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Army desperate to wipe out blot of rape charge against elite soldiers
Josy Joseph in New Delhi |
October 10, 2003 10:38 IST
The gang-rape allegation against four soldiers of the elite Presidential Bodyguards has appalled the Indian Army, which is now doing everything it can to ensure that the blot is wiped out.
The President's secretariat, Ministry of Defence and Army Headquarters have been witnessing hectic activity since the allegation emerged.
An angry President A P J Abdul Kalam, who is also the Supreme Commander of armed forces, on Wednesday asked the army and police to ensure that the criminals do not go scot-free. He also issued a stern warning to his staff saying no breach of discipline would be tolerated.
Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was told about the President's anxieties, held detailed discussions with Army Chief Gen N C Vij, who sent Major General Thomas Mathew, commander of the Delhi area, and his wife to the victim's house.
The Presidential Bodyguards, like all army units posted in the national capital, are under the command of General Mathew.
The four accused have been remanded to judicial custody and the Delhi police is working on a charge sheet against them.
However, since the incident occurred in a civilian area, the army can only wait for the verdict of the courts, which can be a time consuming process.
Meanwhile, the army has initiated at least two inquiries, one by the PBG and another by the Western Army Command, into the incident and is in the process of fixing responsibility for the breach in discipline in one of its elite units.
The four men are part of the over 150 soldiers assigned to guard the President of India. PBG soldiers are selected from the 61 Cavalry, the only existing cavalry unit of the world, based on tough selection criteria.
The four soldiers allegedly raped the girl on Monday in the forest adjoining the Buddha Jayanti Park, even as a three-day Buddhist festival attended by the Dalai Lama was going on nearby.
If convicted by the court, they would be automatically dismissed from service without pay and pension.
"But if they are set free then they will have to be taken back on duty," said an army officer. During the time they are under arrest and being tried, they would have to be given a subsistence allowance but not the full salary.
Usually the army leaves murder, culpable homicide and rape cases (involving its personnel) to civilian courts during peace time.