The 15-year wait

The case of the Poonch killings frames a familiar pattern of denial and state inaction.

It took 15 years for the CBI to register a case against police officials and army personnel accused of killing 19 people in Poonch in August 1998. Much has happened in between — a state human rights commission report submitted to the Jammu and Kashmir government in the immediate aftermath, a writ petition filed by the families of victims in November 2011, a high court order last year to reinvestigate the case, the CBI's reply that the NIA should look into the matter, and finally, the contempt petition that prompted the CBI to take up the case. The case of the Poonch killings follows a tortuous pattern that has become familiar in Kashmir — of denial and state inaction, of the due processes of law remaining frozen until, as in this instance, people are forced to move the courts.

But the inertia of justice does not stop here. Earlier this year, a district court in Kupwara ordered that the Konan Poshpora rape case of 1991 be reopened. Since then, investigations have only inched forward, with ever-receding deadlines. Cases that have reached the CBI, such as the killings in Sopore, 1993, and Pathribal, 2000, have also been put in cold storage. The unresolved cases of Jammu and Kashmir have become flashpoints of anger among people in the state. Gawkadal, Bijbehara, Handwara — each name is an open wound. None of the perpetrators has been brought to book, while the families of victims still seek reparation.

The fact that complainants have been forced to approach the courts underscores a massive abdication on the part of the government. If the government's plan has been to brush these incidents under the carpet, in the hope that they would be forgotten in time, it has clearly not worked. The resentments have only congealed with time. By failing to fulfil its duty and ensure that justice is done, the government has also ceded vital ground to other institutions. It must now make sure that the guilty are brought to justice, both to reclaim its own legitimacy and to bring closure to the people of Kashmir.

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