Army officer Leetul Gogoi to face action: Ostracised family of woman he was caught with says indictment won't restore dignity
Major Leetul Gogoi was caught with a woman at a Srinagar hotel earlier this year. Indian Army officers are prohibited from fraternising with local residents of areas where they are deployed.
Check Kawoosa, Budgam: Since that fateful day in May when their daughter was caught with Indian Army officer Major Leetul Gogoi at a hotel in Srinagar, the life of the Wani family has turned upside down. On Monday morning, as news of a Court of Inquiry issuing orders to initiate disciplinary action against Gogoi came in, the woman's family thought it was "payback time" for the "decorated" officer.
The Wani family is in the middle of rebuilding their home. They were forced to live in a tin shed for four years after their home in Budgam's Check Kawoosa area was damaged in the floods in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014.
The sight of any approaching stranger sends a chill down the mother's spine. A mother of four, she suffers from chronic depression. "I don't know what has happened," the woman's father said. "It is the government's job to punish him. But if the news is true, Gogoi has paid for the sins he committed."
After the incident, the family felt ostracised. The woman's father travelled several kilometers on foot to work at a brick kiln, keeping his head down while he walks down the streets of his village. When there was no work at the kiln, he worked in paddy fields or orchards at places where people didn't know where he was from.
"I have not been able to look my neighbors in the eye since that day," he said. "It is a life filled with humiliation."
The woman's 35-year-old mother said: "When my neighbours see me, they start whispering behind my back. It kills me from inside,"
Major Gogoi of the Indian Army's 53 Rashtriya Rifles battalion is better known for using a Kashmiri shawl-weaver as a "human shield" against stone-pelters on 19 April, 2017, when the by-elections for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency were being held. Gogoi had tied the man to the bonnet of his army vehicle and driven through a few villages as a warning to stone-pelters. Although his actions were condemned, he was given the Chief of Army Staff's Commendation Card. On May 23, he was briefly detained at the Khanayar Police Station after he was caught with a woman from Budgam's Check Kawoosa entering a hotel near the Dal lake in downtown Srinagar.
"If Major Gogoi has done something wrong, then I can say that he will be given due punishment, and the punishment will be such that it will set an example," Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat had said.
On Monday, the Indian Army's Court of Inquiry held Major Gogoi accountable for "fraternising with locals in spite of instructions to the contrary and for being away from the place of duty while in an operational area". Senior army officers based in Jammu and Kashmir said if the Corps Commander gives his approval, it could mean court martial for the officer.
"The thing is he violated the rules. Imagine a situation where locals would have recognised him in that part of the city, which is dangerous for a serving army officer; that too a man whose photos were widely available on the internet. People would have tied him to the bonnet of a jeep. How could we face that situation? It was a total dereliction of duty," said a senior Srinagar-based army officer.
The woman's father said that after the couple was caught and she had admitted before a magistrate that she had gone to the hotel with Gogoi willingly, they stopped her from going to school — she is above 18 years of age, according to her Aadhaar Card — and even from visiting a local skill development centre. According to documents from the Srinagar hotel, they were to spend the night there. She has since lived with her maternal uncle around 15 kilometers northeast of her home.
The family said that army personnel had come to their house twice before the fateful incident, but Gogoi never entered. "Instead, he sent a local resident, Sameer Malla, who asked our daughter to join a self-help group," the father said.
"We have already suffered more than him. Even if he is thrown out of the army, how would it matter to us? How is this going to restore our honour and dignity in the society?" the father asked.
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