The news about Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi being caught with a girl at a Srinagar hotel first spread as a rumour in WhatsApp groups. But it was only after the police confirmed the incident, that it caught on like a wildfire across the country. Social media went abuzz and Gogoi’s online hotel booking receipt for two guests went viral. So, did the CCTV footage of his presence in civvies at the hotel reception. The local media splashed the news on their online editions, which instantly racked up thousands of views. Locally, the incident was seen as a deserved comeuppance for the Army officer for using a Kashmiri youth Farooq Ahmad Dar as a human shield by tying him to a jeep during the parliamentary bypoll in Budgam constituency last year.
“What award will you honour him now with? This is what happens when you give them a carte blanché to get away with things,” posted one Shazia Bakshi on Twitter. “But life has different plans, give an evil man enough rope, he›ll hang himself with it”.
Major trouble at the hotel
The Major along with the girl had arrived at the hotel in the afternoon. However, there was a scuffle when the hotel receptionist, suspecting something was wrong, took exception to the girl accompanying him. The receptionist, whose video statement about the incident, went viral had checked the girl’s Aadhaar card and found her below eighteen years old. However, the receptionist’s insistence to not allow the pair into their booked rooms seemed to anger Major Gogoi. Not to give in easily, he allegedly insisted on taking the girl with him to the room. The consequent argument attracted the attention of others around them and soon the word got out bringing passers-by to the scene. Sensing that the situation was going out of hand, the hotel owner Manzoor Ahmad informed the Police. Gogoi, the girl and their driver Sameer Malla were later detained. They were released after recording of their statement. The Major was handed over to his Army unit.
But by then the news was everywhere.
Gogoi, a household name
Last year, Gogoi had become a household name in the country for using Dar as a human shield to apparently safeguard his troops against the protesters. Though the Army later initiated an enquiry against him he was soon exonerated. What is more, even before the Army could complete its investigation, the Army chief General Bipin Rawat honoured Gogoi with a Chief of Army Staff (COAS) commendation card for his “sustained valour” in “counter insurgency efforts.” As a result, Gogoi became a hero among sections of people in the country. But in Kashmir he was widely seen as a villain and, in many ways, a symbolic representation of the alleged state oppression, a perception reinforced further by the Army chief’s award for him. This is why, the hotel incident has thus come as cathartic, a vindication of the public |belief about Gogoi’s alleged wrongdoing last year. In case of the human shield Dar, however, the incident has come as “a divine justice”.
“He (Gogoi) had tied me to a jeep and paraded me across several villages. I was labelled a stone-pelter. Government didn’t support me,” Dar said. “But God has exposed him and shamed him before the world.”
Incidentally, the Army chief who had last year overruled an ongoing enquiry to confer award on Gogoi visited the state a day after the Gogoi incident to take stock of the situation following the announcement of unilateral ceasefire by the centre for the month of Ramadhan. General Rawat was briefed about the security situation by the General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar based 15 Corps Lieutenant General AK Bhatt.
But this time instead of defending Major Gogoi, the Army chief promised an exemplary punishment for him should he be found guilty.
“If any officer of the Indian army is found guilty of any offence, we will take strictest possible action,” Rawat told reporters. “If Major Gogoi has done something wrong, I assure you that he will be awarded punishment at the earliest…the punishment will set an example.”
Meanwhile, the mother of the girl told the media that Major Gogoi occasionally visited their house at night to enquire about their well-being.
The incident triggered strong reactions online, both in the Valley and the rest of the country. “In a militarized region where army has absolute impunity, Major Gogoi, who has been celebrated for his previous war crime, can of course feel emboldened to sexually exploit even a minor,” tweeted human rights defender Khurram Parvez. “Those who defended Gogoi in the past, will continue to defend the indefensible, shamelessly”.
But once again, Major Gogoi has not run short of people who are ready to defend him on social media. Many well-regarded journalists, civil society and political activists have called togetherness of the Kashmiri girl and Gogoi as “consensual”, even without any knowledge of why they were together and what they were up to.
“How do we know that Major #Gogoi was not set up or an attempt to honey trap him. I don’t support what he did on the Jeep issue. But if we are liberals, his personal life must be his .I don›t support vigilantism,” Congress supporter, columnist and model Tehseen Poonawalla tweeted. Arguments like these have been a further source of outrage in the Valley. “Sordid saga of Major Gogoi & Indian intellectuals! For those justifying this statutory rape & giving it a shade of ‘consensual sex’ with a minor are oblivious to the disparate power equilibrium that exists between the armed forces, under the protective garb of AFSPA & local Kashmiris (sic),” tweeted Shazia Bakshi.
However, one thing is sure: like the human shield incident, Gogoi’s fresh run-in with the law will have a far-reaching fallout in the state. People are keen to see how the case is handled, both by the Army and the police which was initially reluctant to officially name him. No action against Gogoi will further strain the already diminished faith of the people in the state machinery.
“It is time that the Army takes a strong disciplinary action against Major Gogoi and sends a belated right signal to Kashmiris, to go with the ongoing unilateral ceasefire,” said the local columnist Naseer Ahmad. “Not doing so will only deepen the current cynicism towards the state apparatus and further otherize people”.