by Zishan Amiri
SRINAGAR: On April 9, 2017, the “human-shield” Farooq Ahmad Dar was tied to a bonnet of an Army jeep, which was driven through 17 villages of central Kashmir’s Badgam district, covering around 28 kilometres in six hours.
Exactly a year has passed since, the incident is “still fresh” in the mind of the 28-year-old, and so are the “wounds”, believes Dar’s family.
The incident had taken place during the last year’s by-elections, in which, Dar was one among only 7.1 percent that had turned up to cast a vote.
Despite the boycott calls from separatist leaders and mass threat from militants, Dar was “determined” to go out and vote, because, as per his sister Misra Begum, “he knew his responsibilities as a citizen of the state”. Misra briefed this reporter about the crisis that Dar is facing.
Yet, it was Major Leetul Gogoi, who, in order to set an example among the protestors who had boycotted the elections, ordered the forces to tie Dar to the bonnet of an army jeep, with a note pinned to his chest that read, “This will be the fate of the stone-pelters”.
Although a year has passed, yet, as per Begum, Dar, who had sustained a fracture in his right shoulder and critical injuries in his back, “struggles to offer his prayers as the injuries still haunt him”.
“The incident has taken a heavy toll on his physical and mental health. He easily gets irritated and most of the time tries to avoid any human interaction,” Begum told this reporter..
Looking visibly upset, she further recalled, “I remember, during the first few months, Dar used to hardly move out of his house. He had no one.”
“Aao, apne bandey ko patthar maaro! (Come, throw stones at your own brother)” – was one slogan that was being shouted when Dar was being driven as a human shield.
It all started when Dar, after casting his vote, was riding on his motorcycle heading towards his relative’s place, when, Major Leetul Gogoi of Army’s 53 Rashtriya Rifles asked him to stop and dismount from his motorcycle.
Dar, who had no other option, climbed off, and what happened next is, as per Begum, a display of “inhumanity”.
“I guess his mother has still kept the pheran he had worn that day. All torn and mudded!” she said.
Just a month later, in May 2017, the Major was awarded a Chief of Army Staff (CAOS) Commendation Card for his “sustained efforts” in Counter-insurgency operations, which included Dar’s human shield case.
Later, in September, a police report had come out, clearly stated “that the victim Farooq Ahmad Dar had cast his vote at a polling booth in his native village”, yet, J&K Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Kumar Singh had accused Dar of being the “master and leader of stone-pelters”.
“It’s a proxy war,” he had said, further claiming that everything was “fair in love and war”.
Dar lives in sub-district Beerwah’s Chill-Brass village in a two-storey mouldy wooden house with her ailing mother who is suffering from a heart condition.
Although the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had asked the State to compensate Rs 10 lakhs to Dar, the PDP-BJP government had turned down the panel’s recommendation.
Before the incident, Dar used to make income by weaving pashmina, but now, as per Begum, at the age 28, he has become one “helpless and a dependent man”.
“His brother Ghulam Qadir looks after him and his house. Apart from snatching his dignity, the government has also made him helpless. He is old, but yet unmarried,” she said.
Parked Bike, Stagnant Life
The motorcycle on which he was riding when the army intercepted him is wrapped with a torn grey cover in the courtyard of Dar’s residence. In disuse for a year, it must be rusting now.
“He loved his motorcycle. But since that day, he has not ever ridden it. Just like Dar’s life, that motorcycle, too, hasn’t moved a little from past one year,” Begum said.
Dar, a skilled artisan, who had aspired to make beautiful Kashmiri shawls, while talking to a news agency PTI, said that he has now become “famous for all the wrong reasons”.
“No one is giving me any work. The government is silent and the judiciary is moving at its own place,” Dar was quoted as saying.
“I decided to work as a labourer but my human shield tag walks a pace ahead of me. At times, I wonder whether such an act of cowardice could be rewarded by the Army,” he further said, adding: “Is this the message that India wants to send to Kashmir?”
(A Mumbai resident, Zishan is reporting from Srinagar for the last six months.)