Three-month army jail for soldier

Jorhat/Guwahati, Jan. 21: A military court has sentenced an armyman to three-month rigorous imprisonment under army custody for molesting a teenager in Sivasagar district in July last year.

Sivasagar deputy commissioner Jatindra Lahkar told The Telegraph today said he had received an intimation from the army authorities (67 Field Regiment camp at Joysagar) on Saturday informing him of the judgment and order of the court martial case. He said the trial was held in November last and the judgment was delivered on November 27.

The government has offered a job to the victim at the Joysagar office of the State Institute of Rural Development as a project assistant, which she has joined.

The summary court martial also demoted naik Anil Kumar Upadhay, belonging to 287 Field Regiment, a unit of which was based at Naojan camp near Demow till late last year, to the rank of sepoy on November 27 last year.

Upadhay was found guilty of molesting and trying to rape a teenager at Dolopa village under Demow police station on July 13. The girl was collecting firewood when the armyman molested her.

The incident had evoked widespread protests, leading to Upadhay's arrest after the girl filed an FIR at Demow police station. Over 22 organisations, led by All Tai Ahom Students' Union (Atasu), had led a series of protests and threatened to stage naked protests if the soldier was not brought to justice. A case (No. 114/12) was registered and the accused was produced in the court of the chief judicial magistrate of Sivasagar. Subsequently, however, the court granted the army permission to take custody of the accused for initiating court martial proceedings against him.

The victim and witnesses had given statements at the Sivasagar circuit house following a furore over the army authorities recording statements, including that of the victim, inside its camp during its inquiry against the soldier.

The army had assured strong action against the soldier if he was found guilty.

The decision of the army to sentence the soldier to three months' jail in army custody has failed to cut ice with many. It has drawn sharp reactions from human rights workers, who said this was another proof of the army placing itself above the law.

Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in Delhi, said, "If anyone commits a crime, that person goes to jail. In the present case, if the army has to jail its own people, the police can do the same. In such a scenario, parents can jail their children. So why have public jails in the first place? The present case just shows the army's sense of impunity, that they place themselves above the law. "This is a result of Section 197 CrPC being amended in 1997, with the Centre trying to protect policemen who may have been guilty of crimes committed during the Punjab disturbances. This impunity has been extended to all security forces, state or central, and you cannot prosecute them in a civil court without the permission of the government," he added.

Anjuman Ara Begum, a member of Women in Governance, a network of women's rights activists, said, "The military court has failed to provide justice to the molestation victim since the order passed by it will have no deterrent effect. Imprisonment for only three months, that too in army custody, is far less a punishment compared to the sensitive nature of the crime."

She pointed out that under Section 354 IPC, the punishment for molestation or outraging the modesty of women is imprisonment for a term that may extend up to two years, with or without fine.

She said army personnel who commit crime against civilians, particularly in case of sensitive crimes such as sexual violence, should be tried in civil courts instead of military courts.

Atasu adviser Ashwini Chetia, while partially welcoming the verdict, said it had "brought out the truth". He said their efforts to punish the armyman had materialised but its quantum was "too lenient".

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