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Old crime, new punishment

New Delhi, June 23: For the first time in an incident of a soldier killing his superiors, the army has identified the motive and handed the accused the lighter life sentence.

In similar cases earlier, the verdict had been death.

The reason for the lighter sentence: the soldier killed seniors sexually harassing him.

The soldier given the life sentence after 25 sittings of a court martial is a signalman from Assam with the 27 Mountain Division Signals Regiment and was posted near Rajouri in Jammu and Kashmir, a very senior Northern Command officer has confirmed to The Telegraph.

His name is being withheld because of the circumstances of the case and the possibility that he was fighting to protect his dignity.

The army top brass is still debating if the sentence should be different in this case.

This is the third time in three months that the army has tried soldiers for killing seniors. But it is the first time a Summary General Court Martial has established the motive — “deviant sexual assault”.

The Judge Advocate advising the three-member court martial bench headed by a colonel in Udhampur is a woman, Lieutenant Jyoti Sharma.

The facts of the case: around 3am on October 21 last year, the signalman took his standard issue service weapon, an Insas 5.56 rifle, and shot Havildar Bhal Singh Vitthal Chandra, the seniormost non-commissioned officer in his unit, Havildar Gani Galaiya and a (uniformed) clerk, Nikhil Kumar. The last was killed around 3.15am.

The signalman then turned the gun on himself in an attempt at suicide. He shot himself but colleagues overpowered him. In the melee, two others were injured.

By 4am, the unit medical team had established that the three superiors were dead. There were still 20 rounds in the magazine of the signalman’s rifle. He was issued 40 rounds.

In accounts to the court martial from the signalman and witnesses, it was conveyed that the first killed — Havildar Chandra — was the leader of a pack that made sexual advances at the signalman.

The signalman was a fresh recruit — maybe around 20 years old — who was just a month old in the unit. The advances were made since the day he joined the unit.

The havildar and the two others often referred to the youth as “chikna” — slang for “effeminate” or “unmasculine”.

At first they tried to seduce him. When he spurned their advances, they tried to force him on more than one occasion. Witnesses have told the court martial the advances were made in public also. Some of the other details of the case are too lurid to be described.

These accounts had a bearing on the sentence recommended by the court martial. There have been other cases of forced homosexual and deviant acts in the army. But there is almost no other case that has been documented and tried to this extent.

Since the death penalties handed out by courts martials in separate cases on February 26 and May 18 this year, there was the apprehension that an unwritten policy had been laid down by army headquarters. Fragging — the act of killing superiors — was punishable by death. The instant case shows that policy may not be uniform.

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