Major misdemeanor

An officer or a thug?

Two army officers—majors, to boot—are arrested by police after being accused of molesting a woman at a new year’s eve party. That’s bad enough. What followed was worse. Soldiers in uniform, led by another army officer—a lieutenant colonel this time—barged into the police station, brandished weapons and sprung their colleagues from jail. Scenes from Pakistan, you would think. Shockingly, it happened in Kolkata.

The comparison with Pakistan, though, stops at this point, as it should. The Kolkata Police are not letting this be. And within hours Defence Minister A K Anthony and the Army headquarters have instructed the Eastern Command to institute a staff court of inquiry. Whether they are held accountable for their actions under civil or military law is largely a matter of procedure—they must be tried swiftly and handed down exemplary punishments if found guilty.

11 thoughts on “Major misdemeanor”

  1. The arrest of two army officers has been reported in the entire gamut of media branding them as if they are guilty. There cannot be worst example of media trial. Has the Kolkatta police arrested them under culpable offence after registrering the case which may prima-facie declare the two officers guilty? Has any complainant come forward to register the complaint with the police? Are army personnel not allowed to join the civilized life on new year eve when entire nation has induldged in the new year revellary? The powers that be have decided to teach a lesson to army personnel who have served with distinction at Siachin before coming to Kolkatta perhaps without verifyiing the role of the Park Street police. Is not it a reverse highhanded role of police Vis-a-vis Noida police? This is high time that media reconsiders its role towards armed forces and its personnel.

  2. KR Bhati,

    Other than the courts, no one—neither the police nor the media–has any business pre-judging the two majors. The media reports don’t get into details, so let’s assume that the Kolkata cops wrongly locked-up the army officers. A responsible superior officer would not, in these circumstances, drive to the police station with his troops and weapons and use force to retrieve his officers. It may well be high-handed behaviour by the police. The appropriate response by the army officer would have been to take it up through official channels.

  3. Three cheers to the Indian Army for teaching the commie thugs a lesson for booking false charges against the innocent officers.Next time these thugs will think a million times before squeaking in front of the army.

  4. It is indeed regrettable that the top Netas – Pradhan Mantriji and Raksha Mantriji included – have their Pugdis and Lunkeys tied into a collective knot over the “gross indiscipline” of the Army, relying solely on the version of the Kolkata cops.

    The media, as always, have declared the Army officers GUILTY as charged. Furthermore they have even pre-empted the need to have a victim, or even her statement – declaring the Army jawans GUILTY anyway. So the Neta-Babu-Patrakar-Pandu Chowkidaar axis play Prosecutor, Judge, Jury and Executioner.

    After everyone from the PM, the defence minister, External Affairs minister, and the PMO, rushed to personally call and assure the WB Chief Minister that the GUILTY Army officers and jawans would be given exemplary punishment, the cops’ story has begun to unravel.

    By the way, when was the last time anyone heard of the PM personally rushing to inquire about common men and women who are tortured, even killed, by police high handedness?

    Turns out that Park Street Cops were working overtime on New Years Eve to nab random members of the public, slapping them and locking them up on trumped up charges of drunkenness, eve teasing or hooliganism and extorting money from them. One couple has also registered a complaint with the NHRC to the effect (the husband was picked up by the park Street Cops as he and his wife were crossing the road. When he asked to know his offence, he was slapped by the cop, who took him to his superior who declared, ‘You are a drunkard’ and ordered that this person be locked up.) Just so happened that the police snared the wrong fish – the Army Officers – and promptly ended up getting paid in their own coin – by being placed at the receiving end of a (well deserved) beating.

    The media immediately jumped on the “casting aspersions” bandwagon and sullied the Army. As the truth slowly begins to emerge – and the usual shenanigans of Indian cops wear thin – we see that there is no woman that complained about being teased or groped.

    Four bouncers of this hotel thrashed an Army Major because he demanded his meal for a valid coupon he held. They then put him in a taxi and brought him to Park Street cops. Hafta happy cops who have good ‘relations’ with this hotel dutifully locked up the officer – inspite of him informing them of his identity. ‘No one tells us what we are supposed to do here’, so saying the cops beat up the Major before locking him. This is a clear violation of the law – but pandu chowkidars obviously have no clue about the Army Act passed by the Parliament. Soon a captain reaches the police station to reason with the Pandus to free his superior officer. ‘Dont tell us what we are supposed to do here’ so saying they lock up the Captain as well and for good measure book him for guess what? ‘Crossing the road at the wrong place’! Wow, that is so cute. Isnt it?

    Unfortunately for the cops, the Captain had called his Commanding Officer on his cell before he was locked up. The Commanding Officer (CO) of the 3 Madras regiment (Madras regiment is the oldest Regiment in the Indian Army – a small trivia for you – inconsequential to the case) comes with soldiers of his unit – soldiers that have fought with, and under the leadership of, these officers for 5 years in Siachen and Kashmir and have lost some of their men there – witness the badly beaten Major and Captain. The CO, a Lt. Colonel, gets the cop to open the lockup, and as the Major steps out the jawans get to see the real extent of the beatings handed to their officer. To make matters worse the cop speaks rough and insults the Major in the presence of his jawans. The 3 Madras jawans known to give their life to rescue their own from the enemey, fly into blind rage and all hell breaks loose. Their CO, the Lt Colonel restores order and disperses them, and himself waits for senior Police Officers to arrive. The cops immediately call the press, and the print and electronic media is full of stories about ‘Yet another case of gross indiscipline in the Army’.

    The Prime Minister, Defence Minister and External Affairs minister express their unhappiness at the ‘indiscipline of the GUILTY Army officers’ and call the West Bengal CM to offer full support! The Army refuses to hand over their own. The police chief is angry but when made to read and understand the letter of the law by the Army authorities, comes around. Now the cops end up looking like fools, because they obviously never went to the scene of the alleged eve teasing to investigate, or even bothered to take the statement of the ‘victim’ – they simply went by the words of the bouncers of Park Hotel.

    The cops are now looking desperately for ‘witnesses’, and not being able to produce any, who do they come up with? The 4 bouncers themselves of course!!! Now they – the bouncers – claim that the 4 of them were beaten bad by the Major! So I guess these 4 were the eves that the Major teased. The cops now claim that they of course never knew that these were army officers – else they would have followed the law! The truth will slowly emerge and certainly the situation ended up much worse than it should have been. Neither party should be blamed or exonerated till the final picture is out. What stuns me is the alacrity with which the PM, defence minister and External affairs Minister of this country reacted to the ‘shameful guilt of army officers’ without so much as bothering to ascertain basic facts.

    Why is it that so many cases of police excesses, and even some cases of army excesses against general civilian population in Kashmir / North East, does not elicit the same swift reaction from these folks? But touch their corrupt babus or pandus and Netas behave like a cat on a hot tin roof. Of the press’ eagerness to besmirch the Armed forces, the lesser said the better. A few quick questions for the Neta-babu-Patrakar-Pandu axis…

    1. The Army officers indicted in Tehelka scam are serving prison time – after being court martialed by the Army. What about the bureacrats involved? Any guesses? Of course absolutely nothing happens to them.

    2. The army officer accused in the Kashmir molestation case has been tried by the army, punished and discharged from service. What about the cop – the SHO – who was also involved? You guessed right. Even an FIR has not been filed. So much for the indiscipline of the Army and the efficiency of the morally upright cops / neta / babu axis.

    3. Why do Kolkata citizens complain that when ever riotous situations erupt in Kolkata the brave cops suddenly become incommunicado – and dont take any phone calls? Because when required to muster courage and discipline they do exactly what they did when confronted by jawans of 3 Madras Regiment – hide under their desks. Finally to control rioting mobs Neta / Babus requisition the ‘indisciplined’ Army and the jawans face up to the marauding mobs and bring things under control.

    4. Where is the PMO and PM when widows of Kargil martyrs go running from pillar to post begging for the Gas stations that the grateful nation had promised 8 years ago? Some of the widows have had to go on hunger strike, others threatened suicide. Of course the ‘disciplined’ bureacrats and ethical politicians hide behind various fig leaves like ‘land acquisition problems’ and ‘procedural delays’. When it is time for these ‘indisciplined and GUILTY’ army officers and Jawans to lay down their lives there is never any ‘procedural delay’.

    5. Why doesn’t the PMO, PM and Raksha Mantri ever commiserate with, and get so agitated over, long pending legitimate grievances of Armed Forces personnel regarding pay, pension, equipment, housing etc.?

    Did you hear of the PM and PMO’s displeasure at the Army chief’s refusal to unilaterally withdraw Indian troops from Siachen as demanded by Pakistan as a “Confidence building meausure”? As a last resort the Indian Army chief requested the Netas – Defence Minister and PM – to bear down on Pakistan to jointly certify / delienate on maps the Indian positions prior to getting Indian soldiers to stand down. Neither the Indian PM, nor the Pakistani dictator (“Ataturk” wannabe and infamous Kargil architect) are happy with the Indian Army. Long story short, the army chief’s insistence on the map has rained on the PM’s expected “solution” to the Kashmir issue in addition to deferring / cancelling his proposed trip to Pakistan. For his efforts the Army Chief has incurred the displeasure of the External Affairs Mantri Mahodayji, and an informal gag on holding press conferences.

    This is what the Neta / Babu nexus is upto. Of the police and trigger happy rent-a-cause Patrakar the lesser said the better.

    By the way, did the cops lock KPS Gill up and beat him even after he confessed to groping / misbehaving with a woman?

    Just a little crumb for thought – Now that the Chowkidaar-Neta-Babu axis have been educated on the provisions of the Army, Navy and Airforce Acts that disallow Pandu chowkidaar to arrest an Army Major, Lt. Colonel or General (except on charges of Rape, Murder or culpable homicide), it wont be long before they work in tandem to amend these provisions through an Act of Parliament. Should that take long, pandu chowkidaars could now trump up charges of Rape, Murder, Culpable homicide against defence personnel including Senior Officers and promptly lock them up.

    It is sad that when foreign Armies like the US Army, Canadian Army and Australian Army are sending their Army officers and soldiers to be trained in specialised warfare Schools of the Indian Army, fellow Indians – Pradhan Mantri Mahodayji, Raksha Mantri Mahodayji and External Affairs Mantri Mahodayji included – publicly berate Army Officers and Jawans before even waiting for the facts to emerge.

    The Aam Janta’s blind support for the police in any skirmish between Police and the Armed Forces (as evidenced by letters and comments in the blogosphere and print media) may seem surprising, confounding, even frustrating at first glance. However the unwritten “slave charter” that governs the relationship between Pandu chowkidaar and “pulis se soshit peedit” Public can put things in perspective. In a subservience that mirrors slave Tom’s (“Uncle Tom’s cabin”) reverence for his brutal white masters of slavery era America, the Indian public invariably forget and forgive the periodic brutality handed them by their Pandu chowkidaars – Bhagalpur blindings, fake encounter killings, rapes, custodial deaths, routine merciless beatings, the occassional urine therapy / golden shower / watersports (Orissa), forced incest between mother and son (mission accomplished by Rajasthan Police circa 1996) and Systematic breaking of bones (“Emergency” era brutality in Kerala) to name just a few from this eminent collection. However, come time for these very police brutes to receive their just desserts at the hands of the Military (as in the case of the Kolkata Police, or in case of the thrashing administered to Kerala police in Thevara police station, Kochi, by Naval Officers incensed over the beating, arrest, and locking up of a fellow Naval Officer over a trumped up petty traffic offense by a Kerala police constable – “So you are a Naval Officer? I will teach you a lesson” – in 1992) the “pulis se peedit soshit laachar” Aam Janta, like slave Uncle Tom, invariably stand by their tormentor-in-chief – Pandu chowkidaar. Never the Army.

    Slave Tom considered it his spiritual duty to serve his master (subservience to the earthly master as a prelude, almost a rite of passage, to serving the heavenly master). Right or wrong, my slave master is always right.

    The Indian Public considers it democracy. Plain and simple. Right or wrong, between the Armed Forces and Police, my Pandu Chowkidaar is always right. Never the Armed Forces.

    For all of Aam Janta’s fawning obsequiousness how does the Neta-Babu-Patrakar-Pandu nexus regard the common man? Very similar to how his white masters regarded slave Uncle Tom and his ilk: “Bigger the fool, better the slave.”

    Jai Hind.

    Setu Madhavan (exoticbronze@hotmail.com)

  5. setu madhavan,

    what is the source for ur story?

    btw, i’am very happy that the Armymen thrashed the police.they should have skinned them alive instead for this misdemeanour.

  6. Setu Madhavan,

    Your version of events is dramatically different from most other narratives. While I agree that the political class falls over itself in such matters, I would ask why not a single major media source had a substantially different account. So Rashomon-like, no?

    It is not for this blog to pass judgement. Nevertheless as Apollo says, citing a source will make your account credible among the readers of this blog.

    Even if your account is substantiated, I still find the CO wanting. He should have shown greater judgement and had greater control over his troops, and prevented the situation from becoming what it has.

  7. Nitin,

    Let me begin by answering your questions with a few questions of my own.

    Did a single media outlet – any single print / electronic media / blogs even – ever name, quote, find, describe – even third party description – of the woman whose being teased ‘supposedly’ began this entire episode?

    We are not talking of a woman that was groped in a milling crowd – as happened in Mumbai on New Years – and who for understandable reasons may be reluctant to get under the media spotlight. We are talking of a woman (women by some accounts) – a hotel guest – that ‘apparently’ walked up to the hotel security officers and logded a complaint. All that the news media say is the woman is simply “non traceable”, and they – the hotel – now have absolutely no idea, no description even, of the woman.

    Even if my account is substantiated, you say you would still blame the CO? But you mention nothing at all about criticising lapses by the Pandus?!

    So even if all I say is proved right… that the Officer did not tease any woman and was roughed up by the bouncers, who then brought him to the cops, who in turn beat the Army officer, arrested and locked him inspite of his revealing his identity (all of these – a Civilian cop beating an Army officer or even ARRESTING him – prohibited by law except in case of Murder of Rape) you say you would still blame the action by the Army. So what you seem to imply is that the Army, much like the general population, should take beatings and abuse from the Cops – even when the cops are clearly in the wrong.

    In your books, pandu chowkidaars are the holy cows of the nation! (Which pretty much proves the last 4 paras of my previous post – how slavish the Indian people are to their pandu chowkidaars – notwithstanding the brutal ill-treatement by pandus).

    Credit is due to the conniving shrewd British colonialists that designed this instrument of slavery – Indian Police system – to enslave our minds and perpetuate their rule. We managed to end British rule, but continue to be enslaved by these archaic tools of British rule. Even the British would be startled by our continuing ‘mental slavery’ that reverentially preserves those institutions of colonialism foisted upon us centuries ago.

    In Britain when the cop pulls your car over and walks over to you he or she will address you respectfully as, “Sir / Madam” – even if you are clearly at fault. But for the “coolies” they created things the other way round here in India.

    That said, I appreciate your response. It is pithy and well crafted.

    As for the source to this information, my lips are sealed. But let me put it this way. Writers Building may NOT be happy at all with the way the Police handled the situation! In fact, after the babus staked their credibility and escalated the issue to PMO / PM level overnight, the kolkata babus were stunned, even grudgingly respectful of the cogent, articulate and thorough legal arguments presented by the Military authorities punching irrefutable holes in the police version.

    It was not for nothing that the Chief Secretary (Home Secretary too) of West Bengal appeared so much more conciliatory, even admiring of the Army authorities the very next morning (“I should give the Army credit where it is due. It is best if they investigate. They are already moving much “faster” (the obvious comparison being with the Pandus). We have high regard for the Army”…etc.)

    If the pandus were out-pandu’ed by the Army jawans the night before in the ‘laat ghoosa’ department, then the babus were out-babu’ed by Army Officers the morning after in the babu’cracy, research and legal departments. The Army apparently came through the meeting as the better prepared, informed and professional party. The Babus immediately decided that the Army should drive the investigation going forward.

    The grandiose statements by the Police chief (“My men did not confront the Army only to avoid a bloodbath otherwise we are more than capable to handle such people”, “I will move the courts to arrest these officers”, “I will see this to its end”, “My officers will not go to the Army to dipose we will get the Army Officers to dipose for our investigation”) in between his lobbying efforts to become Chief of CAB (Cricket association of Bengal) when this issue is still hanging fire, did not endear him to the babus who were themselves working overtime to contain the situation. The Army approached the judiciary in quick time and the magistrate ordered the cops to dipose before the Army court – inside the Army base – instead of the other way around!

    Credit must be given to the babus for the damage control mode they kickstarted after realizing that the Army guys – in characteristic fashion – had their act together with lightning speed, while the pandus took everyone for a ride with their stories, not to speak of unprofessionalism (officer was missing from Police station during the incident leaving Pandus chowkidaars to freely distribute ‘laat ghoosa’ to handle situations, No police visit to scene of crime, frivolous charges against the Army Officers, absolutely no clue about laws that clearly govern handling situations involving Military personnel, needless manhandling of the Army Officers and mocking at them in custody (“Bolta hain Army Major hain”, or something to that effect, said to be corroborated by neutral witnesses as well).

    The army, apparently, is not going to condone any indiscipline by its personnel. However, the onus is on the cops to prove that the ‘eve teasing’ incident happened, and that the arrest of Army officers was “legal” – the only “legal” grounds to arrest a Military officer are charges of Murder, Rape or Culpable Homicide. If the Police have illegally arrested an Army officer without bothering to inform the Military authorities it is a clear violation of the law. That in addition to the illegal arrest, the police constables manhandled the Army Major – places the cops in a very uncomfortable situation.

    Another question for you. Did you notice that the media has suddenly gone largely silent about this issue – with no follow up investigative report about the woman, hotel, police, or the case itself? Do you think this is just a coincidence? Or is it an “out of sight out of public mind” formula by patrakar-babu combine so that after the initial news cycles – (“Indisciplined Army hit innocent lachar pandus”) that got the ‘favorable’ police version out – the issue falls out of public domain and imagination. A careful exit strategy for the cops – as aam junta’s attention is diverted to Nithari murders and ULFA? This way, the Police ‘high handedness’ and ‘gross negligence’ that actually caused the incident to spin out of control does not spill onto public knowledge.

    That the Army’s court has already begun its work and witness depositions, while the cops are yet to even send a written report to the Army, should tell you something about either party’s professionalism and discipline.

    Good babus are supposed to sacrifice themselves if required to keep the H&D (honor and dignity) of Netas intact. Babus now have to figure out a way to untangle the pugdis and lungis of Netas that got all knotted up by the fury of the blows from Madras Regiment that landed resoundingly on the heads of Kolkata pandus.

    For the sake of our beloved Netas I wish the babus all the best in their endeavor.

    Thanks.

    Setu Madhavan (exoticbronze@hotmail.com)

  8. Nitin,

    For what its worth here is ‘Outlook’ magazine reporting on what our ‘beloved’ Kolkata cops did. You have already made it clear that no matter how true my statements are – about Police highhandedness in this case – you would still blame the Army. But anyways… here is the ‘Outlook’ article.

    http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20070112&fname=kolkatakorner&sid=1&pn=1

    Sour Start
    The New Year started on a very sour note for Kolkata and Kolkatans. An ugly incident, involving army officers and high-handed cops marred what would have been the perfect start to 2007—a holiday (January 1, on occasion of Id-ul-Zuha) to nurse the 31st night hangovers and catch up on socializing.

    Two army officers, the morning’s papers and news channels reported, had gone to a star hotel, misbehaved with a lady, got into a fight with the bouncers there, were picked up by the cops and, since they were abusive and threatening, were dumped in the lockup. Soon enough, two jeep-loads of officers and soldiers armed with SLRs swooped on the police station, ransacked it, freed the duo and went away.

    That is what the police told the media, and that was what the media told its readers/viewers, often with a lot of spice added to it. Subsequent events, however, proved the police claims to be false and, as of now, the cops are trying their best to keep away from the court of inquiry set up by the army to probe the incident. Proof enough that the cops have a lot to hide. But more of that later…

    …Villains of the Piece
    Coming back to the New Year’s eve incident, it has now been established that the cops’ version was far from the truth. The actual sequence of events, for the benefit of those who don’t really know (for, a large section of the media hasn’t bothered to follow up on this incident), is like this: the senior among the two army officers (a Major and a Captain) who went to the party at the hotel got into some dispute with a woman; the bouncers intervened and tried to manhandle the officer, who fought back in self-defence. The cops were called, and as is their wont, slapped the officer and abused him verbally before hauling him away to the Park Street Police station. The Captain, who didn’t really know what had happened to his senior, launched a search that took him to the road outside the hotel where he was identified by the bouncers and the cops pounced on him as well and dragged him away by the collar to the thana. While he was being hauled off like a common criminal, the officer somehow managed to call up his unit from his mobile phone. And once in the thana, even though the two officers identified themselves many times, the cops, drunk on alcohol and power, threw them into the lockup.

    The law says that no army man can be arrested by the cops and put in a lockup save for committing crimes like murder and rape. And if cops detain any army man, they’re duty bound to inform the military police and the local army authorities at once. The cops in this case were either ignorant of the law or, as is more likely the case, simply thought they could get away by violating it as they do every day.
    Meanwhile, a few jawans in uniform, led by a lieutenant colonel and another officer, reached the thana and managed to convince the cops there that the detention of the two army officers in the lockup was illegal.

    The cops ultimately relented and while the Major was coming out of the lockup, he spotted the cop who had slapped, manhandled and abused him earlier. Losing his cool (as any one who had been wronged would), he shouted at the cop. The jawans, on seeing their officer with bruises on his face and getting to know that it was the handiwork of the cops, were enraged and landed a few blows on the offending cops. But the lieutenant colonel intervened, pacified them, and sent them away with the two officers who had been freed from the lockup by the cops. The lieutenant colonel and the other officer stayed back at the thana to complete the formalities.

    In the meantime, the cops, who felt insulted at having had to eat humble pie in their own thana, called up their seniors and together, or so the theory goes, they hatched a diabolic plan to portray the army officers and jawans as marauders and criminals who took the law in to their own hands. There’s reasonable ground to believe that the cops themselves ransacked their thana and invited media persons later to pass off the stage-managed vandalism as having been committed by the army.

    This account of the incident is not only what the army maintains, but also what an independent witness, who was similarly physically and verbally abused by the cops at Park Street and put in the lock up that night, has told the state human rights commission.

    Smack-Happy Cops
    Policemen—and not just the corrupt, lazy, inefficient and uninspiring members of the Kolkata Police force, cops all over the country—care little for civil liberties and citizens’ rights. Scenes of cops slapping people, especially those from the weaker sections of society, are quite common. So, when a traffic constable on duty at Eastern Metropolitan Bypass slapped a poor rickshaw puller the other evening for a minor offence, he did so as a ‘standard operating procedure’. The rickshaw-puller also took it as an occupational hazard. But none had bargained for what happened:

    Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, who was passing by, saw this barbaric act, asked his car to stop and directed the police officer in the escort vehicle to get the identity of the rickshaw puller. Back at the Raj Bhawan, he asked senior officers of the Kolkata Police to launch a probe and get the identity of the offending cop. It so happened that the road had been cleared for the Governor’s convoy to pass, but the rickshaw puller had, without knowing what was going on, tried to cross the road. Hence the slap that was witnessed by Gandhi. The rickshaw puller was identified and brought to the Raj Bhawan a couple of days later. Gandhi offered him tea and biscuits and apologized to him for the slap.

    But the offending constable is yet to be identified. Once can guess that the senior cops are shielding him. To them the constable had not done anything wrong. If only they’d have been shamed by the Governor’s apology. But that’s expecting too much from our thick-skinned cops, or is it?

    Thanks for reading,

    Setu Madhavan (exoticbronze@hotmail.com)

  9. Setu Madhavan,

    You’ll notice that I don’t blame the army. What I’m saying is that the CO is accountable, at all times, and in all situations, for the men he commands. Heck, one half of the four cardinal principles they taught us at NCC is “…make no excuses”. I think it’s one of the most important principle for commanders.

    From the Outlook story:

    The cops ultimately relented and while the Major was coming out of the lockup, he spotted the cop who had slapped, manhandled and abused him earlier. Losing his cool (as any one who had been wronged would), he shouted at the cop. The jawans, on seeing their officer with bruises on his face and getting to know that it was the handiwork of the cops, were enraged and landed a few blows on the offending cops. But the lieutenant colonel intervened, pacified them, and sent them away with the two officers who had been freed from the lockup by the cops. The lieutenant colonel and the other officer stayed back at the thana to complete the formalities.

    I’m glad that the media has begun to focus on the other side of the story. If the commission of inquiry finds this version to be accurate, then it can be offered in mitigation.

    Thanks for keeping track of this story, and I welcome you to post updates. If you are quoting an external source, you could paste the excerpt and cite the link, instead of quoting in toto.

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