Fastrack The Probe

IN a welcome development, the Lieutenant Governor has ordered an inquiry into the controversial Hyderpora encounter in which four people were killed. In a tweet, the LG said that "a magisterial inquiry by an officer of ADM rank" has been ordered in the incident. "Govt will take suitable action as soon as the report is submitted in a time-bound manner. JK admin reiterates the commitment of protecting lives of innocent civilians & it will ensure there is no injustice (sic)," the LG wrote on the microblogging site.

These are reassuring words and would give the families a reason for hope.  The move came a day after the families of the two slain civilians protested in the main city of Srinagar, demanding their bodies be returned to them. On Wednesday night, police had detained around a dozen family members of Altaf Bhat and Dr Mudassir Gul who were protesting at the press enclave.

At the same time, Government has allowed the exhumation of the bodies of the two civilians and they are likely to  be handed over to their families. In a day of big developments, the political parties rallied behind the families. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah held a sit-in outside his house, demanding the return of bodies. On Wednesday, Mehbooba Mufti led a protest in Jammu against what she called the civilian killings by security forces on Wednesday, following which she was placed under house arrest. The People’s Conference chief Sajad Lone issued a strong-worded statement urging the government to let the families grieve by returning the bodies of their loved ones. Similarly Srinagar mayor Junaid Azim Mattu had also made the demand. As the exhumation of the bodies underlines, the government has given in to their demand.

Also, the LG Sinha’s ordering of the probe into the incident has opened up the possibility that the justice will be done after all.  But for that to happen, the probe has to be fast-tracked and the truth of what happened at Hyderpora established.

That said, it is also time for the administration to review its policy of not returning the bodies.  The government rationale for this is twofold: to prevent the large funerals for militants that can spread Coronavirus. And as was made clear by the Inspector General of Police for Kashmir Vijay Kumar in an interview last year this is to stop the glamourization of  militancy among the youth.

The first reason now lacks credibility as it has now been months since the situation in the Valley has returned to normal. And the plausibility of the second reason is also moot as there is no change in the pattern of militant recruitment over the last year. The existing number of active militants in Kashmir is by and large the same as that at the beginning of the last year. The depletion in the militant ranks has been replenished by the fresh recruitment. This proves that the policy of not handing the bodies of militants to their families has done little to check or reduce militancy. One thing that has certainly made a difference in the past is a genuine political outreach. So, there is an urgent need to change tack.  The Centre will have to reach out to the deeply alienated people in the Valley.  We need a drastic shift in mindset in New Delhi. One hopes such a realization dawns sooner than later.

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