Srinagar: The controversial army major who was in the eye of a storm last year for tying a Kashmiri civilian to the bonnet of his jeep as a hostage was detained by police along with a young woman and his driver from a hotel here on Wednesday.
The officer, Nitin Leetul Gogoi, was not allowed by a hotel manager to enter the room he had booked accompanied by a woman. A brawl ensued – first between the major’s driver and hotel staff and then involving Gogoi himself – following which local police arrived and took Gogoi, his driver and the young woman the Khanyar police station for questioning.
On Friday, army chief Bipin Rawat said that exemplary punishment would be given to Gogoi if he was found guilty. “If anyone in Indian Army, at any rank, does any wrong and it comes to our notice then strictest action will be taken. If Major Gogoi has done something wrong then I can say that he will be given due punishment and it will be such that it will set an example,” ANI quoted Rawat as saying.
Though the police didn’t register a case, it has ordered a probe into the incident. Gogoi was not allowed to return to the hotel but handed over to his unit.
IGP (Kashmir) S.P. Pani has ordered a probe into the incident, Indian Express reported. “We are conducting a parallel detailed inquiry. The story until now is that there was a room booked in the name of Leetul Gogoi. A couple came to the hotel but were not allowed inside. They (hotel staff) had said they cannot allow a local girl in the hotel,” inquiry officer SP North City Sajad Ahmad Shah told the newspaper.
The army major had booked a room under his name at the hotel using an online service earlier that day. The booking was for a one night stay for two guests. In his booking, he had indicated he would arrive by 11 am.
At around 9:30 am on Tuesday, Gogoi called the hotel management informing them he that he wanted to check in early. He arrived at the front-desk of the hotel at 10:30 am, wearing a blue cap, a manager of the hotel told The Wire.
When he was asked to prove his identity by the receptionist, the major showed his driving license and not his military identity card, hotel staff told The Wire.
“A girl was accompanying him. He (Gogoi) said she is with him. But when we asked for her identity we found that she is from Budgam. That is when we grew suspicious, cancelled the booking and asked them politely to leave. We told them that our rules don’t allow guests who are not in kinship to stay in the hotel,” said the manager.
At first, he said, Gogoi didn’t agree to leave, saying he has every right to stay in the room he had booked, but following a heated argument he walked out.
Gogoi and the woman had been dropped at the hotel by a young man in civvies in a Suzuki Alto who, according to hotel staff, was waiting outside.
“While leaving the hotel, he (Gogoi) shouted at his driver that the hotel staff had misbehaved with him. The man came out of the car and assaulted our guest-relations manager. The situation grew tense as drivers of some vehicles who were picking our guests caught hold of him and beat him up… then there was an altercation between Gogoi, his driver and hotel staff,” the manager said.
Sensing trouble, the hotel management called the police and all the three – Gogoi, the girl and the man who had driven them – were taken away to Khanyar police station downtown around 11 am.
A local youth who identified himself as Javaid Ahmad said nobody realised the hotel guest was the same man who had been responsible for the hostage/human shield incident. “It was [after the police took him away] that we came to know that he is Major Gogoi,” said Ahmad.
What the police says
The army has not said anything about the incident. In a statement the police didn’t identify Major Gogoi or the girl but identified the young man with them as Sameer Ahmed.
“It surfaced that a woman and person namely Sameer Ahmed of Budgam had come to see some person… it was learnt that the woman had come to meet an army officer. The identity and particulars of the army officer have been collected by the police,” a police spokesman said in the statement.
A senior police official said Sameer was also working with army. “They (Gogoi and Sameer) probably belong to the same unit,” said the police official, adding that both were later handed over to the army. The girl was handed over to her relatives after police recorded her statement too.
There were however contradictory details about the girl’s age. While a manger at the hotel told The Wire that her Aadhar card showed her date of birth as 1999, some news reports claimed that she was a minor. The police say she was older than 18 years.
On Saturday, various reports claimed that the woman had told the magistrate that she went to the hotel “of her own free will” because she wanted to spend time with Gogoi who was “already known” to her. She told the magistrate that she and the major had met on “several occasions”.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, inspector general of police (Kashmir), S.P. Pani ordered a probe into the matter which would be conducted by the superintendent of police (north zone Srinagar).
Who is Gogoi?
Posted with the army’s 53 RR at Beerwah in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, Gogoi hit the headlines last year when on April 9, 2017 he took 26-year old Farooq Ahmad Dar, a resident of Chill-Brass village from the district, as a hostage, tied him to an army jeep. This was on the day of by-polls to the Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha constituency. Dar was then paraded by Gogoi in this fashion through several villages for nearly five hours as a warning of the fate that would befall Kashmiris who throw stones at the security forces.
A shawl weaver, Dar was in fact among the few villagers who had turned out to cast their vote on the day when the constituency, which recorded the lowest ever turnout of 7%, witnessed eight civilians killings in firing by security forces as angry mobs tried to attack some polling stations.
The treatment of Dar had evoked global outrage but the army defended the action claiming that the Budgam youth was “instigating a stone-pelting mob” and “could have been their ring leader”.
On May 29, Army chief Bipin Rawat said the army was facing a “dirty war” in J&K which has to be fought through “innovative” ways, defending the use of Dar as a hostage. He later awarded Major Gogoi with the army chief’s commendation medal for his “sustained efforts” in counterinsurgency operations.
Note: This report was updated on May 25 with the army chief’s statement.