Raouf Rasool

When defending indefensible is confused with serving ‘national interests’!

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More than two weeks have passed since Major Leetul Gogoi of Budgam human-shield infamy was caught from a local hotel here along with a local girl. But so far not much has been heard about the progress on the investigations against him. On May 25, the Army chief General Bipin Rawat, who was here, promised action. “Exemplary punishment would be handed over to Major Gogoi if found involved in any criminal activity,” Gen Rawat had said while speaking with media at Army Goodwill School Pahalgam.

So, this time around Army chief did not favour him with a commendation letter, praising his “valour” and “competence at counter-insurgency”, though it still remains a possibility. People may well be told that Major Gogoi was actually on an “official assignment”  conducting a “source meeting with some girl in a local hotel” where he had booked a room using his driving license to conceal his professional identity.

In Kashmir, defending even the indefensible in the most brazen and wily manner has often been confused with serving the “national interests”. This has been done on countless occasions and Major Leetul Gogoi himself is a living evidence of this unabashed and shameless shielding of the guilty by an entire establishment, both military and the political. Had it not been so, then Major Gogoi would not have escaped the normal checks and balances any vibrant democratic system is armed with; he would certainly have faced punishment for tying a poor shawl artisan (Farooq A. Dar) to the front of a military vehicle before parading him through scores of Budgam villages as a human-shield against the stone-pelters (April 08, 2017).

But, not only has he escaped punishment for violating the rights and respect of an ordinary Kashmiri in the most demeaning and humiliating, and also very dangerous manner, the irony is that the Chief of the Army Staff has appreciated this unruly and illegal behavior by putting an institutional approval on it. Thus a gross illegality which should have been checked and nipped in the bud was encouraged and patronized. And today encouraged and enthused by the fact that one could get away with almost anything and everything as long as it happens in Kashmir, the same Army officer has once again shown his abject disregard and disrespect for not only his own service conduct rules, but also to the law of the land.

Irrespective of what may be concocted to save his skin, fact of the matter remains that Major Gogoi’s latest action mocks at the probity of the Army, which otherwise doesn’t tire singing hymns of praise for its discipline and professional integrity. What purpose or “mission”, as they may want to call it, had brought Gogoi to the hotel in Srinagar and what was that local girl supposed to do there? For the sake of decency, if not much is said publicly, but everybody, and even the Army knows that there are countless queries that are being and should be raised about the entire incident, and to which Gogoi himself must answer to the Army, and possibly to the J&K Police as well. Army also needs to clarify its position on this latest incident. It cannot have the convenience of brushing it under the carpet. It must spell out for the general public as to what was its officer, who remains posted somewhere in Budgam, doing in a Srinagar hotel, with a Kashmiri girl, who also hails from Budgam.

By the way, has anyone in the entire security establishment and the Army in particular bothered to mull as to what would have happened to Gogoi had someone recognized him while he was in Srinagar? Any idea what would have been his fate had he fallen into the hands of street mobs before police actually reached the spot and whisked him away? DySP Mohammad Ayoub Pandit’s lynching is too recent an incident for anybody to forget.

Army must recall that it had similarly shielded Major Avtar Singh of the 35th Rashtriya Rifles despite knowing it fairly well that he was involved in the custodial murder of prominent Kashmiri human rights lawyer and pro-independence political activist Jalil Andrabi (in March 1996).  Six years later, on June 09, 2012, same Avtar Singh, at that time 47, and then living in Selma, California, killed his wife and children — 3-year-old Jay Singh, and 15-year-old Kinwaljeet “Aryan” Singh, and seriously wounded his 17-year-old son Kanwarpal “Chris” Singh with a handgun (he also died few days later). After conducting this mass murder of his family, Avtar Singh called police to admit the killings and then shot and killed himself as well. Reacting to this, Andrabi’s family had said: “It is shocking that he killed his family. Had he been extradited and brought for the trial, the situation could have different today. The responsibility of this incident (mass murder and suicide by Avtar Singh) lies with the government of India and the US government, which delayed his extradition.”

This is poetic justice. It took little over six years in Jaleel Andrabi and Major Avtar Singh case, and just over a year in Farooq A. Dar (human-shield victim) and Major Leetul Gogoi case. It’s time for the Army to realize this, and wake up to activating its own justice system in Kashmir as well. Poetic justice is OK, but certainly not a replacement or substitute to institutional correction systems.


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