At the end of March, a reporter from Indian-controlled Kashmir (now a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley) contacted me in Fresno, where I am based with the AP. He told me that he was working on a story about a former Indian army officer accused of torture and killings in Kashmir who happened to live in Selma, near Fresno, and asked for my assistance. The ex-officer, Avtar Singh, who lived in plain sight in California, was accused of killing a prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, Jalil Andrabi. I knew Andrabi’s name. I have visited Kashmir twice. Andrabi’s case is one of the most well-known cases of extrajudicial killings in that Himalayan region, which has been torn apart for years by a conflict between India and Pakistan.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out that the Selma man who fatally shot his family and himself on June 9 turned out to be Avtar Singh, the man wanted for Andrabi’s killing. It was the same Avtar Singh whom the Kashmiri reporter and I were going to confront at his house just a few months earlier (but didn’t, after the ex-officer threatened to kill the reporter if he showed up at his doorstep).
SELMA, Calif. (AP) _ A former Indian army officer wanted in the 1996 killing of a human rights lawyer shot and killed his own wife and two of their children in their California home before apparently committing suicide, authorities said.
What followed that initial story was a mad reporting chase. For a week, Singh’s murderous tale, aka international intrigue, completely consumed my life. I tracked down people who knew him and the family, I haggled with U.S. State Department and federal immigration officials to get details of Singh’s entry and presence in the United States… and later, details of his deportation case. I asked an AP reporter in Canada to contact immigration authorities there (to no avail) and tried, unsuccessfully, to get comments from a variety of Indian officials. Finally, through a leader in the local Sikh community and my lawyer sources, I was able to find the name of Singh’s immigration consultant, track him down and obtain asylum applications filled out by Singh and his wife. In the end, I pieced together _ in the little space that AP allots me _ the narrative of Singh’s life and how he eluded international authorities throughout the years. I hope I was able to do justice to this story. I wrote it with the Kashmiri people in mind. You can read the final story here
“Everywhere was now a part of everywhere else. Russia, America, London, Kashmir. Our lives, our stories, flowed into one another’s, were no longer our own, individual, discreet.” – S.R.