The army has ordered a probe into allegations of soldiers tying a man to a jeep and using him as a human shield in Kashmir, officials said on Thursday, an incident which has deepened army-civilian divide and sparked violent protests in the militancy-hit valley.
“It’s a fact-finding exercise,” an official said, adding that the court of inquiry will submit its report by May 15.
The army found itself in the middle of a firestorm after the surfacing of a video clip that purportedly showed the man tied to the fender of a Rakshak jeep and paraded through villages.
The force and the government have defended the action, said to be ordered by a major identified as Leetel Gogoi from Assam. The army said the troops were forced to take the extreme step to save themselves from stone-pelting, which has become one of the most common and frequent form of proetsts in Kashmir since the killing of miliant commander Burhan Wani.
The official said the court of inquiry will find out the circumstances that led to the alleged incident, cited by Kashmiri groups as an example of human rights abuse by the army in the valley.
The incident has left Kashmir seething in anger and also divided public opinion across the country.
The government backed the army, with the country’s top law officer saying earlier this week that the officer-in-charge “did a smart thing and defused a nasty situation”.
Here's the video as well. A warning can be heard saying stone pelters will meet this fate. This requires an urgent inquiry & follow up NOW!! pic.twitter.com/qj1rnCVazn— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) April 14, 2017
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the major was summoned by officials to a poll booth since they were surrounded by hundreds of suspected stone pelters.
“The poll booth is symbolic of democracy. He (the major) should not be criticised. The army should be applauded. They are guarding our northern and north-eastern frontiers admirably,” Rohatgi said in a statement on Monday.
Kashmir police have filed a case against the army unit accused of the seizing the 24-year-old shawl weaver on April 9 – when bypolls were held for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
The man was later identified as Farooq Ahmad Dar, who claimed to have been held after exercising his franchise.
“Look at the fate of the stone-pelter,” a soldier is heard saying over a loudspeaker in the video.
Several video clips that have surfaced over the past few weeks – some of them purportedly showing alleged rights abuses by security forces – have added to the anger in the valley, which saw months of violent street protests over the killing of Wani last year.
As anger mounted, state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti also urged security forces to exercise restraint.