Srinagar: A day after the Indian Army awarded a commendation to Major Leetul Gogoi for his “counter insurgency operations”, the officer said that he saved “at least 12 or more lives” by tying a civilian in Budgam to the bonnet of an army jeep. He described the civilian, 26-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar from Chil village in Budgam, as a stone-pelter.
“Had I fired, there would have been many casualties,” Gogoi said in a press conference at the Beerwah camp of the Army in Budgam district on Tuesday. The central Kashmir district witnessed widespread protests and extremely low voter turnout during the by-polls on April 9, when Gogoi used Dar as a human shield. On Monday, he was awarded the ‘Army Chief Commendation Card for sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations.’
“At that time, suddenly in my mind, the idea to tie him to the jeep came. Seeing this (man tied to the jeep), the stone-pelting stopped. Then I got a safe window to come out,” Gogoi said, adding that he tied Dar to the jeep to ensure safety of villagers.
Gogoi said that he ordered troopers to catch hold of Dar as soon as they saw him. He claimed to have later found that Dar “was the person who was instigating the stone-pelters. He (Dar) might have been the ring-leader,” he said. He said Dar tried to flee on a bike on seeing the troopers coming towards him.
Gogoi said that his team had rushed to the village where he caught hold of Dar after he received distress calls from ITBP troopers posted at a polling station in Budgam on April 9. He claimed that he was trying to escort the polling staff and troopers away when they were faced by a mob of 1,200 protesters.
“1,200 people had surrounded the polling station and were trying to burn it with petrol bombs. People were pelting stones from all sides, even women and children, and even from roof tops,” he said.
The Army had instituted a court of enquiry into Major Gogoi’s action while the police had lodged an FIR over the incident. After Gogoi justified his actions, former chief minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, tweeted, “In future pls don’t bother with the farce of a military court of inquiry. Clearly the only court that matters is the court of public opinion.” He added, “And international conventions like the Geneva/Vienna ones only count when India can accuse others of violations. Do as we say not as we do.”
Amnesty International released a press statement on Tuesday saying the Army’s award to Major Gogoi showed India’s “disdain for human rights”.
“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 at Amnesty International India.