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Exemplary punishment for Maj Gogoi if found guilty: Army chief Bipin Rawat

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Srinagar: The Army Chief General Bipin Rawat on Friday assured that Major Leetul Gogoi if found guilty, will be awarded exemplary punishment.

Major Gogoi was caught in a scuffle with the staff of a Srinagar hotel on being refused to check in with a local woman on Wednesday.

Gen. Rawat who is in the Valley to review the security situation ahead of the annual Amarnath yatra told reporters at Pahalgam, “If any officer of the Indian Army is found guilty of any offence, we will take strictest possible action."

He added, “If Major Gogoi has done something wrong, I assure you that he will be awarded punishment at the earliest and the punishment will be such that it will set an example."

The Army has launched an internal inquiry against Major Gogoi whereas Jammu and Kashmir police is investigating the incident separately. The police had detained the Army officer briefly after the incident took place in Srinagar’s tourist frequented Dal Gate area on the morning of May 23.

Major Gogoi of the Army’s 53 Rashtriya Rifles had earlier in April 2016 stirred up a hornet’s nest by ordering his men to tie Farooq Ahmed Dar, a Kashmiri shawl-weaver from Chhil Brass village of central Budgam district, to the bonnet of an Army jeep during by-poll in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.

Gogoi is a resident of Assam and was returning to his unit in Beerwa area in Kashmir’s central district of Budgam after spending vacations at home.

He had booked a room in Hotel Grand Mamta in Dal Lake area online. A teenage girl from Chak-e- Kawoosa village of Budgam along with a local man Sameer Ahmed Malla who later turned out to be a soldier also arrived at the hotel around the same time.

The hotel staff told the police that the person by the name of Leetul Gogoi who had introduced himself as a businessman from Assam while booking a room online for two persons for one night had arrived at the reception around 11 am on Wednesday along with another person and a girl.

The second person, they said, was driving the Maruti Alto car in which they had come to the hotel.

While mentioning the purpose of his visit and mode of payment, Major Gogoi had said, “I am travelling for business and I may be using a business credit card.”

The staff at the hotel front desk asked him to show his identity card which he failed to do and instead gave them his driving license.

When they asked him about the girl he wanted to check in with, neither he nor she could give a “satisfactory answer”.

This made the hotel staff suspicious and when they refused to check the duo in, “the driver became violent and started abusing and threatening us.”

The argument turned into a physical brawl. “We called the police which took the guest, the driver and the girl to police station Khanyar,” said Manzoor Ahmed, the hotel owner.

The staff later learnt that the person who wanted to check in with the girl was Major Leetul Gogoi who had hit headlines and was in the midst of a major controversy after he used a Budgam resident as a “human shield”.

The Army had been maintaining silence on the incident officially but had launched an internal inquiry into the conduct of Major Gogoi immediately after learning about it.

The police had after detaining the officer briefly handed him over to his unit while the girl was sent to her parents. The girl is reported to have told the police that she wanted to spend some time with Major Gogoi “out of my own will.”

But the Army officer has failed to convince the police on the purpose of his checking in a hotel with a local girl away from his place of posting. “We have egg on our face,” an Army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

He, however, also said that the internal inquiry being held by the Army will “nail the truth” if the girl was a source for the officer or “it was going to be consensual sexual activity.”

The girl’s mother has told the police and the reporters that Malla had helped her daughter to become a member of a self-help group of the State Rural Livelihood Mission and after sometime he guided Major Gogoi to their dwelling.

“He (Major Gogoi) barged into our tin-shed dwelling twice since March this year and forced my daughter into interaction,” she alleged. Her husband Gulam Muhammad Wani has said that he had no knowledge about Malla taking his daughter to Srinagar.

The family lives in extreme poverty in the tin-shed in Chak-e-Kawoosa. The father of the girl is labourer who has to support a family of six. The girl is a student of 11th class and her younger brothers are in primary classes.  

The police are under tremendous pressure to register a case against Major Gogoi and Malla under the relevant provisions of law as many people here believe it is a clear case of trafficking, blackmail or sexual exploitation of a “minor” girl.

The police are, in fact, being widely criticised including on social media for having let the Army officer and “panderer” off on the day of the incident.

Inspector General of Police (Kashmir range) S.P. Pani had said that the incident would be investigated and that “we need to go by the merit of the case”.

Major Gogoi’s allegedly using a civilian as a ‘human shield’ in April 2017 had evoked rage within the State and beyond with human rights groups including Amnesty International demanding action against those responsible.

However, the Army had after a probe not only exonerated him but he was awarded ‘Commendation Card’ for his “sustained distinguished service” in counterinsurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir by the Army Chief Gen. Rawat.

Meanwhile, former Chief Minister and opposition National Conference (NC) working president, Omar Abdullah, has released Rs 1.30 lakh in favour of the girl’s father to help in the construction of their house.

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