Human-shield major back under glare

Probe into hotel controversy

By Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar
  • Published 24.05.18
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Major Leetul Gogoi

Srinagar: The army officer who was at the centre of a human-shield controversy in Kashmir last year was briefly detained by state police after he was found in a hotel with a girl on Wednesday.

No wrongdoing involving Major Leetul Gogoi, a decorated officer, has been established so far in the hotel incident.

Some hotel employees said the Kashmiri girl appeared to be a minor but police said the girl told them she was 19.

The army has ordered an internal probe. Valley police chief S.P. Pani has also ordered an inquiry.

An army officer said: "We have asked the commander of the army unit where Gogoi is posted to send a detailed report. It is still not clear why Maj. Gogoi had booked a hotel room for a day where he had called a woman. We need to first know his side of the story before making any official statement."

In April 2017, Maj. Gogoi had tied a Kashmiri civilian to his jeep as a human shield against stone-throwers.

On Wednesday, a defence source said Gogoi was handed over to his army unit, 53 Rashtriya Rifles, as there was no "cognisable" offence against him.

A hotel employee said Gogoi had booked a room through the website bookings.com at the hotel in Srinagar's Nawpora locality. The management became suspicious when they found the girl and another Kashmiri, the driver of their vehicle, accompanying the officer.

Police sources said the hotel staff asked for their identity cards. When they found the girl was a Kashmiri, the staff refused them a room. "We do not provide rooms to locals and since a Kashmiri girl was accompanying him, we refused a room to them," an employee said.

That led to an altercation. The situation could have turned volatile but the police turned up and whisked away the officer, the girl and the driver.

The girl and the driver are both from Budgam district, where the officer is posted in the Beerwah area. Nawpora is around 35km from where the girl stays.

Hotel employees said the girl was 16 or 17, which would make her a minor. A police officer, however, said the girl had told them she was 19. "She is not a minor but a major," the officer said.

A police statement said they received a call at 11am that an altercation had taken place at the hotel but did not name the officer. The version differed somewhat from the one given by the hotel staff.

"Accordingly, a police party was deputed to the hotel, and it surfaced that one woman (name withheld) and person namely Sameer Ahmed of Budgam had come to see some person. But the hotel reception did not allow them to meet the person. Meanwhile, the police party reached the spot and got all the persons to the police station," the statement said.

"Subsequently, it was learnt that the woman had come to meet an army officer," it said, adding the officer was handed over to his unit after recording his statement. "The statement of the woman is also being recorded for probing the matter."

Defence ministry officials remained tight-lipped about the hotel incident but sources in the army headquarters said an internal probe had been ordered. "The code of conduct for the army is very strict and the internal probe is being handled by the conduct and discipline unit of the army."

Gogoi, an officer with the 53 Rashtriya Rifles, had on April 9 last year strapped a Kashmiri civilian, Farooq Ahmad Dar, to his jeep and paraded him across villages as a warning to stone throwers.

It had triggered international outrage but army chief Bipin Rawat had hailed him for his "innovative way" of dealing with protesters and later rewarded him for his role in counter-insurgency operations.