On May 30, 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir Police filed a status report before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Srinagar regarding the case of sexual favours that Major Gogoi of 53 Rashtriya Rifles sought from a local Kashmiri woman, on May 23, 2018. The police claimed that it was a case of ‘consenting adults’ as the woman was 19 years old and that neither she nor the Hotel staff, which had prevented their stay, had filed a complaint. Against this official inaction, PUDR draws attention to the facts of the case which suggest it to be one of abuse of power by an army man in a “disturbed area”.
The police’s emphasis on the absence of complaint as evidence of consent, is questionable as it fails to address the fears that civilian have of men in uniform in a conflict area where, under the AFSPA, the military enjoys enhanced powers and immunity. The circumstances of this present case as reported in the press, illustrate this impunity. Using a fake identity over social media to solicit her company, Major Gogoi and his driver, Sameer Malla, had, on two occasions made unsolicited visits to the woman’s house in Budgam in civilian dress. The driver, a renegade, had ‘barged’ in and the family maintained that he acted as a ‘pimp’. The girl was not aware of the real identity of Major Gogoi when she interacted with him over facebook, and her silence over her subsequent interactions is disquieting. The family has not filed a complaint as they feel vulnerable and fear the consequences.
This will not be the first time that security forces have been guilty of sexual malpractices, aided by their positions of power. While custodial rape and human trafficking are one end of the spectrum, it needs to be remembered that the power of the uniform make refusal impossible, all the more so if the woman is a local person, and in a war zone. In this context it is important to note the CBI’s verdict given on May 30, 2018 regarding the infamous May 2006 Sex Scam case which exposed the widespread sexual exploitation by powerful persons in J&K including senior officers engaged in counter-insurgency operations.
What is worrying about the police’s arguments about consent is that it has failed to pay attention to the power and influence of Major Gogoi, a man known for his brutality against civilians and the army’s reward to him for using Farooq Dar as a human shield on April 9, 2017. Hence, the question is not whether Major Gogoi is guilty of violating the Army Act’s code of conduct, as the Army chief suggests. It is a case of how a culture of impunity is being normalized in which army men have the right to make sexual claims over civilian population. For this reason, it is imperative to bring armed forces personnel serving in “disturbed areas” under the jurisdiction of Criminal Courts to ensure civilians’ access to justice.
Shashi Saxena and Shahana Bhattacharya