‘Will wait to see whether justice will be delivered’
Though Army’s Court of Inquiry has held Major Leetul Gogoi guilty of fraternising with a woman and being away from his duty, it could be long wait for the Woman’s family before expecting justice in the case
At Chak-Kawoosa, a village comprising around 150 households, a frail man was busy slicing vegetables to sun-dry them, a traditional practice followed by the rich and poor alike in the Valley, to relish delicacies that are part of Kashmir’s winter cuisine. “Are you from the media? I don’t want to talk anything about that incident,” the man told me at the main entrance of his house – a two-room tin-shed – before I could introduce myself.
The next moment he walked past the door inside the house. “No one should go through what we have experienced,” he continued. His two sons in their teens, who were curiously listening to their father’s words, followed him. In his 40s, the man is the father of a young woman who was detained along with Army Major Leetul Gogoi by Jammu and Kashmir police at a hotel in Srinagar on May 23 this year. On Tuesday, the Indian Army’s Court of Inquiry (CoI) held the 53 Rashtriya Rifles battalion major guilty of fraternising with the woman and being away from his place of duty while in an operational area. Gogoi is infamous for tying a Budgam man to the bonnet of his jeep and using him as human shield against stone pelters on the day of by-elections to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat on April 9, 2017. Although his actions evoked global outrage and condemnation, he was given Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card. “We are trying to erase it (the May incident) from our memory as a bad dream. We are trying to start life afresh,” the man walked out of his house a few minutes later, gulping water from a plastic jug. The house is located barely a kilometre off the Srinagar-Gulmarg road in Narbal. Ever since the incident at the Srinagar hotel, the woman, who is 18 years old according to her Aadhaar card, is living with her relatives in another district. She hasn’t visited home all these months, not even on Eid recently. “Only a father can understand what it means,” the man said as he paced across the premises of his house.
Then he rearranged slices of bottle gourd and tomatoes on a plastic sheet, sat on a wooden log and opened up for conversation after initial reluctance. “I came to know that everybody is talking about it again. Now that the Army itself says that he (Gogoi) violated duty rules, will he be punished?” he asked. The next moment the man recalled Army Chief Bipin Rawat’s statement that if Gogoi was found guilty of violating service rules, he would be handed exemplary punishment. “Didn’t he (the Army chief) give a statement to the media that time? Do you remember? Let him do so now (punish Gogoi). Let him live up to his words,” he demanded. Outside his house, a group of elderly people, sitting at a shop front, echoed his words. “Since the Army itself has conducted the investigation, he (Rawat) should now walk the talk,” said an elderly man with a flowing beard. On his tour to Kashmir on May 25 to review the situation, the Army chief had told reporters in south Kashmir that if “Gogoi has done anything wrong I assure you that soon he will be punished and I will give such punishment that it will become a precedent”. A long process has to be followed before Gogoi may be awarded any punishment. After the Court of Inquiry, the next step in the process is summary of evidence, where witnesses will be called to depose about the incident and then the accused officer will get a chance to cross-examine them. Then, based on the summary of evidence, the Army will take final call on whether Gogoi should face court martial. Not only the major, the family and other villagers are now also demanding strictest punishment for a local army man, Sameer Malla, who had driven Gogoi and the woman to the Srinagar hotel.
Barley two weeks before the May 23 episode, the woman’s father said, Gogoi came to their house on at least two occasions late in the evening, accompanied by Malla. “On the first occasion when they entered our house, Sameer asked me to arrange some wooden fruit boxes for him. I simply told him that it wasn’t possible this time and then they left the house,” recalled the father. The next time, he said, when the duo again knocked at their door, they started inquiring about if anybody was harassing the family. “This made me furious and I asked them angrily why anybody should harass us. They left without saying anything,” he said. On the fateful day, the father said he had gone out to look for some work when his daughter left home, informing her mother that she was going to submit an application to the J&K school board for getting her Class 10 exam papers rechecked, as she had failed. She had also taken Rs 500 from her mother. A few hours later, Gogoi and the woman were briefly detained by the J&K police at Srinagar’s Khanyar police station after the major had forcibly tried to enter the hotel along with the woman. In its report to a Srinagar court, the J&K police had revealed that Gogoi faked his identity as Ubaid Arman, a Muslim youth from Kashmir, on Facebook to befriend the Budgam woman days before they were detained. The major, however, deactivated his fake Facebook account soon after the incident. “I don’t know anything about Facebook. The incident broke my back. I will wait to see whether justice will be delivered,” the woman’s father said in a soft tone.
In 2014, when floods struck the Valley, the family’s one-storey house was swept away by gushing water from the nearby Jhelum river. After months of waiting, they received Rs 1.8 lakh as compensation, said the father. With a family of six to feed including four children, the man couldn’t afford to reconstruct the house. Almost four years later, the family was still struggling to start construction work when the incident left them shattered. The woman’s mother, who has been suffering from cardiac problems for a while, has recently been diagnosed with acute depression. “The incident has shattered our lives…life is not the same as what it used to be,” said the father. A group of neighbours said the family members have restricted their lives to within the four walls of their home. “They hardly come out of their house,” said another elderly person. “But we can understand what they have gone through.” Prior to the incident, the woman’s father, a wood cutter, would look for work in the neighbourhood and even work as a labourer in paddy fields or orchards to earn a living. But now he leaves home early in the morning to avoid coming across neighbours and travels to far away villages in search of work. “I don’t know how long I can continue like this. Sometimes I feel I will collapse and die,” he told the Wire, his eyes moist.
Tag: Armed Forces