JAMMU AND KASHMIR
Court directs prosecution to produce evidence of Avtar’s death
Major Avtar Singh who killed himself last week, was the prime accused in the murder of Jaleel Andrabi
A court here on Wednesday directed the J&K government to confirm the death of Major Avtar Singh, the prime accused in the murder of the prominent human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi in 1996. The court asked the government to file the report on June 21.
“It is reported by the learned prosecuting officer that accused Major Avtar Singh is believed to be dead, as this news has come in electronic and print media. Accordingly, it is directed to prosecution to produce some authentic record pertaining to the death of accused before the next date of hearing on 21,” the order issued by Chief Judicial Magistrate said. The case at the CJM court has been going on for the past decade.
Earlier, the prosecution sought the closure of the case on the grounds that Singh had died in United States. But this plea was opposed by the lawyer for the Andrabi family who said that the court cannot take suo motu cognizance of newspaper reports. “The accused cannot be considered dead until US government confirms his death officially and sends a confirmation report to the state government,” Hafizullah Mir said. “The state government will then file the report before the court,” he added.
Mir also called for the case to be expanded to try the other accused in the case. He said there was “prima facie evidence” available to them that should be built on. Other accused mentioned in a 2009 application by the Andrabi family are Dr Vaid, Balbir, Mushtaq and Hyder.
Major Singh killed his family, before committing suicide at his home in California in US on Saturday. He was sought in Kashmir for the murder of Andrabi and in five other cases of murder and kidnapping.
A Kashmiri human rights group Coalition for Civil Society (CCS) has demanded an impartial investigation into the crimes perpetrated in the state by Major Singh and his colleagues. The CCS has sought a probe into the circumstances under which he was allowed to leave the country, persons or institutions who may have supported him to escape the legal process, and persons or institutions responsible for delay in extraditing him.
“The murder of Jalil Andrabi doesn’t only involve Avtar Singh,” say the Andrabis
On June 13, the 16 year old case will come up for hearing at a Srinagar court
“It is divine justice,” says Arshad Andrabi about the familicide by Major (retired) Avtar Singh at his home in California. Arshad is the brother of human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi who was killed, allegedly by Singh, in Kashmir in 1996. However, Arshad is upset over Singh killing his own family. “If Government had moved to deliver justice in this case and extradited Singh from US, his family would have been saved”.
On June 13, the 16-year-old murder case, in which Singh is the prime accused, will come up for hearing at a Srinagar court. Arshad says his family will not give up on the trial till they get justice. “The murder of Jalil Andrabi doesn’t only involve Singh. There are others who are involved,” says Andrabi. “They should also face justice”.
The police chargesheet against Singh reveals that he was accompanied by “15-20 Army personnel and two renegade militants working for the Army”. The other accused mentioned in a 2009 application by the Andrabi’s family are: Dr Vaid, Balbir, Mushtaq and Hyder. The Special Investigation Team of JK Police in its status reports identifies the following as accused: Muhammad Afzal Shah, Nazir Ahmad Mir, Muzaffar Ahmad Sheikh and Muhammad Ashraf Khan.
“All of them are complicit in the murder,” says Arshad. “We will pursue the trial against them”.
Singh’s murder of his family and suicide has shocked the Valley. Him taking his own life is equated with divine justice but there is also a sense of grief for his family. “The death of Major Avtar Singh, and the brutal killing of his family members, is an indictment of the Indian State. Singh had been allowed to leave the country, avoid extradition proceedings and run a business over 16 years,” a reaction issued by Coalition of Civil Society, a civil rights group in Kashmir stated. “The State has effectively allowed for Major Avtar Singh to escape the rule of law, and in the process further innocent lives have been lost”.
The CCS has demanded an impartial investigation into the crimes, that they alleged have been perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir by Major Avtar Singh and his colleagues. “There should also be a probe into the circumstances under which he was allowed to leave the country, persons or institutions who may have supported him to escape the legal process, and persons or institutions responsible for delay in extraditing him,” stated the CCS.
Hailing from Yamuna Nagar in Haryana, Singh who was posted in Valley troubled 90s, is alleged to have picked up 36-year-old lawyer-activist Jalil Andrabi on 8 March 8, 1996. The sequence of events that followed is a well known narrative in the Valley. Andrabi was driving home from the High Court with his wife Rifat when his car was stopped at Parraypora by a waiting army truck. A few government gunmen dragged him out of the car, threw a blanket on his head and drove away. Andrabi’s trussed-up, decomposed body was recovered from the Jhelum river on March 27, 1996. His eyes had been gouged out. The autopsy report said Andrabi had probably been killed 14 days before his body was recovered.
A pro-government gunman Muhammad Ashraf Khan alias Omar Bhai who had recorded his statement under section 164 is an eye-witness to Army’s custody of Andrabi. Khan worked as an informer for Singh.“In his statement Khan has talked about hearing Andrabi being tortured by Singh,” said Arshad. “He also says Jalil was shot in the head, his body driven in a car and thrown into Jhelum”.
However, it is the statement of Khan’s wife Dilshada which is more damning. She talks about many more murders by Singh beside that of Andrabi: “Major Avtar Singh killed more people from Mahjoor Nagar, Jawahar Nagar and Batamaloo (Srinagar localities). He kidnapped Jalil Andrabi and tortured him. His body was put in a bag and thrown into the Jhelum,” reads Dilshada statement. She had stayed with her husband at the army camp. “Major Singh was looking worried [after the murder]. He had close relations with my husband and sent him to Jammu so that the heinous crime he has committed may not get exposed,” stated Dilshada.
Apart from Andrabi’s murder, Singh had five cases of murder and kidnapping registered against him in Srinagar which included killing of one Balbir Singh, a tailor from Mahjoor Nagar, in 1997. Avtar Singh was also an accused in the 1997 murder of one Imtiaz Wani of Ikhrajpora and was being sought in the murder of five others, who incidentally were part of his informers’ team when he picked up Andrabi. The five were identified as Sikander Ganai, Muhammad Ramzan, Mushtaq Ahmad Hajam, Muhammad Assad Lone and Muhammad Afzal Malik. There is also a kidnapping case against Singh and his group of counter-insurgents.
Singh was shifted out of Valley to Karnal in Haryana where he was posted in a regiment of Territorial Army. A JK police team which went to arrest him on JK High Court’s order in 2000 returned empty-handed. After his retirement from army, Singh fled to Canada and from there to California in United States. This was despite the fact that JK High Court on 10 April 1997 had issued the order for the immediate impounding of his passport. “Despite court orders Union Home Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs issued the travel documents to Singh and helped him flee the country,” Hafizullah Mir, counsel for the Andrabi family told TEHELKA.
In US, there was an Interpol warrant against Avtar Singh, but couldn’t be executed as there was no request from the Indian government for his extradition. In February 2011 Singh briefly invited media attention after he was arrested by the police in Selma, California following a domestic violence complaint by his wife. Interpol promptly informed the JK’s Crime Department, Interpol’s nodal agency for in the state, about his arrest. However, this time too no request was made for his extradition.
Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.