Kashmiri youth Farooq Ahmad Dar, tied to the front of a car, is used as a human shield by Army Major Leetul Gogoi. Photo: Times of India

A court in Srinagar in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has ordered a fresh investigation in a case involving Indian Army Major accused of an “immoral” act with a young woman. In a major embarrassment to the Army, Gogoi was caught at a hotel with the girl in a predominantly Muslim area of Srinagar.

The Chief Judicial Magistrate, a judge in the lower judiciary in Srinagar, ordered the police on September 1 to further investigate the case after officers told the court the girl was not coerced into going with the Major to the hotel and that she was 18 – not a minor, as initially alleged. But the court pulled up the police, saying their investigation into the case was not done “in tune with relevant provisions of law.”

Major Leetul Gogoi, who earlier made headlines for using a Kashmiri youth as a human shield against stone throwers, had a fracas with staff at the Hotel Grand Mamta on May 23 because he and the girl were not allowed to check in together. He was detained by the police but later let off.

The matter was brought to the notice of the district court in an application filed by human rights activist Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, who accused the police of being slack in performing their duties. Untoo told the court the police didn’t probe the case “as an act of encouraging obscenity” or a “matter of human trafficking, which the army may have been indulging in.” He said: “The police simply let off the girl and the army major without bothering to investigate the case.”

The Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) ordered the police to “submit a detailed report” by or before the next hearing on September 18.

Wrong place, wrong time

In her statement to police, the girl said she had befriended Gogoi on Facebook and that the army officer had claimed he was a local Muslim boy. Gogoi met the girl regularly at her home before they went to the hotel in May.

That month the girl had got into a vehicle of another soldier, Sameer Malla, at a village near the camp where he was working with Gogoi. Later, the girl and the Major were caught at the hotel in Srinagar, about 30 kilometers from the girl’s home. In the court order, the Chief Magistrate said: “During inquiry, it was observed that the girl and Major Gogoi were brought by Sameer .. in his private vehicle to the hotel where Major Gogoi had already booked a room online and the hotel management refused to provide the room, regarding which there was some exchange of words.”

The incident had drawn widespread condemnation in the region, given some police and a senior ranking official of the paramilitary Border Security Force were found involved in raping underage girls in 2006. It became known as the Srinagar sex scandal. Senior members of the opposition Congress partly, plus top bureaucrats were also involved.

Last week, the court observed: “In pursuance of the present scenario in the [Kashmir] Valley, it could not be understood as to why an army officer had come to book a room in the hotel where the girl came to meet him.”

Jammu and Kashmir is a conflict-ridden state with separatist forces demanding independence from India and the federal government keeping the border state under a heavy military presence.

When the Major was caught with the girl at the hotel, the case spurred public anger as the Army has a track record of shielding its men in acts of alleged rights violations. The Army does not permit soldiers from being tried in civil courts under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which rights groups say should be revoked.

Advocate Mir Shafaqat Hussain, however, said that both the army Major and the soldier Sameer could not prevent this trial being heard in a civilian court. He said the matter could be tried under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (PITA) or even under local criminal laws “which bar people from indulging in obscene acts in public places.”

In view of predominant Islamic practices, acts of “intimate” hugging or  “kissing” in public places, including hotels and parks, are prohibited and they are classed as a criminal offense in Jammu and Kashmir.

A change of fate for Gogoi

Gogoi was earlier feted by Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat with a Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) commendation card despite facing a case for endangering the life of a Kashmiri youth, Farooq Ahmad Dar. Gogoi tied Dar, a shawl weaver, to the front of his vehicle and kept him in “illegal confinement” on the day elections were held for Srinagar’s parliamentary seat in April last year.

In the latest case, things don’t appear to be going so well for Gogoi. Vidhi Kumar Birdi, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, said police would “go through the Court order to see how the investigation in the case will proceed.” Other police said they have still not been given the order.

After Gogoi was caught with the girl, he was also found guilty by an Army Court of Inquiry (CoI)  for “establishing undue contact with local people and moving out of his area of operation in Kashmir without prior permission.”

Defense spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia said Gogoi would face “disciplinary action after he was found guilty.” Senior army officials in Kashmir said the Major was posted with the 53 Rashtriya Rifles in Beerwah area of Budgam, which is an hour away from the hotel. So, by going there he had absented himself from the camp without permission from his seniors. Army officers are required to apply for casual leave even when they visit their homes.

In the Kashmir Valley, militants have kidnapped soldiers and killed them while local people also lynched a senior police officer in Srinagar’s separatist hotbed Nowhatta.

Senior army officials said Gogoi would be tried in an army court on the charge of fraternizing with locals and moving out of his Army unit without authorization. But they said he could just get a reprimand and not be dismissed from service for violating the Army Act, as the Major had earlier been feted by the Army chief himself.

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