Monday, September 29, 2008

Husband killed in custody, widow fights the legal battle

Srinagar, September 29: Masooda Parveen of Chandhara Pampore had no interest in legal matters. She would hear about cases and courts only when her husband Advocate Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Rigoo used to talk with his clients. But husband’s killing changed Masooda. Now for the past 10 years she has been fighting for justice in the Supreme Court of India.
 Unlike other people who preferred silence and compromise when their dear ones were killed in Kashmir, Masooda Parveen decided to fight back. 
 “I fear none. My husband was everything to me and I will not spare those who played part in his brutal murder,” she says. 
 On February 1, 1998, her husband, a member of High Court Bar Association, was taken away from his house by an Army Major accompanied by two government gunmen. That time Regoo’s two sisters were also present in the house.
 “Three days later on February 3 police handed over his body to us. It was mutilated,” she says.
 Horrified by the killing of her husband, she along with thousands of people marched towards Pampore, some three kms from Chandhara, carrying the body of Rigoo. In Pampore, she says, the then National Conference leader Mushtaq Ahmad Kochay, the then DC Masood Samoon and the then SP Mushtaq Sadiq assured her that those involved would be brought to book. Then some two weeks later when she visited Kochay, the NC leader was in no mood to listen. “He rebuffed me,” she says. 
 “I am a simple Kashmiri woman whose husband has been killed and then blown up,” says Masooda. “I thought I should visit Farooq Abdullah but then I realized I won’t be helped here by anyone,” she adds. 
 Rightly judging that New Delhi is the power centre, she decided to approach ministers and the Supreme Court of India. “I had never ventured out in this manner. But then I was a victim and Almighty God was there to help me,” she says. 
 She wrote a number of applications to the ministers and the Supreme Court of India. And the Apex Court entertained one. 
 In her petition she said, “On February 1, 1998 some surrendered militants along with a unit of the Army (17 Jat) reached my home in Chandhara at about 8.30 p.m. and searched the house but found nothing incriminating therein. But the army and government gunmen took my husband to the Lethapora Army Camp, the Headquarters of 17 Jat, and tortured him mercilessly leading to his death. Then explosives were tied to his body and detonated to camouflage the murder.” 
 She pleaded in her petition that on the morning after the incident, body of her husband was handed over to the police and was thereafter subjected to a very casual and cursory post mortem examination.
 For nine years she pursued her case vigorously. “I have been helped in Delhi by lawyers, by strangers who were moved by my story. I tell them I hate India but not its people,” she says. 
 In the Supreme Court the accused Major D.S. Punia filed his reply. “On the basis of intelligence provided to the Battalion, a patrol party from the Lethapora Army Camp had searched Regoo’s house at about 8.30 p.m. on 2nd February, 1998. Thereafter he been taken to the camp and interrogated on which he revealed that he was a Pakistani trained militant… he had offered to lead a patrol to a hideout. A patrol was deputed to move to the hideout accompanied by Regoo. He stopped the patrol 50 meters short of the hideout. After ensuring that he was not in a position to escape, Regoo was released with a direction to go forward. When he tried to create an opening, an explosion resulted leading to his death at about 2.30 a.m. on 3rd February, 1998,” the Major’s affidavit said.  
 On May 2, 2007 the Division Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed Masooda’s petition saying, “We have the army and police record pertaining to the incident which clearly shows that Regoo was indeed a militant and that the circumstances leading to his death were as put on record by the respondents. We thus find no merit in the petition. It is accordingly dismissed with no order as to costs.” 
 She filed a review petition but that too was dismissed. 
 Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), a civil liberties organization based in Delhi, published a report analyzing the judgment, its implications for the struggle for justice and self-determination of the people of J&K. 
 In one of its observations it says, “In a recent judgment the Supreme Court of India, in the case of Masooda Parveen versus Union of India, rejected a writ petition under Articles 32 (Right to Constitutional Remedies) and 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) filed by the wife of one Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Rigoo who died in Army custody, on the ground that the deceased was a militant. In the teeth of an admission that the death took place in Army custody, numerous contradictions and inconsistencies in the state version of events that led up to the death, compounded by the loss of the original file containing the inquest report and documents, the Supreme Court chose to believe the assertion of the State that the deceased was a militant and his death was accidental.” 
 The Supreme Court’s judgment shocked Masooda. “It hurts,” she says.
 But she has not lost hope. She says she would continue her battle till justice is given to her. Living in a rented house in Pampore, Masooda says every evening when she looks back the past horrifies her. “The brutal killing of my husband and how I have fought. But at the same time I want to continue my fight for larger interest of my people. Like me there are hundreds of people who have faced what I have gone through. But we have to fight back and resist. If we don’t raise our voice then this will go on,” she says.
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