Indian Army honouring Major Leetul Gogoi is 'shameful, insensitive', say Kashmiris fearing further alienation
Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi may have won commendation and support from many of his fellow countrymen, but in Kashmir, people are outraged after the Indian Army felicitated the major despite a court of inquiry report yet to be tabled
Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi may have won commendation and support from many of his fellow countrymen, but in Kashmir, people across the ideological divide, including the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are outraged after the Indian Army felicitated the major despite a court of inquiry report yet to be tabled. The army major is being investigated for strapping a Kashmiri youth to the front bumper of a military jeep on 9 April, the day bypolls were held in Srinagar parliamentary constituency.
PDP general secretary Nizamudin Bhat said honoring the major was "improper" and "not a right decision", and said the state government would investigate the incident properly. "PDP's stand is that such incidents are bad for public perception and should be probed. If he (Gogoi) has been rewarded for this bravado, I don't feel this is proper," Bhat told reporters in Srinagar.
After the uproar over the army's decision, Kashmir police chief Munir Ahmad Khan said a FIR against Gogoi was not being withdrawn, despite the army conferring him with a "commendation card".
"The investigation in this regard will carry on, as the FIR against the army major has not been quashed," Khan said, after being asked whether police would continue the investigation though the major was conferred with a commendation card by army chief Bipin Rawat.
Following the chief minister's intervention, the FIR against the major was lodged for strapping shawl-weaver Farooq Ahmad Dar to the military jeep. Dar, 27, a resident of Chill-Brass in Budgam district, had voted under serial number 612 on the electoral list amid widespread violence that left nine people killed.
On Tuesday, Dar said justice has been "murdered and cruelty promoted". "I voted and defied the boycott call given by separatists. This is what they gave me in return. I will never vote again. It was my last mistake," he said.
According to Dar, he and his cousin had left home to attend the funeral procession of one of his relatives in Gaumpora village, a few kilometers away. When the duo reached Utilgam, a village near Gaumpora, the army stopped them and tied him to the front bumper of the jeep. The jeep then moved into nearly a dozen villages, with Dar apparently serving as a human shield against stone-throwing crowds.
But Gogoi, who spoke to a select group of reporters from TV news channels, said on Tuesday that he saved many lives with his idea. "I did this only to save local people. Had I fired, there would have been more than 12 casualties. With this idea, I saved many peoples' lives," Gogoi told reporters at Beerwah Camp in Budgam district.
Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani also said the decision of honoring the major is extremely "distressing and shameful". "Honoring such an officer clearly vindicates our claim that this is a state-sponsored policy, and if not stopped, it will prove detrimental to human lives. We are looking towards the International Court of Justice to intervene, like it did in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case," Geelani said.
"It's ridiculous to award the officer for the insensitive human shield incident. The authorities' version is not acceptable, and it was actually a severe act against humanity. His intentions were not sincere, and he just tried to harass people in the area; it was a deliberate attempt to drag people to polling booths," Geelani added.
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik termed the army officer's commendation as an "act of naked fascism", but said he was not surprised. "This is why we find the Indian Army, security forces and the police are killing Kashmiris with impunity, maiming and blinding people shamelessly, and oppressing humans openly," Malik said.
He added, "Much before this commemoration, the politicians adhering to the mindset of fascism have termed this act as 'self-defence', and said that 'everything is fair in love and war', which speaks volumes about their fascist mindset."
Shabir Ahmad Shah, another separatist leader said the world should take serious note of the matter, since it is tantamount to rubbing salt in Kashmiris' wounds. "Using a human shield is in clear violation of the Geneva Convention and UN Charter. India should be made accountable for the war crimes it has been committing in Kashmir, while a probe should be instituted against the army officer," he said.
Even senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was attending a conference in Srinagar, said rewarding an army official who used a civilian as human shield with a certificate was not right. "I think rewarding the army major with a certificate at this time is not appropriate, as it will increase tension in Kashmir," Aiyar said.
Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the decision shows the Indian government and its institutions that operate in Kashmir have "internalised the occupational mindset toward the people of Kashmir". Mirwaiz said, "Such Fascist mindsets are increasingly on display in India, especially in dealing with the people of Kashmir and minorities in the name of nationalism. And the jingoistic Indian media is fanning its flames."
National Conference, the principal opposition party in the state, asked what moral right will mainstream parties have to seek votes when an army major can tie a voter to his jeep and be rewarded for it. NC spokesperson Juniad Azim Matto said Gogoi being honored is "a slap across the face of the mainstream in Kashmir". "Feel ashamed, disgusted and hopelessness. What a travesty," he said.
The army's decision to award to Gogoi gives the "impression that it condones human rights abuses", Amnesty International India said. "Rewarding an officer who is under investigation for a human rights violation suggests the army seems to be willing to not just overlook, but actually valourise an act of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, amounting to torture," said Aakar Patel, executive director at Amnesty International India.
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