Shielded Crudely

After world reacted adversly to what a young Major did to a voter by making him a human shield and parading him for 28 kms on bonnet of his jeep, the political and military class found solace in supporting the ‘hero’ regardless of the consequences, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

On April 9, 2017, when Central Kashmir recorded 7.1 per cent voter turnout, the lowest ever, nine civilians were killed, eight of them in firing by the government forces.

State’s Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu confirmed “200 incidents of violence” in his presser later that day and said “it was not a good day.”

But in the basket full of still and live images, there was one video which caught attention of all. It was a man tied to a bonnet of army jeep in Budgam, the  first evidence about the prevalence of human shield. Soon, it went viral.

After the veracity of video was confirmed, the man was identified as Farooq Ahmad Dar. He had been used as a “human shield” against stone-pelters in Beerwah.

PDP ally did not mince words and came in support of army Major. BJP’s National General Secretary and co-author of Agenda of Alliance Ram Madhav said “everything is fair in love and war.”

Home Minister Raj Nath Singh said that he would “look into the video.” Omar Abdullah took on twitter to show his displeasure: “this requires an urgent inquiry and follow up NOW!”

The vehicle seen in the clip belonged to the 53 Rashtriya Rifles and Army too had its version saying “the contents of the video are being verified.”

Caught in the quagmire after backing of Major by BJP, the senior leader of PDP and education minister Altaf Bukhari reacted saying: “Is this a war declared against Kashmiris who, despite all odds, cast their votes, reaffirming their belief in democracy? Or is this a war declared to serve the electoral interests of a particular political party in the country?”

However, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called the video “disturbing” and unacceptable” and sought a report from police.

Three days later, on April 13, DIG central Kashmir, Ghulam Hassan Bhat confirmed that an FIR was registered and simultaneously the post was updated on facebook account of Mehbooba Mufti. “In the ‘human shield’ video case FIR No 38/17 U/S 342/149/506&367 RPC has been registered in Police Station Beerwah on 13/4/17 . Investigation is being conducted by SDPO Magam. We shall ensure that investigations are taken to a logical conclusion so that action is taken.”

A month later, neither the investigations are known nor any idea of follow up at any level. But Major Leetul Gogoi was awarded Commendation Card for sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations by army chief Bipin Rawat.

“Major Gogoi has been awarded Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card for sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations,” Army spokesperson Aman Anand said.

The award before the closure of investigation has outraged Kashmir. The two allies are seen again on the extremes of a polar divide with one supporting and other opposing the move.

BJP while approving the act of Major said under threat to one’s life, the Supreme Court held that even a civilian can kill a person in self-defence.

“Here, the life of security forces and public servants was under threat and what Major Gogoi did was to save their lives and that of civilians as well,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao, said. “Those criticising the Major are apologists for stone-pelters and separatists fuelling violence in the Valley.”

PDP’s General Secretary Nizamuddin Bhat said it was human rights violation and it is improper to honour him. “If he (officer) has been rewarded for this bravado, I do not feel this is proper,” Bhat said. “The stand of the PDP is that this seems wrong in public perception.”

Aakar Patel, Amnesty India’s executive director said decision to award Major shows “disdain” for human rights as it suggests that the army was willing to “valorise an act of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment amounting to torture.”

Silent over the issue for over a month, Major Gogoi, a day after being awarded broke his silence. He addressed media to defend his action saying that the man tied to the bonnet of the jeep was the “ring leader” of a stone pelting crowd.

The victim, Dar was “shocked” to see the army awarding the Major. Caught after he cast his vote, Dar had gone for a condolence meeting. The justice has been drowned says Dar. “This is injustice, oppression, brutality. By this they have drowned justice and legitimized oppression,” he said.

Tied to the bonnet of a jeep, he was paraded for 28 kms length for five hours in 17 villages. He is yet to come out of his mental crisis and will take a long time, doctors treating him told Kashmir Life.

Omar Abdullah wrote a long piece in Indian Express asking “Did Major Gogoi have the right to pronounce the judgment and carry out the punitive action that he did? Were Dar’s rights — to liberty, dignity and constitutional remedy — tossed out of the window for the “greater good” — as perceived by Major Gogoi?”

Referring Farooq as citizen of India, Omar lashes out at Major saying “the army is duty-bound to protect the citizens of this country and their fundamental rights — not only its own men and certainly not at the cost of civilians and their rights, in any given situation, ideal or not. And Farooq Ahmed Dar — voter or not, “stone-pelter” or not — was a citizen of India who should not have been used as a human shield, regardless of circumstances. Period.”

The act to honour had mixed response from mainland Indian politicians as well. CPI and JD-U expressed their concern that honouring Gogoi could “complicate” situation in already strife torn state.

“We express our resentment at this type of honouring. It does not send a good impression in Kashmir in current circumstances as the situation may become all the more complicated,” CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy was quoted saying.JD-U’s Sharad Yadav said that “such an act, even before the probe is complete, can aggravate the situation.”

As the voices grew shriller against the decision of awarding the major whose name figures in yet to be closed FIR, Arun Jaitley who holds twin portfolios of defence and finance came in support of “timely decision” taken by an officer. “Military solutions are to be provided by military officers, not through comments of politicians. How a situation is to be dealt with when, you are in a war-like zone, we should allow our Army officers to take a decision.”

Nitin Gadkari, Jaitley’s colleague, went a step further. Terming his act as “strategy”, he insisted “Major should be awarded Padma Bushan.”

“Major Gogoi used his presence of mind to save several soldiers. It is a strategy. I feel he should be awarded Padma Bhushan,” tweeted Gadkari.

“Why complain and to whom when the sanction is from the top. You are the culprit, judge, jury, and the executioner,” writes IANS national bureau chief Sarwar Kashani on his facebook wall.

Ruling out the notion of Major facing major action if found guilty, army chief Bipin Rawat said: “Major Leetul Gogoi would face no major action even if the military investigations find him guilty.”

A senior bureaucrat on condition of anonymity said army until recent past had backing from various quarters, but he says this is first time an army Major has defended his action publicly and that too when police has registered a case. “This is an act to convey how powerful the army is that even one Major can take a state head on by addressing media on his own. And the army chief will side with him.”

The embarrassing part, says a Kashmir University Professor is “FIR Stands registered by J&K police and despite that army awarded him.”

Mushtaq Ahmad, a retired government employee feels ruling PDP has been left in lurch by ally BJP. “They say alliance is based on AoA but it still has to see day of light,” Ahmad said. “But the BJP is eating the vitals of what earlier had – the essence of the law of the land. Now a few men say they would ensure the law is overruled.”

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