Srinagar/New Delhi: The Indian Army chief’s commendation for an officer accused of using a local as a human shield belies the hope that justice would be done to victims of human rights abuses in Kashmir, many Kashmiris say.
Noted rights activist Khurram Parvez said it was not the first time that the army had awarded someone “accused of war crimes” allegedly committed by security forces during the nearly three decades of unending Kashmir conflict.
“The Indian Army doesn’t care about investigation or law. They want to uphold the strategy of torture,” Parvez, head of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), told IANS.
He said the autonomy of the state government has always been “undermined” by the army in Kashmir.
“This (commendation) is a clear cut message to the people of Kashmir that we (central government) will only deal violently with you,” Parvez said, adding that the central government “does not even care about global scrutiny”.
On Monday, the army said that Major Leetul Gogoi of 53 Rashtriya Rifles has been honoured with the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s ‘Commendation Card’ for his “sustained efforts” in counter-insurgency operations.
Gogoi is accused of roping shawl weaver Farooq Dar to the front of an army jeep in Budgam on April 9 — the day the Srinagar parliamentary by-election was being held amid violence. A video of the incident later triggered widespread condemnation.
The Major had been tasked to evacuate officials stranded in a polling booth that was surrounded by hundreds of stone-pelters. Warning over a loud-hailer that “this will be the fate of stone-pelters”, Gogoi successfully extricated the poll officials from the besieged booth.
The state government has lodged a case against the army officer over using Dar as a human shield, citing the 1949 Geneva Convention which deems such an action as a war crime.
Kashmir Police chief Muneer Khan has said that the FIR against Gogoi would not be quashed and investigations will continue.
Well-known London-based Kashmiri author Mirza Waheed noted in a sarcastic tweet that the officer should have been given India’s highest gallantry award.
“It’s a mistake to give the officer a mere commendation. They should give him Param Vir Chakra for turning a shawl weaver into a human shield,” he wrote.
Kashmir mainstream politicians have also condemned awarding of the officer, even as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), remained tight-lipped.
National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu said honouring Major Gogoi was a “slap” on the face of mainstream political parties in Kashmir.
“Feel ashamed, disgusted and hopeless. What a travesty (of justice),” Mattu tweeted.
A Kashmiri academician, who declined to be named, told IANS that the commendation should also remind the government of the reasons behind the violent protests in Kashmir.
“India always accuses Pakistan of instigating Kashmiris. But they should know that these are the incidents that instigate Kashmiris against India. Nobody can deny Pakistan’s role but the Indian Army’s atrocities and then the state’s impunity to them has been piling up the anger among Kashmiris since the 1990s,” the academician said.
The human shield act was earlier condemned by some veterans and politicians.
Lt. General H.S. Panag (retd), former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, said the image of Dar tied to a jeep would always “haunt” the army.
“When the state starts looking like a mirror image of the terrorists, it spells ominous portents,” he said.