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Human shield asks a question

Award for officer reopens wound

By Our bureau
  • Published 23.05.17
Dar strapped to the jeep

May 22: Two "awards" have been announced in the country in the past 24 hours that have a common thread: the image of a trussed-up man strapped to a jeep and driven past a crowd of stone-pelters on election day in Srinagar last month.

BJP parliamentarian and actor Paresh Rawal conferred the first "honour", tweeting that author Arundhati Roy should be tied to the jeep instead of stone-throwers.

Hours later, the army made it public that the officer who had tied the alleged stone-thrower to a jeep - the inspiration for Rawal's tweet - had been honoured by the army chief for "his sustained distinguished services till now in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir".

An army source said: "The court of inquiry regarding the April 9 incident is under finalisation. While awarding the officer, all factors, including notable performance of the officer and overall emerging indicators of the court of inquiry, have been well-considered" when the army chief honoured Major Leetul Gogoi.

Gen. Bipin Rawat, the army chief, handed the commendation card to the major in Jammu and Kashmir last week.

The use of human shields is considered a war crime by nations that are parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Farooq Ahmad Dar, the 26-year-old Kashmiri who was tied to the jeep, told The Telegraph after news of the commendation broke: "I am shattered. I was wrong to expect any justice."

Dar, an embroidery artisan, had this question for the person who rewarded the major: "If his son faces a similar treatment at the hands of the officer, I would see whether he will still reward him."

Although police and the army are separately investigating the incident, Dar said he had not been approached by any agency to record his statement.

Dar has challenged those who had claimed he was a stone-thrower to prove that he ever picked a stone and he iterates that he was among the few people who voted that day in the Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election.

H.S. Panag, a retired lieutenant general, told this newspaper tonight: "Whatever be the circumstances, the incident was contrary to army rules and regulations. The circumstances under which the award has been given to Major Gogoi is not clear. It is a wrong message being sent."

Another retired general said the inquiry had now become redundant. "What kind of message does it convey when the officer under probe is being honoured?" asked the retired general.

The drumbeat had resumed with the tweet of Rawal although there is nothing to suggest that the messaging and the announcement of the commendation were linked.

"Instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep, tie Arundhati Roy!" Rawal tweeted on Sunday.

When a supporter suggested that instead of the author, a particular journalist should be treated in a similar manner, Rawal said: "We have a wide variety of choices!"

The MP's tweet triggered a blizzard of euphoric responses - and condemnation - which implied that a form of medieval punishment was being prescribed for those who question the government's Kashmir policy.

The announcement of the commendation suggests the government and the military are viewing the officer's treatment of the alleged stone-thrower as an exemplary gesture that helped defuse an explosive situation.

The immediate provocation for Rawal's tweet on Roy was not clear. Roy has been a vocal critic of the policies of the government - not that of the Modi dispensation alone - on Kashmir, Maoists and nuclear weapons. But in recent months, she has been busy with her long-awaited second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which is scheduled to be unveiled next month.

Last week, a Pakistani website had carried an article on certain comments Roy allegedly made in Srinagar. But this newspaper could not find anyone in Srinagar who could recall Roy was in the Valley recently.

After Rawal's tweet kicked up a storm, Union minister Smriti Irani said: "Nowhere will we, in any way, support any violent message by anybody, against any individual of the country."