Some questions can afford to go down in history unanswered forever but can the death of a soldier be allowed to remain a mystery? Should it not be proved whether he was a martyr killed in militant firing or a victim of a petty infighting in his regiment? One such mysterious death is that of Subedar C. Nalinakshan of Madras Regiment.
According to his fellow soldier, ex-Naik D.R. Sri Raman (since dead), they had been posted at Panyala post in Doda district in Jammu and Kashmir for counter insurgency operations on July 27, 1999.
Then, there was an encounter with the militants and the death of Nalinakshan “in militant fire” was reported to the headquarters on radio.
A search operation was launched into the forests to track down the militants and tracker dogs too were pressed into service. Yet, to no avail. The body of the Subedar was moved for post-mortem the next day and inquiries conducted by the higher officials pointed the needle of suspicion towards Sri Raman having orchestrated a fake encounter.
Raman was marched to battalion headquarters at Arun Doda where he was allegedly chained, thrashed and forced to confess to have killed Nalinakshan after entering into fisticuffs with him under the influence of country liquor.
He was subsequently court martialled and found guilty of having shot Nalinakshan to death with his AK47 rifle in an inebriated mood. The Summary General Court Martial dismissed him from service and ordered him to undergo life imprisonment for the offence under Section 302 (murder) of Jammu and Kashmir State Ranbir Penal Code of 1989.
In 2005, six years after his incarceration at the Central Prison at Vellore, Sri Raman filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court challenging the punishment imposed on him by the court martial. Since he could not spend money to engage a private lawyer, the case was filed with the assistance of a counsel assigned by Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority.
On April 15, 2009, Justice K. Chandru allowed the writ petition partly and set aside the life sentence on the ground that it was “highly improper and unjust” to have convicted the petitioner on the basis of thin evidence.
Accepting photographs of the petitioner having been chained to window rods for extracting the confession, the judge said there were several discrepancies in the case.
“The petitioner who was unfamiliar with writing in Hindi in Devanagiri script was made to write Hindi sentences with English alphabets (in the confession statement). There is no date mentioned in the confession. The witnesses who have signed the confession have also not assigned any date. Their evidence also varies with reference to the place of writing of the confession statement.
“The doctor who deposed has spoken about the injuries on the body of the petitioner and the treatment given to him.
“There is also considerable delay in lodging the FIR. Further, the bullets and the rifle used for the offence were also not properly accounted for,” the judge had said while ordering the release of the petitioner.
The Chief of Army Staff filed an appeal against the single judge’s order in 2011 but it remained gathering dust in the High Court until early this month when a Division Bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and Krishnan Ramasamy dismissed it for non-prosecution.
In the meantime, Sri Raman died and no steps were taken to bring his legal representatives on record.
“It is very unfortunate that despite three opportunities given (to the Union of India), no steps have been taken to bring the legal representatives on record… We are not inclined to keep this matter pending any longer as more than seven years have elapsed,” the Bench said and dismissed the appeal with liberty to the Centre to file a restoration petition in the future if so advised.
Now, it has to be seen whether the Centre would take steps to prove its theory of murder before the court of law or would allow the nearly two-decade-old mystery to rest in peace unresolved.