Major in Kashmir human shield row says he did it to save local people
An amateur mobile video of the incident surfaced a few days later, deepening the army-civilian divide in the militancy-hit valley.Updated: May 26, 2017, 07:18 IST
An army major facing criticism for using a Kashmiri man as a human shield defended the act on Tuesday, saying the act saved the lives of 12 people from a mob allegedly armed with stones and petrol bombs.
The first public comments by major Leetul Gogoi since the incident on April 9 came a day after he was awarded by the army chief for “sustained efforts” in counter-insurgency operations.
Gogoi was accused of rights abuse for tying the Kashmiri man to the bonnet of an army jeep and parading him through villages on the day by-polls were held for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.
An amateur mobile video of the incident surfaced a few days later, fanning public anger and deepening the army-civilian divide in the militancy-hit valley. The government, however, backed the officer while the army commended him for thinking “out of the box”.
Speaking to a select group of journalists at an army camp in Beerwah, the army officer from Assam said tying the man to the jeep gave him a “fraction of moment to get out of the place and save 12 (lives)”.
HT was not invited to the media briefing but has a video recording of the interaction.
Explaining the circumstances leading to the incident, Gogoi said he led a team of soldiers after receiving a “distress call” from a polling station in Gutligam at around 10.30 am.
“When we reached the area, we saw a large crowd, including women and children...they were throwing stones, some people were even throwing boulders at us from their roof tops,” the Rashtriya Rifles officer said.
Gogoi said he saw a man about 30 feet from his vehicle and asked soldiers men to “catch him”.
The officer said the man – who was later tried to the jeep – tried to flee but was caught.
The man – later identified as Farooq Ahmad Dar -- was the “instigator and could have been a ring leader” of the stone-pelters, Gogoi said. The officer, however, did not say if he saw Dar pelting stones.
Gogoi said that catching hold of Dar gave the army “room to enter the polling station and save the staff”.
“We managed to save 12 people...four civil polling staff, seven ITBP personnel and one police man were taken out.”
However, the officer said, the armoured vehicle was stuck in a muddy area while returning.
Amid call from mosques for protests, he said people were allegedly pelting stones and throwing “petrol bombs at us”.
He said the people did not heed his requests through a public address system for safe passage.
“The crowd was not listening to us... so in a fraction, I thought of tying Dar to the jeep. ...Stone pelting stopped for a while. That was the window (we needed) to move out”.
“I got a window to save the local people,” he added.
Gogoi said he realised later that the incident had created a furore after the video became public.
“...It was made out that I was against the system...To my mind what I did was to simply save people,” he said. He did not take any questions.