21 April 2002
The Times of India
BSF record: Guilty are seldom punished
Siddharth Varadarajan & Manoj Joshi
Times News Netwok
New Delhi: If the people of Kashmir are not reassured by union home minister L K Advani’s promise to punish the Border Security Force men accused of gang-raping a 17-year-old girl in Kullar village near Anantnag on Thursday, there’s a reason: Bijbehara.
Nine years after the BSF’s 74 battalion opened fire on a large crowd of unarmed protesters in this small Kashmiri town, killing 37 persons, not a single jawan or officer has been punished. The massacre took place on October 22, 1993.
After strong strictures passed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), 13 BSF men were charged with murder. But the subsequent General Security Force Court (GSFC) trial led to their acquittal. When the NHRC sought to examine the transcripts of the trials in order to satisfy itself that the BSF had made a genuine attempt to secure convictions, the Vajpayee government refused. The NHRC then moved the Supreme Court in an attempt to secure justice for the victims. And that is where the matter stands.
In the early 1990s, the BSF was charged with the execution of innocents and torture. But in not a single case have the persons concerned been convicted. The Union ministry of home affairs - which oversees the BSF - is responsible for this state of affairs. The largely police leadership of the ministry has convinced its political bosses that harsh action against erring personnel could affect the morale of the forces.
That this goes against the grain of the proclaimed official strategy of winning back the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris is ignored. Even when the BSF has been forced to act, the sentences have been too lenient to act as a deterrent.
In Mmay 1990, a newly-married woman was taken off a bus by BSF men on the Anantnag-Korenag road along with her maid. Both were raped. The case created a furore and the BSF’s attempts to hush it up failed. As a result of a court martial, two constables were sentenced to just five year’s imprisonment and dismissed from service, while two head constables punished with forfeiture of seniority and reduction in rank.
While the BSF shares the court-martial procedure with the army, it does not quite work that way. The army tends to take a tougher stand against soldiers charged with molestation and rape. Trials usually take place with exemplary speed and sentences can be harsh, up to 10 years imprisonment and cashiering from service - which is what happened to two army officers convicted of raping a Canadian nurse.
The BSF, on the other hand, goes out of its way to subvert the procedure and most personnel get away because of shoddy investigation and trial procedures. However, even the army has been relcutant to act in cases of custodial deaths (‘encounter’ killings) and ‘excessive force’ and mass killings (such as Bijbehara).