Like her kuchha room that collapsed a year ago, the chances of her getting justice in the case of the killing of her only son over 15 years ago are also waning. But despite finding it difficult to walk and her poor eyesight, Santosh Kumari, 74, is not the one to give up, or lose hope.
Now staying with her nephew Subash Sharma, what brings Santosh Kumari back to the rubble of this room is the possibility of a reply from the Rajouri Deputy Commissioner to her application requesting the police to re-investigate her son’s killing.
What’s most intriguing to her is that the Jammu and Kashmir Police did not register an FIR into the killing of Surinder Kumar, who was allegedly shot dead by an Army sentry on October 1, 2005. Instead, it preferred to initiate inquest proceedings under Section 174 of CrPC and five years later, closed the case under section 175 CrPC describing the death as itfakia or accidental.
Since then, Santosh has been running from one office to another in Nowshera, and also to Rajouri. She last visited the office of the Rajouri Deputy Commissioner in 2018, she recalled. “Nothing has been done so far. Every officer assures action, but does nothing,’’ she told The Indian Express.
In police jargon, a death registered as “accidental’’ is “normal’’ and does not call for registration of an FIR. “Against whom do we register an FIR if, for example, someone is killed due a bullet being fired while cleaning one’s own weapon, or when one dies slipping into a gorge or a river,’’ said an officer at Nowshera police station.
However, what the official would not explain was how Surinder’s death was normal when he, even according to the Army’s own statement, was shot by a sentry on duty who suspected him to be a fidayeen. And when it was known the deceased was a local and unarmed youth, why did the police initiate inquest proceedings instead of registering an FIR.
The only entry in the records of Nowshera police station by then SHO, Inspector Karanjit Singh, states, “At 7 am on October 1, 2005, Captain Rupali of 325 Field Ambulance ADS informed Nowshera police station on the phone that an unidentified person had entered their unit after crossing the barbed wire fence. The person did not stop and proceeded towards the Army barracks despite the sentry on duty firing two warning shots. He also lobbed a grenade-like object towards the sentry, who suspecting it to be a fidayeen attack, opened fire killing him,” Singh’s report said.
The grieving mother recalled that Surinder was going to the nearby Noniyal village to bring his married cousin to her home in Nowshera so that she could see her mother’s mortal remains one last time before immersion. As the road to Noniyal passed through the outside of the Army unit, he was stopped by a sentry on duty, she said.
Santosh Kumari said her son had raised his hands and repeatedly requested the sentry not to shoot him as he was a local Hindu from Nowshera town. “He even said he was a Brahmin, but the sentry did not listen and shot him dead,’’ she claimed. “When we reached there, the Army personnel lifted the body from the road, took it inside their unit. Later, they started throwing sand and pouring water to wash blood from the road,’’ she said.
“I was crying alongside my son’s body. The DySP and SHO were there, but they kept standing,” she said. “After sometime, some local people came forward and lifted it for cremation,’’ she said.
Incidentally, official documents give credence to some of her claims. In a detailed report to the Rajouri Deputy Commissioner in 2008, the then Nowshera Sub Divisional Magistrate Deepti Uppal wrote that Santosh Kumari appeared before her on September 2, 2008, seeking redressal of her grievance. The latter had, in December 2006, asked her predecessor to conduct an enquiry into the killing of Surinder Kumar by the Army on the main road on October 1, 2005, Uppal pointed out.
“The then officer on chair resolved this by private negotiation with Commander Sumeer Singh of 80 Brigade who agreed to provide a job to the next of kin of the deceased in addition to free ration to his mother Santosh Kumari. On October 10, 2006, Santosh Kumari again appeared before this office to seek justice saying she had been paid only Rs 20,000 despite assurance of help by all means and job to one Ankush Bakshi (sister’s grandson adopted by her after Surinder’s killing) by the Nowshera SDM, local Tehsildar, SDPO, SHO, and the Commander 80 Infantry Brigade,” the SDM said.
“Army authorities promised to give a job to one member of the family and necessary aid to pass her livelihood, but three years have passed and none of the members in relation has been granted a job, nor any aid has been provided to her. The Army authorities were summoned to appear before this office, but their deliberate absence is presumed as they are not interested in resolving this pending case,’’ Uppal said, requesting the Deputy Commissioner “to provide a job to Ankush Bakshi as per promise and also necessary aid to Santosh Kumari to pass her old age in these hard days’’.
“The government doesn’t have justice for me, but I have faith in God,’’ said Santosh Kumari. “While Army killed my innocent son, the civil administration did not give me pension for want of regularisation of my service as water woman despite orders from the High Court in 2015-16,’’ she said.
Appointed as water carrier in 1975 at a monthly salary of Rs 10 in 1975, Santosh Kumari used to fetch water in pitchers on her head for the school from nearly two kms. In 1994, the government regularised all with middle pass qualification as Class IV employees, but ignored her. She approached the court in 2005 which asked the government to consider her case also on the pattern of others. However, nothing moved in this matter too, she said, stating that the last salary she got in 2016 was only Rs 100.
When contacted, Rajouri Deputy Commissioner R K Shavan, said the matter has been brought to his notice for the first time. “I will call for the file and look into the matter,’’ he said.