir government and asked standing counsel M Shoeb Alam to file a response to a petition by Major Aditya’s father, Lt Colonel Karamveer Singh, who sought quashing of the Shopian FIR that levels murder charges against his son. The murder charges leveled against Maj Aditya was preposterous!
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform here that issuing notice to the State and Centre, a three-Judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra ordered that, “As an interim measure, it is directed that no coercive steps shall be taken on the basis of the First Information Report No. 26/2018 dated 27.1.2018 registered at P.S. (Police Station) Shopian under Sections 336, 307, 302 of Ranbir Penal Code against Major Aditya Kumar.” This is certainly a big relief for Maj Aditya and a huge setback for Mehbooba state government. This was what was being anticipated also.
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that the Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by Maj Aditya Kumar’s father – Lieutenant Colonel Karamveer Singh who had bravely fought Pakistani forces in Kargil 19 years ago. Of course, Lt Colonel Karamveer was seeking the quashing of the FIR filed against his son! Taking a serious note of the plea by an army officer who had fought intruding Pakistani forces in Kargil 19 years ago and who narrated the catch 22 situation in which army personnel operate in Jammu and Kashmir, the Bench of the Supreme Court also sought the assistance of Attorney General KK Venugopal and asked him to “put forth” before the court the Centre’s stand on this incident and the FIR.
To be sure, the Bench of the Supreme Court gave the Jammu and Kashmir state government two weeks time to file its reply. Thus we see that the Jammu and Kashmir State Government has been given enough time to prepare and file its reply in this high profile case! The Bench said that, “Let a copy of this petition be served on Mr Shoeb Alam, standing counsel for the State of Jammu and Kashmir, who shall file a reply . A copy of the petition be served on the office of the learned Attorney General who shall represent the Union of India and put forth its stand.”
To put things in perspective, the Supreme Court also issued a notice on another petition which sought a direction to the Centre to set up a committee of experts for conducting a preliminary inquiry before a case is registered against Army personnel, and direction to the state government not to withdraw cases against stone-pelters. It is a matter of national disgrace that cases against 10,000 stone pelters were withdrawn by Mehbooba government and even in this case no FIR was lodged against stone pelters who were responsible for this entire unsavoury incident which left three stone pelters dead and many injured! Shameful!
Why has Centre allowed this to happen at the first place? What precedent is being set? Will this not encourage others to follow suit?
What impact will it have on soldiers morale who already are repeatedly facing terror attacks and suffering casualties? How can soldiers fight if they are made to fight court cases just for doing their duty? How can the protection to soldiers available under AFSPA be denied to them? How can we ignore that just recently even the children of soldiers have appealed to NHRC to save their fathers from being stone pelted?
Needless to say, while appearing for Lt Col Karamveer Singh, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said it was a “serious” matter and that “currently an operation was going on”. According to the police, two protesters were killed on the spot during the firing on January 27 and a third person succumbed to injuries later. Singh contended that the Army personnel were forced to fire at “a savage and violent mob engaged in a terrorist activity”, which had hurled stones at an Army convoy and was allegedly about to lynch a Junior Commissioned Officer. What else could the Army personnel do?
Truth be told, the petition filed through advocate Aishwarya Bhati said that, “The petitioner is constrained to file the present writ petition for quashing of the FIR in view of the extremely hostile situation on the ground, whereby an FIR has been registered by the local police against the son of the petitioner, who is a service Army officer and was performing his bona fide duties.” How can this lodging of FIR be registered? What is worse is that no FIR lodged against stone pelters! Why were stone pelters given the long rope by the police? At whose behest? Mehbooba or some minister or someone else? This must be divulged! Why should they who protect stone pelters and encourage them from doing it repeatedly not be sacked but also put behind bars for abetting the crime?
Simply put, the petition which will be mentioned in the court stated that, “The manner in which the lodging of the FIR has been portrayed and projected by the political leadership and administrative higher-ups of the state reflects the extremely hostile atmosphere in the state.” Why did Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman do nothing to ensure that soldiers are not mired in controversies and FIR is not lodged against them as they were just doing their duty and had to fire to protect the life of a JCO who was on the verge of being set on fire just like earlier a DSP Mohammad Ayyub Pandith was beaten, stripped, bones broken and then burnt to death? Why did Home Minister Rajnath Singh also not intervene?
No doubt, Lt Col Karamveer stated that he was filing the plea on behalf of his son “for protecting the morale of the soldiers of Indian Army, who are facing all odds in performance of their bona fide duties and laying their lives in the line of duty, to uphold the dignity of the Indian flag.” Which right minded person will question what Lt Col Karamveer has said? We are all seeing for ourselves how terrorists are regularly attacking our soldiers, how Pakistani soldiers are attacking our soldiers and worst of all even many locals are attacking our soldiers with stones and other sharp weapons without any provocation whatsoever!
It is noteworthy that the petition said that the FIR relates to an Army convoy on bona fide military duty in an area under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) coming under heavy stone pelting. It also stated that the area was isolated by an unruly and deranged mob who were pelting the said vehicles with stones, causing damage to the military vehicles which are the property of the Government of India, as well as placing the lives of military personnel and military property within the vehicles in grave peril. It also mentioned that although the Army requested the mob to disperse, they did not do so and started hurling stones at the vehicles.
Worst of all, Lt Col Singh said that, “The unruly behaviour of the unlawful assembly reached its peak when they got hold of a junior commissioned officer and was in the process of lynching him. It was at this moment that warning shots were fired at the unlawful assembly which, as per the said terms of engagement, is the last resort to be taken before opening fire. The unlawful assembly again refused to spare the life of the officer and, therefore, fire was lawfully opened with an aim to disperse the violent mob and protect government servants and property.” Is it not the duty of soldiers to protect government servants and property?
In essence, Lt Col Singh said Major Aditya was not present at the spot and could not have taken part in the action. He said the soldiers opened fire purely in “self-protection” to disburse a stone-pelting mob and save themselves from being lynched. He said that, “The manner in which the lodging of FIR has been portrayed and projected by political leadership and administrative higher-ups of the state reflects the hostile atmosphere in the state.”
All said and done, it is an open and shut case. Police has no business to interfere in the working of the Army. The death of 3 stone pelters was caused due to those stone pelters themselves who came in large numbers and started attacking the Army convoy without any provocation and were on the verge of killing the JCO and to save him the soldiers had to fire! Here too Major Aditya was not the one who fired nor did he do anything that could warrant his arrest by the police! So, the FIR lodged by police was unsustainable and Major Aditya deserved the relief which he has been granted by Supreme Court! Sure enough, the final decision too will see him emerging unscathed because he has done nothing wrong for which he could be incarcerated in jail!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.