Major who used human shield in Kashmir in new controversy

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Farooq Ahmad Dar was used by Indian Army personnel as a human shield against stone-throwers outside a polling station in the Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir in April 2017. Photo: Twitter

An Indian Army officer posted in the conflict-ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir, who tied a Kashmiri youth to a jeep and used him as a human shield in April last year, sparking international outrage, is now embroiled in a fresh controversy.

In a major embarrassment to the Indian Army, Major Leetul Gogoi has again made headlines for allegedly “luring a minor girl” to a hotel room in the state’s summer capital Srinagar. The Major and the young woman have been picked up by state police along with a third member of the army. The police are yet to formally register a case, but are questioning the three people.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi just announced a ceasefire during the month of Ramadan, which was marred when the army fired at protesters when they were trying to host a meal to commemorate the breaking of the ritual fast. The Indian Army’s presence in the Kashmir Valley is viewed with great suspicion and is a major cause for friction with the locals. However, the infiltration of armed militants from Pakistan has forced the army to maintain high force levels in the region.

The detention of Major Gogoi and the young woman has sparked off tension across the valley as locals accused him of trying to “lure her to the hotel.” Senior army officers rushed to the police station, but the incident was viewed as another attempt by the military to hurt local sentiments.

Last year, once the news of the use of a human shield became public, it sparked clashes between locals and police. While an inquiry was ordered by the state government, the Chief of Army Staff announced a commendation for the controversial army officer.

Trouble erupted on the morning of May 23 at the Hotel Grand Mamta near the famous Dal Lake when the Kashmir girl was allegedly “caught” at the hotel. Major Letul Gogoi had checked into the hotel allegedly posing as a tourist from the state of Assam. The girl hails from the same district where Gogoi is posted with the 53 Rashtriya Rifles unit of the Indian Army.

Hotel staff were upset to see “a Kashmiri Muslim girl” who apparently “wanted to spend time with a tourist inside a locked room during the fasting month of Ramadan,” police sources told Asia Times. The girl was escorted to the hotel by a local working for the army and he remained on vigil during the couple’s alleged meeting inside the hotel.

As hotel staff raised the alarm over a “suspicious meeting,” an altercation broke out between the three guests and the hotel staff. Witnesses said Major Gogoi, who pretended to be a tourist, was involved in the scuffle, but was overpowered by locals who then called police.

The police rushed to the hotel and took the trio to the nearest police station. It seems the young woman revealed “she was not under any coercion but had come on her own to meet him (Gogoi) at the hotel but that they were prevented from meeting each other,” a police official investigating the matter said on condition of anonymity.

The girl is understood to have told the police team that she had been in touch with the army officer for quite some time. “It seems to be like a love-affair,” the police official said.

Because the girl stated she was not coerced, that has left little or no scope to register a formal police complaint. But there are doubts over her age. While a document found on her states that she is over 18 years old, which is the age of consent, there is a suspicion she could be a minor. Police are checking.

“One of the documents produced before us shows that her date of birth is 17.11.1999 , so she is supposed to be 18 plus, or an adult,” said a police officer privy to the investigation.

Government sources said that the three were being questioned by a team of senior police officials including the Inspector General of Police, (Kashmir), SP Pani, and the city police chief Imtiaz Ismail Parray. In accordance with the law, Gogoi was handed over to the local Army unit. Sources said Superintendent of Police (North Srinagar) Sajad Shah has been designated as the Inquiry Officer in the case.

In a detailed handout, the police said: “Today at 1100 Hrs, Police Station Khanyar received a call from Hotel Grand Mamta that an altercation has taken place at the hotel.

“Accordingly a police party was deputed to the hotel, and it surfaced that a one woman (name withheld) and person namely Sameer Ahmed of Budgam had come to see some person. But the hotel staff did not allow them to meet the person.

“Subsequently it was learned the that the woman had come to meet an army officer. The identity and particulars of the army officer has been collected by the police as well. The officials were handed over to their unit after due recording their statements. The statement of woman is also being recorded,” the police handout said.

While the army is expected to issue a statement, sources said it suspects the young officer could be leaking sensitive information “in such a relationship.”

Major Gogoi joined the army as a non-commissioned soldier at the age of 18 before being selected to join the Dehra Dun-based Army Cadet College after nine years of service and was commissioned as an officer in December 2008.

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