Follolwing a fidayeen attack on Jammu’s Raghunath temple on March 30, 2002, killing 12 people and leaving 20 injured, J&K police had arrested six villagers claiming their involvement — including a schoolteacher, a retired revenue official and a Special Police official — from Poonch district. Fifteen years later, J&K High Court has not only exonerated them but questioned the entire police investigation. The J&K Police “didn’t even array as accused” Virinder Sharma, against whom they had “sufficient evidence” including “recovery of huge quantity of arms and ammunition at his instance”.
These observations came in a judgment on March 15, 2017, when the court dismissed a revision petition by the state against the discharge of the six accused by principal sessions judge, Jammu, Subhash Chandra Gupta on October 30, 2006. “There was sufficient material showing involvement of one Virinder Sharma who has not been arrayed as accused,” HC Justice Mohammad Yakub Mir said. The court asked the trial court to proceed against Sharma and the investigating officer of the case. The attack was among incidents that had heightened communal tension in J&K at the time.
The police are yet to act on the order. IGP (Jammu) S D Singh Jamwal said he isn’t aware about the matter and asked The Indian Express to contact the prosecution wing (of police). Public prosecutor Rakesh Badyal said the court has issued a notice to inspector Ajay Jamwal as he had presented a challan in the court. Jamwal, now SHO in Surankote, said he was not the investigating officer and only presented the challan. The case, he said, was investigated by Razak Khan, Ashok Sharma and Pritam Singh who have all retired — Khan as SP, Sharma and Singh as DSPs. “Only they can tell the court who this Virinder Sharma is and why he was not arrayed as accused,” Jamwal said.
Terming the trial court’s discharge order “well reasoned”, the high court’s Justice Mir observed that “while referring to the entire record, [the trial court] has drawn a conclusion that there is not an iota of incriminating evidence against the accused persons…” “An attempt has been made to show that the [accused] are involved by referring a letter issued by Inspector, Toll Post Manda, Akhnoor, wherein it has been shown that a truck No 4167-JKS has passed…’’ the judgment said. “But in the letter it is specifically stated that truck was empty and nowhere is it said that any person was carrying any arms or ammunition in the truck…”
Those discharged are schoolteacher Kabir Din, his father-in-law Munir Hussain (a retired revenue official), Maroof Khan, Shabir Ahmed (a special police officer), Sarfaraz Khan and Mehmood Ahmed, all residents of Surankote, Poonch. The services of Kabir Dar and Shabir were later terminated by the government because of alleged involvement in terror activities.
Justice Mir referred to the trial court observation that “67 eyewitnesses [out of 84 prosecution witnesses] have only implicated two unidentified militants who were killed in an encounter… In their statements, there is not a whisper against the accused.” He said it has not been shown anywhere that the two militants were accompanied by any other person. “The trial court had made it clear… there was sufficient material showing involvement of one Virinder Sharma who has not been arrayed as accused,” Justice Mir said.
In his 2006 verdict, judge Gupta had held that “whatever evidence/material is on the file collected by Investigating Agency is not only inadequate, insufficient to frame charges against the accused [for murder, attempt to murder and conspiracy to carry out attacks] but there is absolutely no incriminating evidence… to make out a case of conspiracy”. J&K Police had slapped the stringent Enemy Agent Ordinance on these six men, which was thrown out by the trial court. The police had also invoked the Arms Act. “It is astonishing to find how these accused are responsible for the recovery of arms made in some other case,’’ the judge had said. “I find sufficient material… about the arrest of Virinder Sharma, his disclosures and the recovery of huge quantity of arms and ammunition at his instance. But it is astonishing to find that he had not at all been arrayed as accused…”
The trial court had issued a showcause notice to the investigating officer asking him why he has not arrayed Sharma and observing that the police “report seems to be prepared in the air, not based on any slightest supporting evidence, and speaks about the cold manner in which the investigation has been concluded by the investigating officer without having slightest regard to the liberty of the persons”. The court had pulled up senior officers, saying that “SSP Jammu seems to have acted as a rubber stamp without caring and bothering to go through the statements of any of the witnesses”. A copy of the order was sent to the J&K DGP. Eleven years later, police are yet to act against Virinder Sharma or the IO.
The other attack
The story has another twist. Five of these six men had been arrested in an earlier terror case. On July 13, 2002, gunmen killed 29 Hindu labourers and injured 30 at Rajiv Nagar outside Jammu city. Except SPO Shabir Ahmed, all others accused in the temple attack were among six arrested for the earlier attack. The sixth was Altaf Hussain Shah, a relative of Munir Hussain. Police had claimed they were arrested after revelations by Mohammad Abdullah, a Pakistani terrorist captured on August 3, 2002, after the Rajiv Nagar attack. Another Pakistani attacker, Mohammad Zaman, had been killed a day earlier.
Records suggest that among the six, Munir was arrested because Abdullah had allegedly told the interrogators that after escaping, he had spent the night on the verandah of the retired official’s house at Rajiv Nagar. Munir was away in Srinagar then. His minor son and domestic help Sarfaraz were asleep inside, the doors locked. Maroof had brought his truck from Surankote to ferry cement bags from Jammu and had stayed with his brother Sarfaraz at Munir’s house a few days before the attack. Altaf, accompanying his son to Aligarh Muslim University for admission, had stayed at Munir’s house a day prior to the attack. Kabir, a government teacher in Surnakote, says he and Mehmood Ahmed a medical assistant, were arrested because of their relation with Munir.
Kabir alleges there was another reason. “There was a clash between two village cricket teams a few months earlier. Two bodyguards of a senior police officer posted at Surankote were injured,” he said. “I escaped until a village panchayat brokered a compromise… Though I was made to pay a fine to the injured bodyguards, the police officer wasn’t happy.” Meanwhile, the Rajiv Nagar attack took place. “By then the police officer had been transferred to Jammu. I was the last named in the case. I have no doubt he did it to settle scores,” Kabir alleged.
As the police didn’t file a chargesheet within 60 days, all except the Pakistani national got bail. However, the six remained in jail as police charged them in the Raghunath temple case. Again, the police didn’t file the chargesheet in time, but their release was prevented on April 8, 2003, when the Jammu district magistrate ordered their detention under the Public Safety Act for two years.
Two years later, the police were yet to file the chargesheet. In 2005, the five villagers were released on bail. Kabir, however, was rearrested two months later and once again detained under PSA for two years, ordered by the district magistrate on January 30, 2006. Kabir challenged it in the high court. On December 2, 2006, the home department withdrew the second PSA detention order but Kabir wasn’t released. His family approached court, unaware where he was. After three months, the police disclosed he had been rearrested in another terror case. Kabir alleged the police had kept him at the Joint Interrogation Centre, City police station, and other places in Jammu initially. Police showed his arrest on December 19, 2006, for a grenade attack in general bus stand in Jammu on June 12, 2006, when one person was killed and nearly 30 others injured.
“How could I be involved in such an attack while I was in jail?” Kabir said. While a habeus corpus petition filed by Kabir’s family was pending in high court, J&K police accepted they had arrested him with deficient evidence and told the court that he had been released.
Kabir rejoined duty in March 2007. Until then, he had been placed under suspension and getting 75 per cent of his salary. However, the following month, the general administration department wrote to him that the governor had terminated his services exercising his powers under section 126 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir On March 12, 2015, the high court quashed the FIR against the six men in the Rajiv Nagar case, setting them free. Discharged in both cases, Kabir sought his reinstatement. The government denied him because it had approached the HC against his discharge in the Raghunath Temple case.
Although the high court upheld the discharge, Kabir still fears he can be framed. “Police kisi ko bhi juthey case mein fasaa sakti hai (Police can frame anybody),” he said. “But then my freedom has no meaning. They snatched my livelihood.”