Major Embarrassment

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As Kashmir felt vindicated that the counter-insurgency grid has been using civilians as human shields and sought action, Major Leetul Gogoi was celebrated as a hero for the “witty” decision making of converting a voter into a human shield. Last week, the decorated officer wanted to spend a night in a hotel with a Kashmiri girl whom he befriended in a series of raids, a Kashmir Life report

Human Rights activist Ahsan Untoo along with Human Shield victim Farroq Dar protesting against Major Leetul Gogoi in Srinagar, KL photo by Bilal Bahdur

The news that Leetul Gogoi, an army major, was traced checking-in a Srinagar hotel with a young girl spread like wildfire. She was driven to the hotel by a local army man, Sameer Malla who lives in her neighbourhood and is Major Gogoi’s confidant subordinate. In fact, it was Malla whose hyper-activism at the reception of Hotel Grand Mamta created the scene inviting the police to the spot and subsequent detention of the trio.

The story was narrated by the hotel management later after the police took the trio to Khanyar for investigations. They had an on-line booking for two persons for a night. The man had mentioned his real name but the purpose was shown as “business”. Interestingly, he had used the cell number of the girl in the on-line application and not his own.

“We have a policy of not permitting local residents a stay and if they are a couple we would seek their marriage certificate,” one of the managers said. “In this case, when we saw the man from North East and a local girl trying to check-in, we refused.” They had given their documents and that had suggested the girl was from Budgam.

Gogoi did not insist and after some argument, he left. The hotel staff took away his luggage to keep it in the Alto Car that Sameer was driving. When some of the hotel staff asked the driver where he is taking them now, it infuriated Sameer. He reacted fiercely and it led to a brief exchange of blows that did not exclude Gogoi also. By then the police came and took the trio to the police station.

The news spread at the lightening speed. It was Major’s earlier profile that invoked so much of interest. On April 9, 2017, when a shawl-weaver Farooq Ahmad Dar was on his way to see his sister, Major Gogoi intercepted him, strapped him on his jeep’s bonnet and used him as a human shield against the stone pelters. The 28-year old was driven through 18 villages and was beaten in the evening before being set free after locals pleaded before the army. The real crisis unfolded only after a brief clip recorded by some witty citizen went viral on the social websites. The clip had recorded the public announcements by the army telling people that the stone pelters will be tackled like this. This was followed by some photographs of the event which indicated they were photographed from a very close range, possibly by the soldiers themselves.

The incident created a major debate as people started taking extreme positions. Only a minority in Indian plains including the army was against the mere idea of what the Major had done. “Image of a ‘stone pelter’ tied in front of a jeep as a ‘human shield’, will 4 ever haunt the Indian Army & the nation,” Lt Gen H S Panag wrote on his twitter. “When the State starts looking like a mirror image of the terrorists, it spells ominous portents!”

But there were more people celebrating the Gogoi act. These included the entire right-wing camp and the entire street of the networking sites. Kashmiri leaders reacted against the inhumanity but nobody listened. The army chief went a step ahead and gave Gogoi a special commendation award. A producer in Mumbai actually launched his film by re-enacting the same shot. Tragically, the role of Farooq Dar was played by a Kashmiri artist.

Reluctantly, the police in Srinagar registered a case in the incident, the investigation of which is still going on.

Farooq Dar paid a huge price for Gogoi’s “valour”, “wit” and “innovation”. He was sick for a long time. “He is still living that trauma of being the first line against winds, stones and guns on a jeep,” one of his treating doctors said, after treating him for three months. “It will take him a long time to recover.”

Shawl weaver Farooq Dar on the bonnet of Major Leetul Gogoi as a human shield

Not aware of how the various levers of the governance structure function, the SHRC verdict granting him compensation but the state government out-rightly denying the same, pushed the poor man to a new maze wherefrom he is yet to come out.

When the same Gogoi landed in trouble while attempting taking a young girl in a hotel for the night, it was big news in Kashmir. Had people known that the man was not a businessman but an army major, there was possibility of a serious crisis in the area.

After being taken to Khanyar police station, the police said they enquired about the age of the girl and once they were sure she was not a minor, they handed over the army officer to his unit.

Police took the girl to the court and before a Magistrate, she recorded a statement under Section 164 CrPC. She said she had gone with the army officer out of her own free will and that she knew him already.

Mein yahan apni marzi say aaye houn,” she told the Magistrate in the presence of a Sub-Divisional Magistrate and a DSP-rank official and Superintendent of Police (North). She explained to the Court that she was not a minor.

She insisted that she and Major Gogoi “knew each other” and they had met on “several occasions on outings” in the past. In the beginning it was a virtual friendship through Facebook where the Major has a page under the pseudo name Adil Adnan.

“She said that just within a month she came to know that Aadil Adnan was none other than Major Gogoi, who had faked his real identity,” Tribune reported. “She told the Magistrate that thereafter Major Gogoi himself “disclosed his real identity” to her and thereafter they became friends. When asked why did she come to Srinagar and then to the hotel, she said: “Bus chakra vakrah karnih (just to have fun),” the sources said.” The investigations suggested that the girl knew Sameer but not his family which she initially claimed.

Though police said they are convinced the girl was major, they say they are still collecting evidences.

When reporters and concerned citizenry reached the girl’s village, they were shocked to see the family comprising the couple and their four children living in a ramshackle shed. The girl is their eldest of the children. A family of four, they had lost their home to the 2014 floods. The tin shed has polythene windows and indicates the unsound economic situation of the family. That was perhaps the main reason why NC leader and local MLA Omar Abdullah released Rs 1.30 lakh to Habibullah Wani, her father, a resident of Chak-e-Kawoosa. Tanvir Sadiq said the support came on basis of the reports that the family was living in a tin-shed. Residents said the family owns some land on the road to Tangmarg.

The family was initially reluctant but eventually talked to the reporters. Her mother said that in March, she was shocked when the Major and Sameer barged into their tin-shed, enquired about their well-being and left.

“She said both Major Gogai and Sameer Malla frequently entered our house during late night hours,” a news report said. “Sameer used to converse with my daughter and I became doubtful but never knew she would be detained with the Army Major at a hotel.” Now the father has also started talking in the same language.

Entire locality is concerned over what happened to the girl but most of the residents were not so supportive of what the girl’s mother was saying. There were claims that the girl was heading a self help group but nobody in the village is in a position to offer details. “What happened to her has happened,” one of the girl’s relatives said. “For us the crisis is that we have 16 daughters in the family.”

Police have handed over Gogoi to his unit but investigations are still on. “We have information that the Major was staying in some hotels during nights with girls,” one police officer said. “We also know that Major Sahab has strong relations in the corporate media especially TV.” Police also know that Malla, a resident of Lokipora (Pushkar), is a JAKLI man who is currently posted with Gogoi. “He is his Major’s most confidant man,” one officer said.

Apparently, police have found no role for itself in the case. Questions are being asked why the PITA angle was not looked at. But officials say the ball is in the court of army. Normally, SOP forbids soldiers from moving outside their unit, even for intelligence gathering. In this case, a soldier supposed to be on duty in Beerwa, changes dress, becomes businessman and drives to Srinagar to spend a night in a hotel with a friend. Visiting army Chief Bipin Rawat has said the army will give him severe punishment “if found guilty”. Gogoi and two of his subordinates have been attached as Shivshank has taken over as the command of the Beerwa company of 35-RR.

Almost everybody has a question for both police and the army. Kawoosa is an area that does not fall under the area of responsibility of the Major. Why was he going to the girls’ family during nights? How was the officer able to convert himself into a civilian and move out and stay in hotels?

On Srinagar streets, the questions are getting bigger. In an area covered under disturbed area, if an army officer barges into the family repeatedly, can a female of the same family become a friend of the raiding soldier? Why it cannot be blackmail, a threat or simply a tip of a possible bigger cartel of comfort industry for the counter-insurgency

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