Leh Incident: 'All-night Hunt For Officers, Slogans On Loudspeakers'

Leh Incident: 'All-night Hunt For Officers, Slogans On Loudspeakers'

17 May 2012
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel

New Delhi: Though the Army has called the violence in Nyoma last Thursday a “minor scuffle”, the fight between jawans and the officers at a firing range was much more than that. The troops “conducted a search operation” for the hiding officers across Nyoma, and “shouted slogans and abuses over loudspeakers throughout the night”, says a report by the Jammu & Kashmir Police. The report, based on police investigations in Nyoma, suggests that the incident was triggered by the “over-reaction’’ of officers to a sewadar’s (personal valet’s) “inadvertent entry” into a bathroom where the wife of a major was having a bath. “The lady had taken the act lightly. In the afternoon, when all the officers and wives sat inside the mess for lunch, wife of Major (name withheld) humorously told about the incident to all the sitting members,’’ the report said. The major and the other officers, however, called the sewadar, Barber Suman Sarkar, and beat him badly, leaving him seriously injured, the report said. In its official statement on May 12, the Army called the incident a “minor scuffle in Ladakh region”. “The entire episode can at worst be seen as an isolated act of indiscipline. It can in no way be termed as mutiny,” the statement said. It also said that a court of inquiry to investigate into the circumstances under which the incident took place has commenced. Here is what the J&K Police report says: One Army unit, 226 Field Regiment (Arty) of 114 Infantry Brigade, Tangtse was moved to Nyoma on April 28 and had been carrying out field firing at Field Firing Range, Mahe, since May 1. The unit camped near Higher Secondary School, Nyoma, in tent accommodations in a fortified complex. There were eight commissioned officers in the unit including the commanding officer. Two other officers (a major and a doctor) were also attached to the unit and were staying at different locations in Nyoma like the J&K Police Guest House, BRO (Border Roads Organisation) Mess and the Dak Bungalow. Some of these officers were with their spouses- families. On May 10 morning, Sewak Barber Suman Sarkar had inadvertently entered the bathroom (which was not locked) where the wife of the major he was attached to was taking bath. He immediately ran out. The major’s wife narrated the incident in a “lighter vein” at lunch but her husband and three other majors called Sarkar and beat him up in the presence of orderlies. The jawans were at the firing range when the incident happened. Sarkar was seriously injured and the officers did not permit anyone to attend to him. He was left unattended for three-four hours. When the jawans returned to the unit camp, this incident aroused great resentment against the officers of the unit. The charged-up situation was sensed by some responsible NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers)- jawans of the unit who brought it to the notice of the Commanding Officer, Col Prasad Kadam. The CO immediately rushed to the camp. On his way, the CO reprimanded the officers for mishandling the case but the officers objected and a scuffle took place between the CO and the other officers. The CO got injured and fell into a pit. As the news reached the jawans, they got out of the camp. On seeing the condition of the CO, the jawans were enraged and also emboldened. They (jawans) started pelting stones. Some of them rescued the CO and took him to the camp. Subsequently, the jawans moved towards the officers’ mess armed with lathis, iron rods and stones. They were provoked by the indifferent attitude of the officers towards their colleague. Besides, rumors about the death of the Sewadar added fuel to the fire. The jawans started attacking officers in the camp by pelting stones and shouting slogans against their misbehavior towards them. Sensing the charged environment, all the officers in the mess fled. The jawans ransacked the unit officers’ mess and started chasing the officers in the darkness with the help of torches. A group of jawans (numbering about 50-60) armed with iron rods, lathis and knives boarded an army vehicle to search for the officers. They reached the Police Guest House at around 11 pm. They crossed the wall of Gazetted Officers’ (GO) mess and inquired about the presence of the recently deployed police guard. Sensing trouble, SHO Nyoma had deployed a police guard at the GO mess. The angry jawans manhandled the SHO and demanded to search the mess even as the SHO politely told them that there was no officer in the mess and only family members. When the jawans demanded to search the mess, the SHO allowed a small delegation to enter. They shouted and called names but did not touch anything or anybody. Inside the Police GO mess, the jawans did beat up two Sewadars of the CO and took them away. They also entered the BRO mess where they caught hold of the Major whom Sewadar Sarkar was attached to. He was beaten up but he managed to escape. The jawans completely ransacked the BRO mess. At night, except for the CO and Maj A K Sharma, who was injured, all other commissioned officers of the unit went into hiding. Throughout the night, jawans remained charged up and were raising slogans like “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and abusing their officers on loudspeakers. During the “search operation”, however, no civilian was attacked or civilian property damaged except the window panes of the Dak Bungalow. The jawans didn’t possess any firearms during the scuffle or the search operations. At about 2 am, Brigade Commander, 70 Infantry Brigade, along with Commanding Officer, 17 Raj Rifles, reached Nyoma with reinforcements and cordoned off the camp location. In the morning, Brigade Commander of 3 Artillery Brigade reached Nyoma and went straight to the camp location to pacify the jawans. The jawans didn’t allow the senior officers to enter the camp. The jawans demanded to know whether Sewadar Sarkar was alive or not. They demanded access to Sarkar on telephone. Later GOC, 3 Inf Div Kharu, (General Officer Commanding, 3 Infantry Division) reached Nyoma and he along with other senior officers of the army went inside the camp and pacified the agitated jawans. The GOC noticed that the men inside the camp were not wearing their ranks. When asked, they responded that they were are all jawans. However, on his assurance, they put on their ranks and the order of the unit was restored, says the report. On May 11, a hectic search for six officers who went into hiding was conducted by the army. Three of them were traced near Nyoma. But the rest could not be traced till 3 pm. They were finally located in Loma, 25 km from Nyoma Police Station towards the Line of Actual Control. When contacted, Vivek Gupta, Senior Superintendent of Police Leh, said that the police had not registered any case. “ The Army has not approached us officially. The Army has its own internal mechanism and maybe they are settling it internally,” he said.