Outrage over India award for ‘human shield’ soldier

Kashmir victim criticises award for Major Leetul Gogoi as support for ‘oppression and injustice’.

A Kashmiri student throws a piece of stone during a protest in Srinagar
A Kashmir man was bound to an army jeep and used as a human shield amid election violence in April [File:Reuters]

The Indian army has commended an officer accused of tying a man to a jeep and using him as a human shield in Kashmir, sparking outrage from the victim and rights activists.

Major Leetul Gogoi, who is still under investigation for strapping 26-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar to the front of an army vehicle as it led a convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir , was last week awarded the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card “for his for sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations”.

“This has been given to Major Leetul Gogoi, who has been deployed in counter-insurgency operations for more than one year,” army spokesman Aman Anand told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

“It has been given for his sustained efforts over a period of time.”

Video footage showing Dar bound to the jeep last month was widely shared, and caused a public outcry in the restive Himalayan region. The incident came amid days of violent clashes between security forces and stone-throwing young men protesting against a by-election, which left at least eight people killed and more than 200 wounded. 

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Speaking to Al Jazeera from Srinagar on Tuesday, Dar said the six-hour ordeal had left him traumatised and unable to continue his work as a shawl weaver. 

He said the award showed that the Indian army “supports oppression and injustice.

“My arms, legs and my whole body still hurt me even after more than a month,” he said. “I have not been able to recover from that shock.”

Dar, who lives with his 70-year-old mother, said he does not expect justice.

“No one has gotten justice in Kashmir, so why would I?” he said.

Anand, the army spokesman, declined to comment on the charges against Gogoi, but the police said the investigation was ongoing.

“The investigation has been going on,” Inspector General Muneer Khan told reporters in Kashmir on Tuesday. “[The complaint] has not been quashed.”

Parvez Imroz, a Kashmiri human rights activist, told Al Jazeera that the move to award Gogoi was aimed at “boosting the morale of the army” which he said was flagging because of international criticism over the human shield incident.

Khurram Parvez, another rights campaigner, said the award “means India upholds torture as a means of saving lives and as a part of its counter-insurgency war in Kashmir.

“This is a signal to people in Kashmir that India can do anything here with absolute impunity,” he told AFP.

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A youth leader for the ruling Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party said Gogoi’s award would only strain relations further between Kashmiri youth and the Indian army.

“The time has come when Delhi needs to understand it is time to win the youth of Kashmir rather than defeat them. And this [award] doesn’t communicate the message that the youth here want to listen,” Waheed Rehman Parra was quoted as saying by the New Indian Express.

Gogoi, however, had his supporters too.

Many Indians, including famous cricketer Virender Sehwag and cabinet ministers, praised the soldier for what they said was quick thinking that prevented more violence and saved the lives of soldiers. 

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947, but both claim the territory in its entirety.

Rebel groups in Indian-controlled Kashmir have for decades battled against troops and police, demanding independence or a merger of the Himalayan territory with  Pakistan .

Tens of thousands of civilians and security force personnel have been killed since the rebellion began.

With additional reporting by Rifat Fareed

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies