When forces probed their own for rape

FP

Verma panel wants criminal trial for armed forces men in rape cases. A look at some such cases in Kashmir

One of the key recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee has been that sexual offences by armed forces personnel be brought under ordinary criminal law.

In Kashmir, the armed forces have frequently sought — and got — immunity from prosecution in civilian courts after their personnel have had rape charges levelled against them. Conducting their own probes, the forces have at times quashed the charges and at times found their personnel guilty. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his party frequently raise withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act as a political issue but the government's own record has been poor, with police probes often moving at snail's pace and the use of the immunity clause going unchallenged in courts.

In submissions to the Verma panel, activists and lawyers such as Vrinda Grover had suggested deletion of the requirement of sanction for prosecution under CrPC section 197 and similar provisions of the AFSPA. The AFSPA's immunity clause is circumscribed by "good faith'', which means it should come into play only when personnel make a "bonafide mistake'' during operations. That has not stopped the armed forces from invoking it in rape cases. And whenever the state government has approached the defence ministry (in cases involving the army) or the home ministry (central forces) for the mandatory sanction to prosecute the accused, the Centre has turned it down.

Some of the cases of rape and sexual assault against personnel of the Army and central forces in Kashmir:

January 3, 1997: A family comprising a 60-year-old, his two daughters and a grandson were preparing to go to bed at Manzgam, Kokernag, when some soldiers allegedly broke in. They were allegedly led by Major Arora of 5 Rashtriya Rifles. "He slapped me and dragged my younger sister (then 16) into a room and raped her," the elder daughter told The Indian Express recently. The elder daughter's husband had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen and the local army unit would often raid her father's house. The day of the alleged rape, the Army allegedly picked up the father, who remains untraced 15 years on. The younger sister is now married with children, the elder one said, while her own husband surrendered surrendered to the army, divorced her and remarried.

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