The violence at a Ladakh firing range,constituting one of the most serious discipline-related incidents in the Army in recent years,was the result of a series of rule breaches by officers. Sources indicated a trust deficit between officers and jawans,including failure of the command structure,and a rumour about a badly beaten jawan dying that could not be contained.
The Army has called Thursdays events a minor scuffle resulting in superficial injuries to four,who are in hospital. However,sources said the violence lasted several hours and that apart from the commanding officer of 226 Field Regiment,three majors and 10 jawans received injuries. A court of inquiry has been instituted.
In a statement issued today,the Army said the regiment was being moved back to its location,Darbuk,from the firing range. Commanding Officer Col. P Kadam is likely to be moved out for medical care. Kadam was reportedly already scheduled to relinquish command,and the Army said no one has been removed,dismissed or suspended.
Slamming misinterpretation and mischievous reporting,the Army also said,The entire episode can at worst be seen as an isolated act of indiscipline. It can in no way be termed a mutiny.
A reconstruction of what transpired at the Armys Mahi firing range in Nyoma,around 150 km from Leh,on Thursday:
* The 226 Field Regiment had moved from Darbuk to the range for firing practice,and officers and men were staying in temporary tents. However,in a breach of rules,at least five officers allegedly also had their wives accompanying them. While families are usually invited for firing demos of artillery guns,wives and children are strictly not allowed at a firing practice session. Even at Darbuk,only a limited number of families are allowed,given that it is a designated field area. The Army says the wives were staying at a nearby GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) camp.
* On Thursday,as the firing practice was on,the regiment barber,identified as Suman Ghosh,is believed to have entered a majors tent. The sequence of events is unclear,but a version says that on seeing the officers wife in the tent,Ghosh ran out in alarm. Following this,the wife allegedly created a furore.
* The major,along with two other officers,is believed to have then thrashed Ghosh,as well as denied him medical aid. This was a second breach of rules as in such cases,disciplinary action is taken while physical assault is forbidden. However,the matter was believed to have been sorted out following the intervention of Commanding Officer Kadam. Ghosh was sent for medical care to a nearby field hospital.
* In the evening though,things took an ugly turn when all the soldiers of the regiment (close to 500) returned to the barracks. A strong rumour spread that Ghosh had died after the severe beating. In a third violation of rules,the subedar major of the battalion who is the representative of the troops failed to quell these rumours.
* Convinced that Ghosh had died,a group of soldiers went to the temporary officers mess and created a ruckus. As things started getting out of control and physical,Col Kadam,who was staying at the GREF camp,rushed to the spot to calm the troops. Here is when the fourth breach of discipline took place. Even as Kadam was reasoning with the troops,he was hit on the head by a stone thrown by one of the soldiers.
* A fight then broke out between the officers and men. The temporary mess is believed to have been vandalised with some fittings being burnt down by the soldiers. However,weapons are not believed to have been used.
* Officers of the unit fled from the spot,some rushing to their wives. At least two wives are believed to have been rescued by personnel from the GREF camp,fearing the anger of the jawans. By evening,all the officers had been accounted for,with one having fled to an Army camp in Chushul.
* By late evening,as reports of the violence reached senior officers,troops were rushed from a nearby Rajputana Rifles regiment camp. While rumours of the soldiers seizing the armoury were found to be untrue,the Raj Rif secured the artillery guns of the unit. By Friday morning,normalcy had been restored as senior officers rushed to the spot.
A shaken-up Army is now trying to get things on track. Col Yogi Sheoran,who commanded the regiment before Kadam and is believed to have a good rapport with the troops,has been rushed to the unit. The Army denied that Kadam had been attacked by fellow officers. The commander of the Nimu-based 3 Artillery Brigade was also sent to the Nyoma camp.
While the unit was to earlier stay at Mahi for a month with its artillery,the firing practice has now been cancelled and all temporary shelters set up near the Nyoma range dismantled.
The Army court of inquiry will be headed by an officer of the rank of Brigadier or above. Given the serious breach of disciple,strict action,including court martial,is likely. A preliminary report on the incident has already been forwarded by the 3 Division 14 Corps. Incidentally,the 226 Field Regiment has had disciplinary problems in the past too. An inquiry had been ordered into allegations against the commanding officer of the same unit while it was deployed on the western frontier during Operation Parakram,following a series of anonymous letters.