Major Leetul Gogoi, addressing the media last year
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 18
An army major, Leetul Gogoi, who created a human rights storm in April 2017 by tying a local Kashmiri to his jeep as a human shield against stone pelting by a violent mob, has severely embarrassed the army again.
Senior army sources have revealed that a military court of inquiry (CoI) has indicted Major Gogoi after the Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP) detained him on May 23 while he was checking into a Srinagar hotel with a young Kashmiri woman.
Gogoi told the JKP that the woman was an “intelligence source” and he was taking her to the hotel to debrief her. However, the army has not bought this argument and found Gogoi culpable of two offenses: first, “fraternising with locals against army orders” and, second, “being absent from his place of duty in an operational area.”
For the local Kashmiri people, this case reverberates far beyond military rules, or even sexual contact between consenting adults. There is outrage that a local girl could contemplate “inappropriate contact” with an army person. Meanwhile, perhaps inevitably, allegations of coercion are seeping into the public narrative.
After the human shield incident, the army controversially shielded Gogoi, even praising him for “innovative thinking” that saved the lives of stone-pelters, who might otherwise have been killed or injured in retaliatory firing by the army. The generals were also pushed into defending Gogoi by widespread demands to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which many blamed for creating the mindset that permitted such excesses.
This time, however, after Gogoi was detained at the hotel, the army quickly made it clear he had transgressed beyond the pale. Questioned about the case, army chief General Bipin Rawat stated that the “strictest possible action” would be taken against officers “found guilty of any offence.”
So far, only the first stage of an exacting military disciplinary procedure has gone against Gogoi. After the CoI comes the recording of “summary of evidence” (SoE), where a board of officers will interview the accused person and witnesses to the alleged offence, with the accused permitted cross-examination. If the SoE recommends punishment, charges will be framed and a court martial ordered. In this, a military court, headed by a general, will judge the case and pronounce sentence.
“We will see what the SoE unearths. If it is an open-and-shut case, where the accused is not contesting the evidence, we will recommend a ‘summary general court martial’ (SGCM), which will reach a conclusion quickly. If there are complications, and the accused contests the evidence, we will convene a ‘general court martial’ (GCM), which is a more stringent and, therefore, slower process,” says a senior army general.