Major Avtar Singh, who shot his wife and two children before killing himself in California this week, may have been involved in the disappearances of as many as 10 others in Kashmir, according to the Indian press.
Muzammil Jaleel of the Indian Express reported that 10 others were killed or disappeared after being detained by Major Singh's unit, in addition to lawyer Jalil Andrabi -- for whose 1996 kidnapping and murder India was seeking Singh's extradition.
"Singh had not only been chargesheeted for the killing in custody of human rights lawyer Jaleel Andrabi but also been found involved in the murder or kidnapping of 10 others, five of whom were part of a group of renegades believed to have been involved in the abduction and murder of Andrabi," Jaleel writes.
Among the alleged victims was at least one man who had implicated Major Singh in Andrabi's murder, as well as other potential witnesses.
On April 5, five bodies were found on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. These men were identified as Ganai, three of his associates and a taxi driver, according to the Indian Express. Quoting Ganai’s wife Hameeda, the SIT report revealed he had gone to meet Avtar Singh along with another renegade, Ashraf Khan of Larridor, Baramulla.
Khan was arrested that August and gave a statement before a judicial magistrate. “In March 1996, Major Avtar Singh along with Sikandar Ganai had brought with them a person wearing a coat and tie. Six persons, Sultan, Balbir Singh, Dr Vaid, Mushtaq and Hyder were present. A heated exchange took place between Avtar Singh and the apprehended person. He was beaten up and confined to a room. After that Avtar Singh came out in the lawn [and] told me the person is a leading advocate, Jaleel Andrabi, who campaigns against the Army and helps militants. ‘We will eliminate him’. That evening, I heard a noise from the room. Thereafter, I saw Army personnel loading a gunny bag into an Army truck and leaving the camp. A few days later, Andrabi’s body was found.”
The SIT report identified “an Army major posted in the Rawalpora Camp of the 103 Territorial Army” as prima facie responsible for the death. The Army, however, told the court Singh was not in the Army any longer and had not committed the offence “in his official capacity”.
High Court judge Bilal Nazki, since retired, who had ordered that the SIT be set up and Avtar Singh be arrested, was transferred out of Srinagar. “Singh’s case symbolises what is wrong with Delhi’s approach towards Kashmir,” he told The Indian Express in an interview. Even after the court had ordered impounding of his passport, Singh was issued travel documents and allowed to escape.
So how did Singh escape to Fresno? Despite a court order instructing that his passport be impounded, he was issued travel documents by unknown sympathizers in the government, who will most likely never be identified now that Singh is dead, according to Tehelka.
With the suicide of Major Avtar Singh, the truth behind the murder of Andrabi will not be unravelled. Though Avtar Singh did not act alone, it is unlikely that other culprits will be brought to justice, writes Suhas Chakma, detailing how the Indian army and ministry of defense stonewalled the original investigation. The question must be asked as to whether prosecution of the Kalra killers was allowed as insurgency had ended in Punjab.
I still recall meeting Andrabi in Delhi prior to his kidnapping on 8 March 1996 and subsequent murder. Andrabi came to Delhi following an abortive attempt to kidnap him allegedly by the BSF personnel. Andrabi was advised by senior human rights activists not to return to the valley, but he returned to meet his family members for Eid. His body was recovered from the Jhelum river on 27 March, 19 days after the abduction, with his eyes gouged out.
Though such killings appear to be mostly a thing of the past, recent reports suggest there may be as many as 2,000 victims in unmarked graves in Kashmir.