Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had to travel to Bomdila after celebrating Diwali with the troops in Arunachal Pradesh, to deal with a rather inglorious incident regarding the Indian Army. The incident in question occurred on November 3, when the 2nd Arunachal Scouts Battalion attacked the police station at Bomdila as well as the police personnel inside including policewomen. The Army personnel did not pay heed to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) who ordered them to disperse. Instead, they hurled abuses at her and pelted her with stones. The stone pelting Army personnel also damaged the Public Works Department (PWD) office next door.
According to the police version, the genesis of the stone pelting soldiers began when two intoxicated Arunachal Scouts personnel were apprehended by the police and brought to the police station on November 2, for misbehaving with women during the Buddha Mahotsav celebration in Bomdila. The people of Bomdila are mostly Mahayana Buddhists. At the station, the Army personnel allegedly manhandled the police officer in charge and a policewoman. The police informed the Arunachal Scouts officers and the two inebriated servicemen were taken away.
The next day, hundreds of Arunachal Scouts personnel descended upon the police station and attacked it. They allegedly snatched away mobile phones and weapons. When the Superintendent of Police (SP) Raja Bhantia and the DC Sonal Swaroop arrived, they too were not spared.
The Army’s version of the events is that the two inebriated personnel were beaten up when they were brought to the police station. The Army further maintains that due to the injuries they sustained, the two men had to be hospitalised. This resulted in the show of loyalty wherein the troops attacked the police station.
According to the SP, he was inside the police station at the time and saw trucks full of heavily armed Arunachal Scouts personnel. From this, one can be sure that the soldiers had no intention of talking. Further, the two personnel who had allegedly been beaten up in the lock up were at the forefront of the mob. The police claim that they also have CCTV footage of the 2nd Arunachal Scouts’ Commanding Officer Firdosh P. Dubash threatening the officer in charge of the police station.
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The actions of the Arunachal Scouts personnel has predictably received widespread criticism from civil society organisations in the state. On November 5 and 6, women’s organisations of West Kameng district staged protests against the incident. The women’s organisations expressed that if policewomen were not safe from assault, how can civilian women be safe in a district that has a high proportion of Army personnel.
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The fallout of the incident resulted in the Governor calling for a meeting between the Chief Minister Pema Khandu; the Army’s Eastern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Lieutenant General Manoj Mukund Naravane; Chief Secretary Satya Gopal; 3 Corps General Officer Commanding Lieutenant General Gopal R; and Director General of Police S B K Singh at the Raj Bhavan on November 6. The theme of the meeting was to stress better civil-military cooperation.
In the meantime, the secretary of the Indian Civil and Administrative Service (Central) Association (IC&ASA), Rakesh Srivastava wrote a letter to Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, seeking action against the military personnel involved in the attack.
On November 7, the editor of Arunachal Times, Tongam Rina made an interesting point in an article titled, Lessons for Indian Army from Bomdila. She stressed that Arunachal Pradesh is the only disputed border state where the civilian population cooperates with the Army. Apart from some parts of the eastern districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding, for the most part, the Army does not face hostility from the civilian population. Hence, the Army should recognise this, as a border cannot be defended by soldiers alone. However, reports indicate that the Army is far from being apologetic and has instead chosen to blame the civil administration.