Awards for alleged killers

Awards for alleged killers

Ugly mechanism that feeds into a vicious cycle of HR abuse

It can’t be a case of setting a bad precedent. That was already set when Mumma Kana, an unknown informer of the security agencies made it to the list of the officially prestigious Padma awards, two years ago, for what was described as his ‘service in the social sector.’ So when cops known for having unleashed a rein of terror in their areas and of having engaged in brutal actions, not legitimised by the law of the country, get prestigious national honours for the contributions, it is already a case of well accepted norm. Much before Mumma Kana was conferred with the Padma award, who finally still got it despite much outcry against it, officers known for their brutalities and poor human rights track record have known to be decorated, promoted and given undue benefits. Two cops accused of killing of a youth in Sopore, investigation of which never reached its logical conclusion, have made it to the list of gallantry awards this Republic Day. So did the Chhattisgarh cadre police officer who allegedly supervised the torture of Soni Sori, a school teacher accused of assisting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Soni Sori was stripped naked, administered electric shocks and assaulted in police custody under this very officer. According to her lawyers, a medical examination found two stones in Soni’s genital tract and another in her rectum. While her legal battle goes on in court, her tormentors have been rewarded for the kind of gallantry which should hang in shame the head of any Indian who has some respect for basic civil liberties.

In conflict areas, it is already a norm that promotions and awards are doled out on the basis of number of kills and arrests, irrespective of whether the slain, detained or tortured were innocent and whether the actions were taken as prescribed by the law. The history of conflict areas – from Kashmir and north-east to the Maoist hit areas – is replete with incidents of accused men in uniform not just escaping prosecution and punishment but instead getting rewarded with honours and promotions. The Brigadier accused in Pathribal fake encounter case, which is one of the most publicised cases from Kashmir, rose to become a Major General. The General slated to become the next army chief too has been accused of having stains on his hands of innocent blood. There is enough evidence and statistics to prove that men in uniform guilty of crimes of humanity do not only get protection from the government but many of them are also rewarded, demonstrating the ugly institutionalised mechanism that feeds into a vicious cycle of abuse, encouraging a rising graph of atrocities against the citizens.

It is therefore, not surprising that Human Rights Watch has found India’s track record of human rights very disappointing. It has especially maintained that 2011 has been a dismal year as far as human rights in the country are concerned, while stating that there has been a continuum of custodial killings, police abuses as well as failure to implement policies to protect vulnerable communities. It is nobody’s case that the head of the government in India, or people at the helm of affairs, direct their security agencies to perpetuate a cycle of human rights abuse and engage in atrocities and brutalities against their own citizens. But what adds to the dismay is the fact that beyond the criminal silence that the top helm of affairs maintains over human rights abuse by its security personnel, the government bends out of its way to honour and benefit those accused of the same atrocities. It is a shame that every year the Republic Day should become an occasion of controversy that stirs up over the announcement of national awards. Instead of turning a day, whose sanctity is further eroded by such insensitive distribution of honours, into a controversial one and betraying its patronage to violators of human rights, Republic Day should have been an occasion to pledge, in keeping with the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, for investigating fairly allegations of abuse and taking action against men guilty of such crimes.

[editorial Kashmir Times -Jan 31, 2012]

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