By Iftikhar Gilani
ANKARA (AA) - When recently a decorated Indian police officer Davinder Singh was arrested along with two “most wanted” militants in a car in India-administered Kashmir, questions about his alleged role in a terrorist attack on Indian parliament in 2001 and other cases has returned to haunt him and Indian security system.
The 2001 incident had brought nuclear powers India and Pakistan almost close to a war. Indian government recalled its ambassador from Pakistan and mobilized half a million soldiers on the Pakistan border. It led to the killing of 840 Indian soldiers while laying landmines.
In 2012, engineer Rasheed, an independent lawmaker, had petitioned then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to probe the alleged role of police officials in the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament.
After a trial court awarded death sentence to Mohammad Afzal Guru for his involvement in the attack on parliament, his wife Tabassum wrote an open letter stating that her husband had facilitated travel and boarding of attackers on the orders of Davinder Singh. Guru, prime accused in the case was secretly hanged, and his body was interred in Tihar Jail in February 2013.
“My husband was awarded death sentence, based on his confession that he brought two people to Delhi from Srinagar and arranged their stay. But the same court deleted the portion of his confession, where he had said, that he was obeying orders of a police officer Davinder Singh,” she told Anadolu Agency over the phone.
In a 2004 letter, Guru had also told his lawyer Sushil Kumar, who was pleading his appeal in the Supreme Court, that “Davinder Singh then with Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police had asked him to take two persons Mohammad and Tariq to Delhi, rent a flat for their stay and help them purchase a car.”
Guru had named another officer Shanty Singh, who had also allegedly tortured him at the SOG camp near Srinagar Airport. Shanty Singh alias Iqbal Singh was later suspended and arrested in another case of custodial killing.
Davinder Singh’s name had again cropped in a July 2005 case, when Delhi Police arrested Haji Ghulam Moinuddin Dar, an alleged militant, on the outskirts of the Indian capital.
Police recovered a pistol, a wireless set and a letter signed by Davinder Singh, asking security agencies to facilitate Dar's safe passage. But Delhi Police in order to confirm the authenticity of the letter, went to Srinagar, where they raided Singh’s official residence recovering an AK rifle and ammunition. Even though all these details are part of the charge sheet filed by Delhi Police, Singh was never probed further.
- Celebrated author questions trial
Celebrated author Arundhati Roy had questioned the trial into the parliament attack. She also lamented that the probe did not involve the alleged role of Singh.
“The court-appointed junior lawyer did not visit his client [Guru] even once in jail. He did not summon any witnesses in Guru's defense, and he did not cross-examine the prosecution witnesses. The judge expressed his inability to do anything about the situation,” she claimed.
She also raised finger on the then prime minister and police, who kept on saying months before that parliament could be attacked.
“On December 12, 2001, at an informal meeting, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee warned of an imminent attack on Parliament and on Dec. 13, parliament was attacked. Given that there was an improved security drill, how did a car bomb packed with explosives enter the parliament complex?” she asked.
When the names of the five slain attackers were made public, the police in the western Indian state of Maharashtra had sought a clarification.
S.M. Shangari, then police commissioner of Thane district, identified the assailants as ones whom his team had arrested from Mumbra city, a suburb of India’s commercial capital Mumbai.
He had spotted similarities between the blueprints, maps, arms, and ammunition seized from the four arrested Mumbra and the material recovered from the bodies of the parliament attackers in New Delhi.
“The commissioner wanted to check if the killed militant was the same man they had arrested,” a leading Indian journal The Open magazine reported.
Shangari said the four militants arrested by the police had been handed over to the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Dec. 8, 2000, on the orders of the Thane District Court via a transit remand, since they were wanted for other cases in Kashmir.
But former Director-General of Jammu and Kashmir Police K Rajendra, who was heading the SoG in 2001, however, dismissed Shangari’s inquiries calling it a case of mistaken identity. But the four men sent on remand to Kashmir police were never returned to Thane, even though they were on transit remand.
- Guru’s confession
According to Guru’s confession, like thousands of young Kashmiri men, he had joined Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to get an arms training in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1993.
But he soon got disillusioned and returned home, where he surrendered before Indian security forces. But his travails did not end.
“He was arrested many times and tortured. They [security forces] were insisting to make him an informer,” said Tabasum.
“Never a day passed by without the scare of Rashtriya Rifles and SoG men harassing my husband. They detained him for several weeks and threatened to implicate us in false cases. We had to negotiate his release after paying hefty bribe” she said.
“Major Ram Mohan Roy of 22 Rashtriya Rifles gave an electric shock to my private parts. Then I was handed over to the SoG, where police officers Vinay Gupta and Davinder Singh supervised the torture. One of their torture experts, Inspector Shanti Singh, electrocuted me for three hours until I agreed to pay a bribe. My wife sold her jewelry and my two-wheeler to arrange the money,” read letter of Guru to his lawyer.
It was after one of these incidents that Guru returned to Delhi and wanted to join the prestigious Delhi School of Economics. He stayed with his cousin Shaukat Guru and tutored school children to raise money.
According to Guru, Singh came from Kashmir and arrested him in Delhi. He was taken to Kashmir, where in November 2001, he was asked to arrange transport and lodging of two men, whom he met at the SoG camp as the last errand, before he will be allowed to live his own life.
- Not an isolated case
In the Kashmir landscape, where society has been brutalized, Singh’s traumatic way of functioning is not an isolated case. In another case of the murder of a prominent lawyer and human rights activist Jalil Andrabi, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had issued warrants against an officer Maj. Avtar Singh, who was accused of his killing in 1996.
He was also named for the murder of at least a dozen other men. But Singh fled the country and was back in the news after his wife reported him for domestic violence in California in February 2011. A court-ordered India’s Ministry of External Affairs to ensure his extradition.
In February 1996, when Andrabi was back from Geneva after attending a human rights conference, few gunmen knocked his door. His wife opened the door and began arguing with the men. The lawyer took pictures of intruders while hiding in the attic.
Armed with camera, next day he took flight to Delhi to meet then Home Minister Shankarrao Bhavrao Chavan, his deputy Rajesh Pilot, then U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner, pleading for his safety. He was assured that necessary steps will be taken to protect him, says his brother Arshad Andrabi from Srinagar.
In March, Andrabi returned to Kashmir, with all these assurances to be with his family for Eid. “On the day of Eid March 8, while heading home with his wife, his car was stopped by an Army contingent led by Avtar Singh. On March 27, 19 days after abduction, his body was found in River Jhelum with bullet marks on his head and heart, and torture marks all over body.
Justice Bilal Nazki, one of the judges who ordered to set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe Andrabi’s murder, told media a few years ago that he was transferred from Jammu and Kashmir High Court after passing order to initiate probe.
Nazki, who retired as chief justice of the Orissa High Court, said: “In 1997 when I was hearing the case, we had set up an SIT to probe the murder. Maj. Avtar Singh should have faced trial. Soon after I passed orders in the case, I was transferred to Hyderabad. The High Court did not take any interest afterward.”
On June 9, 2012, Singh, living in Selma, California, shot his wife and three children. Before turning the gun on himself, he called the Sheriff’s office and told them that he had killed four people.
The SWAT team that responded to the call found his youngest and oldest sons, aged 3 and 17, and his wife, dead of gunshot wounds to the head; the middle son, 15 years old, was critically injured, but alive. He died a few days later from wounds to the head.
Before settling in the U.S. Singh had living in Canada.
Journalist Umar Sultan, who had traced Avtar Singh’s other alleged crimes, said residents of the neighborhood of Batamaloo in downtown Srinagar remember him taking away scores of youths who never returned.
“Our hands were tied from behind. The Major ordered his troops to throw the boy into the Jhelum River and they did. I closed my eyes and started praying thinking I would be the next but I was brought back. I feared that nobody would know about my fate, Junaid, a victim, told weekly English language journal the Kashmir Life.
He recalled that when he was held in a Palhalan camp in 1997, Singh brought a local teacher. He tore his shirt, bundled it and shoved it in the teacher’s throat with his cane. “The teacher died in front of my eyes,” said Junaid.
In another instance, Singh brought Junaid’s neighbors, Mohammad Shaban and his son Yahya Khan of Batamaloo to the camp.
- Singh’s presence in Canada, US
“Yahya was already dead when he was brought to the camp, his father was tortured to death subsequently,” recalled Junaid. His testimony of what he came across inside the garrison is chilling.
Singh’s presence in Canada had created a diplomatic row between India and Canada. In 2007, Canadian immigration authorities had begun denying visas to the Indian military and paramilitary personnel, who had performed duties in Kashmir. In the run-up to the Indian prime minister’s visit to Canada for the G20 summit in May 2010, and after the protests by the Indian government, Canada eases controls.
In February 2011, Maj. Singh’s wife, in a small town in Fresno County of California, called the police in a domestic violence case to report that her husband tried to choke her. When he was taken into custody, the police found out that he was wanted for murder in Kashmir and that there was an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest. Though living illegally in the U.S., he owned a thriving trucking business.
Matt Eisenbrandt, a lawyer working for Canadian Centre for International Justice, said that Singh’s case has demonstrated the need for universal jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings in any court around the world.
“The U.S. after initially locating and detaining Singh and fully aware of his role in the murder of Andrabi took no further steps,” he said.
Hartosh Singh Bal, a senior journalist who had traced Singh at an army camp in Punjab and interviewed him before the latter flew to Canada, said he was also surprised at the extent of the cover-up.
Bal had again spoken to Singh on phone when he was traced in California. He had clearly told him: “If the extradition does go through, I will open my mouth, I will not keep quiet.”
“Perhaps the man knew too much and did not deserve to live,” Bal said.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.