The army’s commendation of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, the officer who tied Farooq Ahmed Dar, a Kashmiri artisan, to an army jeep’s bonnet and paraded him, apparently using him as a human shield for his troops against stone-pelters, is a troubling move. For one, it pre-empted due process — the army’s own internal inquiry into the circumstances of the officer’s action. The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, said that whatever the outcome of of the inquiry, there is no reason for disciplinary action against Gogoi.
Only last week, India made a case for the importance of due process at the International Court of Justice in its legal battle to save Kulbhushan Jadhav, sentenced to death on charges of spying by a Pakistani military court. India also invoked the Vienna Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There is no evidence that Dar was a stone-pelter.
In fact, by all accounts, he was among the pitifully small number of Kashmiris who defied the mood on the ground to vote in the Srinagar parliamentary by-election held on that day. Gogoi’s action was also a violation of the ICCPR that lays down that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Most of all, however, Gogoi’s action was a violation of the right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The army is bound to uphold the Constitution. At all times, its actions must be aimed at protecting the citizens of the country. Dar is an Indian citizen.
Justifying torture or the degrading use of one civilian as something that helped to save hundreds of lives, including those of the troops under Gogoi’s command, raises more questions than it answers. Is it being suggested here that Gogoi’s only other option was to shoot into a crowd, to kill? When institutions of the state do not conduct themselves according to the law, they endanger the legitimacy of the state itself.
General Bipin Rawat has said Gogoi was given the award “to ensure the confidence level of the officer and others operating in a similar environment”. This should rightly raise concern about the message it has sent out to troops deployed in Kashmir and in other theatres in the country about the limits of acceptable conduct for the world’s third largest professional army. Just as importantly, it should raise concerns about the message it sends out to an already alienated people in the Valley.