Author: Saadut
•5:13 PM





“… it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”



On June 10th, 2012 Major Avtar Singh, wanted in India for the killing of over a dozen men including human rights activist Jaleel Andrabi, shot and killed himself along with his wife and two children in California. This brutal end was seen by many people here as ‘divine retribution’ for his gruesome crimes, but with the death of Major Avtar was justice really served?

Jaleel Andrabi was abducted by a group of Army personnel led by Major Avtar Singh on the Eid of Match 8th 1996, as he was heading home with his wife. His wife and car were left behind and later when the Bar association moved to high court seeking his whereabouts, both Army and BSF denied he had been picked up. The body of Jaleel Andrabi was recovered 19 days later (27th March) from river Jhelum near Rajbagh in Srinagar; his upper half torso had been covered in a bag while hands tied behind him with rope and a stone tied to his body.

The SIT formed under the directions of High Court investigated and found that Major Avtar Singh had abducted Jaleel Andrabi and a renegade Sikander (among others) had been complicit in this crime. Barely a week after Jaleel Andrabi’s body has been fished out from Jhelum, seven more bodies were found at Pampore including that of the renegade Sikandar. Further investigations led the team later to another renegade Mohammed Ashraf Khan, alias Umar. Umar’s statement implicated Major Avtar Singh for the murders of Jaleel Andrabi, renegade and complicit Sikandar and his other associates. When these murders took place Major Avtar Singh was part of the 35 Rashtriya Rifles based in Rawalpora, Srinagar. In response to the SIT report filed before the High Court on 10 April 1997, the Army submitted that Major Avtar Singh had been acting in his personal capacity. While Army made this claim, the statement of Umar ran contrary to this. He had earlier confessed that along with Major Avtar Singh ““Six persons, namely Sultan, Balbir Singh, Dr Vaid, Mushtaq and Hyder were also present…” Clearly Major Avtar Singh was not acting alone here and a whole apparatus seemed to be involved in these killings. Ironically none of those mentioned by the witness Umar have been named in the charge sheet and it is more likely they are still in active service. Major Avtar could not have acted in his singular capacity as he used all state tools and facilities to kill and systematically followed up with erasure of evidence. Pertinently lawyer Jaleel Andrabi had addressed the UN Human rights Commission at Geneva sometime before his abduction and killing (in 1995), which at the height of conflict in Kashmir caused much unease to the state.

Major Avtar Singh remained ‘untraceable’ for police even after the court had asked for the impounding of his passport. The police claimed in 1998, that the Major was not traceable while Army had maintained that Major Avtar, originally from Ludhiana based Territorial Army 103, had been ‘disembodied’ from service (a journalist later had easily located and interviewed Major at the Territorial Army barracks in Ludhiana). The two judges hearing this case were transferred just before the next hearing and before any verdict could be passed; the case falling into cold storage thereafter. 

Other than the Andrabi case, Major Avtar Singh is also accused of killing Batmaloo businessman Ghulam Qadir for extortion (18th February 1996, killed even after ransom had been paid) and in yet another incident Abdul Majid Shah’s dead body was found in the Jhelum with a stone tied to it.

Despite court orders for impounding his travel papers, Major Avtar Singh was successful in obtaining a passport and fleeing to Canada from where he proceeded to USA. While Major Avtar fled in 2005, repeated attempts to get him extradited by the state government from 2006 were lost in New Delhi’s reluctance. If Major Avtar Singh had acted in his personal capacity while committing these gruesome crimes, the Indian state should have no reasons to firewall his conviction. On the contrary his conviction would have cleared New Delhi of accusations that Avtar Singh acted just as a state arm assigned to silence voices in Kashmir. The disinterest of Indian government in wanting to get Major Avtar Singh extradited gave enough indication to reasons and intent, when the same government could get Abu Salim extradited from Portugal in spite of a stay on order from the Supreme Court of Portugal. While Abu Salim was tracked and located in spite of his having forged travel papers and mutated identities, Major Avtar Singh travelled freely on his original travel papers and own identity despite a lookout notice. And all this could not have been possible unless he had support from ‘within the system’.

The system that nurtured him and facilitated him clearly did not want him to stand trial, lest he speak up. Major Avtar Singh is not an exception to Kashmir nor are the efforts of ‘the system’ to protect and cloak such crimes. Such crimes are galore here, but the Major Avtar Singh case stood out for the brazen efforts to shield him, facilitate him and deny justice in spite of overwhelming proof against him. In this fight between Justice and the Jackboot system, ‘the system’ seems to be having its way as always. 

When in February last year his wife lodged a case of domestic violence against Major Avtar and he was located in California, the hopes of extradition and justice were again rekindled. Despite him being publicly located, New Delhi made no serious efforts to seek his extradition. In an interview later given to Open Magazine he had confessed that “If the extradition does go through, I will open my mouth, I will not keep quiet.’’.

Justice would only seem to have been dispensed when Major Avtar Singh would stand trial along with others complicit; but that would have exposed ‘the system’ that helped him and insulated him. While Major Avtar Singh may be dead along with his innocent family, other Avtar Singh’s of these crimes are unaccounted for and left befit of answerability. 

The silence of a dead Avtar Singh means that this case, as with other cases, shall be heading for a quiet burial. Avtar Singh’s death does not mean Justice has been served, it only means Justice has been buried, quietly. Nature may have its own way of retribution with the death of Major Avtar Singh, but Justice in reality is still pending.







11th June 2012



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