For more than two months now, an army court of inquiry (CoI) has been poring over documents and cross-examining 12 officers and 39 soldiers to verify whether they were guilty of sexual misconduct during their year-long stint, beginning January 2008, in Congo. These men belong to a unit of the Sikh Regiment and face charges ranging from rape to fraternising with the local population, all expressly forbidden by Indian military law and the UN code of conduct governing peacekeepers. The CoI, under the Meerut-based 9th Infantry Division of the army, is headed by Brig M.M. Masru assisted by two colonels.
A company of about 120 officers and jawans from the Sikh Regiment had been posted as UN peacekeepers in Congo. Every year, a company of the Indian army’s infantry units are rotated for the posting, their primary task being the protection of the IAF’s helicopter units based there and conducting patrols to ensure security to civilians.
On their return from Congo in July 2009, the company from the Sikh Regiment was posted to Meerut, where the CoI was then set up to probe allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against 51 army personnel. “As per rules, every nation conducts its own inquiry and shares its findings with the UN,” a senior officer attached to the UN peacekeeping directorate told Outlook. He says chances of transgressions by theIndians on their tour of duty are quite high. “So far, the CoI has produced conflicting statements from those facing the inquiry. Since these are old events, a lot of fact-checking is needed before the CoI can make concrete recommendations,” the officer said.
Other sources, however, say the CoI has decided in principle to recommend that DNA tests should be carried out to irrefutably establish relationships between armymen under suspicion and the Congolese children with distinct Indian features. “Otherwise, it will be impossible to conduct a prosecution,” the officer said. A separate inquiry is afoot against the unit’s commanding officer for failure to maintain discipline, sources said. “The concerned officer has been now temporarily attached to the 9th division pending the inquiry,” one source said.
The army HQ, though, is upset with the UN, because it didn’t provide any opportunity to the accused Indians. “Based on the oral and documentary evidence gathered, the CoI has ruled out rape in most cases. The relationships, it seems, were either paid for or consensual. Either way, it marks a serious disciplinary breakdown,” the officer told Outlook.
The CoI could prove a tricky issue for the army, as the UN mission in Congo was also commanded by Lt Gen Bikram Singh, the seniormost general in the line of succession to current chief Gen V.K. Singh. If instances of sexual misconduct are found to have occurred during his tenure there, it could become a major blot on his record.
The army is determined to punish the guilty. As the army spokesperson told Outlook, “The Indian army is a disciplined force with zero tolerance for indiscipline. Even though the case pertains to 2008, and an independent inquiry was conducted by the unit, as also by the UN’s OIOS in the same year, the army has taken a serious view of the allegation. Yet another inquiry is being conducted to further look into the matter.”