The Gory Truth
On January 29, 1996, Jaleel Andrabi, a senior lawyer and prominent human rights activist, had just come back from Geneva, where he had spoken out against the rights violations in Kashmir.
The same day, a vehicle had driven up to his house. Two men walked up to the door and said their father had been set afire by the Army at Pulwama, that he had survived and been admitted to a hospital in Srinagar. They said their mother and sister were waiting outside, and wanted to consult him (Jaleel) on what could be done legally.
Andrabi asked them to meet him in the High Court. Just then, his brother Manzoor, who had gone to the doctor, returned. He told Andrabi that the only people waiting outside were three armed men. At this, the men left hurriedly in a taxi. The family made a note of the registration number—JKT 1988.
The next day, the same people came knocking at the door. By now, Andrabi was apprehensive. Andrabi’s wife was the one who went to speak to the men at the door.
As she was telling the men that they should come to court to meet her husband, Andrabi went up to the attic with a camera. The men saw him clicking photographs, and started gesticulating. But neighbours had gathered by now and the men had to flee. The next day, Andrabi released their pictures to the newspapers
In the days following the two visits, Andrabi spent much of his time at the High Court, arguing a case where he had sought to ensure that people detained in the state were not taken to jails outside J&K. The state had appealed the order and it had come up before a division bench of the High Court.
Andrabi had asked his brother Arshid Andrabi to accompany him to court. At lunch, Andrabi pointed to the man sitting on an adjacent table, a “notorious” Ikhwani (surrendered militant working with the security forces) named Sikandar. Andrabi told Arshid the man had been shadowing him for some time. He said if he could be followed to the High Court there was no way he could be safe in the state, he needed to leave for a while.
“He stayed in Delhi for over a month. He met the press, talked to a few embassies, I think he annoyed the government further,’’ says Arshid. In March, Andrabi came back to the Valley to be with his family for Eid.
On the day of Eid, 8 March, 1996, while heading home with his wife, his Maruti car was allegedly stopped by an Army contingent led by Major Avatar Singh near Parraypora on Airport road.
They seem to have been waiting for Andrabi. There were three vehicles parked there, a one-tonne Army truck that had ferried the 20 or so Armymen accompanying the officer, their officer’s jeep and a private vehicle, the family said.
Andrabi was asked to get out of the car and taken into custody. His wife, who could not drive, was left behind. She waved down an autorickshaw and tried to give chase, but the vehicles were moving too fast. The same evening, a case of abduction was filed at a nearby police station.
The High Court Bar Association moved a petition in the state High Court the next morning. The Army and the BSF filed replies denying Andrabi had been picked up by their men.
On 27 March, 19 days after the abduction, a college student named Abid Hussain, a resident of Kursu Rajbagh, a locality that lies by the Jhelum, went to the banks of the river early in the morning. According to his deposition, he saw a body floating down the river. It got entangled with the lines of two boats anchored ahead and drifted towards the bank. Soon, more people gathered there and pulled the body ashore. The upper half of the torso was covered with sackcloth tied around the waist by a rope. As soon as the sackcloth was removed, most of the men there were able to identify the body—Jaleel Andrabi had lived in that neighbourhood for over a decade at one point of time.
Andrabi had been shot in the head and his body bore marks of injuries that suggested he had been beaten and tortured. The post-mortem suggested he had died about two weeks before the body was found.
Arshid was among the people called to identify the body. Soon after Andrabi’s body was found, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed by the J&K Police; it did not take them long to connect Sikandar Ikhwani to the abduction.
On 5 April 1996, just about a week after Andrabi’s body had been found, seven more bodies were found at Pampore. Among the dead was Sikandar Ganiae, the Ikhwani. When the police spoke to Sikandar’s widow, Hameeda, she told them that Sikandar and his associates had been summoned by another Ikhwani, Muhammed Ashraf Khan alias Umer, to an Army camp in Rawalpora, headed by a man named Major Avtar Singh of 35 Rashtriya Rifles.
Six months later, the police were finally able to trace Umer. His statement was recorded before a magistrate and it implicated Major Avtar Singh in the murder of not just Jaleel Andrabi, but also Sikandar and his associates. According to Umer, in March 1996, Avtar Singh and Sikandar picked up a man dressed in a suit-and-tie and brought him to the camp. They were accompanied by “Suken, Balbir Singh, Waid, Doctor who was an Army Doctor and Mushtaq Haider etc.’’
Umer goes on to state that the man in the suit argued with these men, questioning why he had been abducted and brought to the Army camp. He was beaten up and locked in a room. Shortly after, Avtar Singh came and told Umer that the man they had picked up was a famous advocate named Jaleel Andrabi, who works against the Army. The same evening, Umer said, he heard cries and shouts from the room where Andrabi was confined. Then there was the sound of a gunshot.
For the first few days after Andrabi was shot, Umer said, the Ikhwanis did not turn up at the camp. A worried Avtar Singh sent him along with Suken and Balbir Singh in search of Sikandar. They located him and told him to report to the camp. The next day, Sikandar came to the camp accompanied by three men and a driver. They were told to leave their weapons at the gate on the pretext that the commanding officer was expected on a visit. They sat down to drink with Avtar Singh, and after an hour or so, were asked to come into the dining room. Umer, who claimed to be standing on the verandah, saw Avtar Singh, the Army Doctor and the other men named earlier overpower Sikandar and his colleagues and tie them up with ropes. They then shut the dining room door. The next day Sikandar and his colleagues were found dead.
On 10 April 1997, the SIT set up by the J&K police filed its report before the court, naming Avtar Singh. The court directed the Union government to impound the Major’s passport or prevent him from being issued one. The court also asked for the service files of the Major within four weeks.
In 2000, the SIT finally told the court what should have been verified much earlier—that Avtar Singh was still in Ludhiana. Soon after, despite the court orders, Avtar Singh was able to obtain a passport and leave the country ad settled in California (USA).
Major Avtar Singh left India after allegedly murdering Andrabi in March 1996. He went to America via Canada. He was arrested by police in California in February last year following a complaint of domestic violence by his wife.
Lastupdate on : Sun, 10 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 10 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 11 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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