National

Outright condemnation of Army's honouring Major who tied civilian to army vehicle as Human Shield

Srinagar: Castigating Army for recently awarding its officer involved in tying a man to the bonnet of a moving military jeep in central Kashmir’s Budgam district last month, Hurriyat (G) led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani emphasized that International Court of Justice (ICJ) should intervene in the matter, while human rights watchdog Amnesty International India stressed that those responsible should be brought to justice. A video showing the man tied to the army vehicle had triggered a worldwide outcry, prompting the Army to institute a probe and the police to register a case against the officer.

“Rewarding an officer who is under investigation for a human rights violation suggests that the Army seems to be willing to not just overlook, but actually valorise an act of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment amounting to torture,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India in an emailed statement on May 23. The decision sends the disturbing message to security personnel and people in Jammu and Kashmir that the human rights of Kashmiris can be casually trampled without fear of punishment, said the Executive Director, adding that the authorities should instead be trying to ensure that those responsible, including those with command responsibility, are brought to justice in a civilian court.

Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi of 53 Rashtriya Rifles was on May 23 honoured with the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s Commendation Card. Gogoi allegedly ordered 24-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar to be tied to a jeep with a sign reading “I am a stone pelter” pasted to his chest and driven around for over five hours on April 9 (the day of bypoll to Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency)in Budgam district. In a video that has gone viral a voice over a loudspeaker was heard saying, “This will be the fate of people who throw stones.”

Dar, while speaking to Amnesty International India, said, “I want justice. I want the Army men who used me as a human shield to be prosecuted. Neither the police nor the Army have approached to record my statement. I am not aware of the developments in the case other than what has been reported in the media.”

“Whether Army personnel in this case wanted to deter stone-throwers or intimidate people by making an example of Dar, such conduct violates Indian law, international law and the Army’s own code of conduct. Lauding such behaviour only perpetuates the climate of impunity in Kashmir,” said Patel, adding that military investigations into human rights violations lack independence and have in the past served to shield perpetrators from prosecution. “Prosecutions of security force personnel in J&K have seldom progressed due to restrictions imposed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990. Section 7 of AFSPA provides virtual immunity for human rights violations bysecurity forces, as any civilian prosecution can only proceed after obtaining prior sanction from the central government. In the 27 years that the law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir, not once has sanction been granted by the central government.”

Dar has denied that he was throwing stones, and has told Amnesty International India that he was detained by Army personnel while he was travelling to Gampora village on his motorcycle on April 9, the day of polling for a parliamentary by-election. He said Army personnel took his voter identity card and started beating him. He was then tied to the front bumper of one of their jeeps and driven through different villages for over five hours. He was released only late that evening.

The statement emphasized that Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi has defended the Army’s actions and said, “Peculiar situations require peculiar measures”. While India signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, it is yet to ratify it and the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. No new Bill has been tabled, the statement added.

Interestingly, Major Gogoi told reporters at Beerwah camp in Budgam district (May 23) that tying a man to a jeep was intended to save the lives of many people. “About 1200 stone-pelters had surrounded a small group of security personnel at a polling booth in Utligam village of Budgam district on April09and if I had ordered firing, there could have been at least 12 casualties.” He added the idea of tying a manto the jeep had struck him suddenly as a means to evacuate the polling staff andsecurity forces, besides avoiding any casualties.

In its reaction, Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to take suo-moto action against Major Gogoi (May 23). Honouring Major Gogoi, according to him, was an extremely distressing and a shameful act. Linking it to Kulbhushan Jadhav issue,Geelani said ICJ should intervene in the matter. His counterpart, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that the decision showed that Indian Government as well as its institutions that operate here, have “internalized the occupation mindset towards the people of Kashmir, who they see and treat as their serfs and hence have no compunctions in endorsing, rather commending and justifying, such abhorrent inhuman behavior.” JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik said, “No one should feel surprised over such impunity as fascists and fascism only act this way.”

The opposition National Conference’s working president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah denounced as “farce” the Army’s court of inquiry against Major Gogoi. The former chief minister on May 24 tweeted, “In future, please don’t bother with the farce of a military court of inquiry. Clearly the only court that matters is the court of public opinion.” The Additional General Secretary of the party, Dr. Sheikh Mustafa Kamal addressing party cadres at Jammu (May 24) said that there is no supporting evidence of a protesting crowd or for that matter Army column from the video clips of the incident. “It was just one Army vehicle with a civilian tied to it. This makes it abundantly clear that it was done to humiliate and insult a whole people of Kashmir.”

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