Criminals in uniform

An army court martial has sentenced a former Major-General, two Colonels and four soldiers to life imprisonment for murdering in cold blood five leaders of the All Assam Students’ Union, not a terrorist body, at Dangari, a village in Tinsukia district of Assam, way back in 1994. This is a rare and exceptional case in which criminals in uniform have been brought to book. The incident was initially passed off as an armed encounter with armed rebels. It took time for truth to come out and be established. There have been innumerable cases of murder by men in uniform – whether battle-green or khaki – in Assam, in Nagaland, in Manipur, in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. An atmosphere has been created which gives social sanction to killing any person out of hand by uniformed men if the victim is dubbed an insurgent. The police or army version is accepted as gospel truth without any question and the media dutifully reports the death of a ‘dangerous’ insurgent. At Guwahati in Assam, at the height of ULFA activity, a citizen was caught by the police, was forced to open his mouth and the police officer pushed his revolver inside the man’s mouth and shot him dead. This case, like many other similar cases, was never inquired into.
As far as men in the security forces are concerned, there is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, AFSPA for short, that gives them immunity from prosecution if they “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” merely on the suspicion that the person is “acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force”. This, in effect, amounts to giving a carte blanche to the men in uniform in abusing their authority without any fear of being made answerable to the judiciary. How difficult it is for civil society or for the ordinary law-abiding citizen, to bring to book cold blooded murders committed by men in uniform is proved by the fact that it took nearly a quarter of a century to bring the six guilty men of the army to be convicted. Even now, their conviction is not final. It is liable to be challenged before “higher competent authorities” like the Eastern Command of the Army and then the Army Headquarters in New Delhi. And then it may be pertinently questioned whether life sentence is adequate punishment for the cold blooded murder of five innocent men.

Saturday, 20 October, 2018