The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Army molest boot and balm

Jan. 31: General Joginder Jaswant Singh took over as the chief of the Indian Army and Major Rehman Hussain was kicked out of it ' both today.

The unrelated events offered the army, sucked into a series of controversies, a chance to control the damage wrought by allegations of human rights abuses in Kashmir and elsewhere.

Hussain was dismissed after a court martial held a swift trial and found him guilty of molesting a 12-year-old girl as well as her mother in a case that ignited widespread protests in the Valley and made Delhi sit up.

The original charge ' that the officer had raped the two ' could not be established but that did not prevent the court from ordering his dismissal.

General Singh, too, moved fast, ensuring that his first order as army chief was to ask his force to take charge of the tormented family.

The army will adopt the family 'in a gesture of compassion and consideration'. The girl and her brother will be educated at an army residential school and help will be offered to find jobs. The parent will also be rehabilitated, the army added.

Hussain was accused of raping the girl and her mother on November 6, 2004 ' when Union home minister Shivraj Patil was visiting the Valley ' after barging into their home in Kupwara during a search operation. The allegation of rape could not stand the scrutiny of the court as the DNA report did not support it.

However, based on the deposition of several prosecution witnesses, the court came to the conclusion that Hussain had been alone with the girl for 15 minutes in a dark place on the pretext of seeking information about a radio set.

The officer should have taken women police along, the presiding officer of the court martial said. If the major was not intent on outraging the modesty of the girl, he should have questioned her in the presence of her relatives, the court added.

Before the court pronounced the sentence, the accused pleaded for leniency, saying that he had risked his life to capture militants. Hussain's dismissal has to be confirmed by the northern army command which is considered a formality.

The army top brass in Kashmir saw the digressions of the major as a setback to the efforts of the force ' hardly popular with the local people ' when it was trying to polish its image. There was a consensus among senior officers that the punishment had to be exemplary.

The army headquarters has not been directly involved in the trial, but it has been keeping a close watch because of its sensational and sensitive nature. The army has been at the centre of a series of controversies ranging from the 'ketchup killings' involving fake enemy hits to throwing passengers out of trains.

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