Was the man killed in the exchange between an army convoy led by then Brigadier Bikram Singh in March 2001, a labourer or a terrorist?
The court verdict could impact Lieutenant General Singh's appointment as the next army chief. Seema Mustafa reports.
The Jammu and Kashmir high court has given the state government one more week to file its response on the allegedly fake encounter case involving army chief designate Lieutenant General Bikram Singh.
The Union government and the Jammu and Kashmir police have submitted their objections to the petition as per the deadline set by the court on a petition filed by a woman named Zaituna Bhat who has alleged that her son Abdullah Bhat was killed in a fake encounter at Anantnag in March 2001.
The Jammu and Kashmir government had not responded and as a result the hearing on the controversial case has been postponed to next week.
Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, then a brigadier commanding the 1 Sector Rashtriya Rifles, was returning to Anantnag as the official army version goes.
Then Brigadier Singh was said to have been in a convoy that had stopped at Janglat Mandi in Anantnag, when the alleged militant disguised as a beggar opened indiscriminate fire on the soldiers.
Colonel J P Janu and Rifleman Ganesh Kumar were killed in this attack. Then Brigadier Singh and another officer were injured in the attack.
The alleged assailant and two civilians were killed in the incident.
Subsequently, the authorities maintained that the alleged militant was a Hizbul Mujhadeen operative named 'Mateen Chacha.' The local police filed a case, buried his body, and treated the matter as closed.
Shortly after this incident, an old woman and her daughter reached Janglat Mandi looking for her son who had not returned home.
Abdullah Bhat, a labourer, used to make the long trek from Kupwara to Anantnag to earn some money every few months, but this time he had not returned home. The two women were informed by the locals that he had been killed by the army. They went to the police, but did not get any information.
High court lawyer Faraz Qureshi, who has now filed a case in the high court on the old mother's behalf, told this correspondent that a local non governmental organisation initially took up the woman's cause and filed a petition in the lower courts, but that was dismissed.
Qureshi claimed this was a fake encounter and the court has taken cognisance of the petition asking the Union government, the Jammu and Kashmir government, and the state police to respond.
The prayer to the court submitted by Qureshi is that one, a Special Investigation Team should be set up to investigate the incident in all detail; two, the then senior superintendent of police of Anantnag and the station house officer should be directed to produce a complete record of the incident, including photographs of the men that the army claims to have been killed in the firing; and three, the grave should be located, and the body sent for a DNA test to prove whether he was just an ordinary labourer or indeed Mateen Chacha as the security forces claim.
The Union defence ministry in its response stated that 'the allegations of a fake encounter after ten years of the incident are a mere afterthought, misleading, mischievous and motivated. The petitioners are leveling false allegations without any basis.'
The Jammu and Kashmir police has responded by maintaining that since under the Sharia laws 'there is no mandate' to mark a grave, this was not done for the man killed and hence there is no record of the grave.
Qureshi said he would file a supplementary petition, as the police cannot claim to have no records about such graves.
The Jammu and Kashmir government ignored the court deadline and has been given another week by high court judge Justice Hasnain Masoodi to file its objections on the petition.
This case could affect Lieutenant General Bikram Singh's appointment as army chief.