When bye-elections were held for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat last Sunday, only 7.1% of registered votes actually turned up at the booths. In Budgam district, only 31,476 people cast their votes, braving a separatist boycott call and the threat of violence. Among them was 26-year-old shawl maker Farooq Ahmad Dar, a resident of Chil village. He said that he left his home early that morning to make his way to the polling station at the local middle school.
He would return home that night with his left arm broken by the Army, after having being paraded through several villages strapped to the front of a military jeep, allegedly serving as a human shield on a day marked by violence that left eight civilians dead.
The soldiers “played with me like I was a toy”, Dar said on Saturday. “Am I a human being or an animal?”
Even as a video of Dar strapped to the front the olive-green vehicle with sign pinned to his chest declaring him to be a stone pelter, the army has called for an inquiry into the incident. Nonetheless, the decision of an officer of the Army’s Rashtriya Rifles branch to use Dar as a human shield has won widespread approval in some quarters. Many people immediately formed the impression that the army had apprehended a man hurling stones at them and had no option but to tie up him to their convoy to prevent further violence. One newspaper editor, for instance, described the strategy as a “low-cost way to prevent army from being stone-pelted”.
After the ballot
But on Saturday morning, as Dar and his relatives in his home in Chil tried to make sense of the the “zulum” – oppression – that had been meted out to him, they insisted that there was no violence in the area in which the young man had been picked up and that he wasn’t the sort to hurl stones at the security voices.
This is how Dar said his day proceeded. After he cast his vote in Chil, 33 km from Srinagar, he said that he got on to his motor cycle to attend a condolence meeting at his sister’s house in Gampora village, 20 kms away. His brother Hilal followed him on another motorcycle.
A few kilometres before their destination, at Utligam village, Dar said he was stopped by an army patrol.
The patrol consisting of at least 17 personnel was led by a major, Dar said. The security men surrounded him and pulled him off his motorcycle. After looking at his identity card, they questioned him about why he was so far from his home. They then began to beat him up and accused him of being a stone pelter. But, said Dar, there were no visible disturbances in the area when the stopped him.
“They thrashed me for 20 minutes,” Dar said, adding that after the beating, they attempted to push him into a stream. “My leg was immersed in the water but I managed to push myself back and got back up.”
The soldiers then tied him to a vehicle and paraded him “through 10-20 villages” with a piece of paper attached to his chest declaring that he was a stone pelter, Dar said. He said he did not have a clear recollection of events that transpired when he was tied up. “I was not in my senses,” he said.
One memory that did stand out, though, was that the people of Khospora village tried to get him released. “But the RR [Rashtriya Rifles] men told them that they would not let me go as I was a stone pelter,” Dar said. “But I am not. I am an honest man. The whole area knows that.”
Sonpa, Najan, Chakpora, Hanjiguroo, Khospora, Rawalpora, Arizal, Hardapanzoo are some of some of the villages he remembered passing through. He repeated the names as if he had memorised the trail of his hurt. “They humiliated me publicly,” Dar said.
Dar estimates he was paraded for at least 20 km-25 km but his brother Qadir estimates the distance to have been greater. “He was taken in circles through different villages,” Qadir said. “They must have paraded him for 30 km-40 km.”
At 4 in the evening, Dar said he was taken to a Central Reserve Paramilitary Force camp in Hardapanzoo where, he alleges, he was “still tied up and not offered water.” Later, Dar said he was taken on another ride, this time inside a jeep. He does not remember the route or where he was being taken but at around 8 pm he was released from the Rayar camp of the army near Arizal.
On Saturday, he recounted his story several times to journalists who had sought him out. “Am I a toy or a human being?” he said. “The government should take action against” the army personnel.
He described the effects of the beating. “There are no bruises over the surface but I am [physically] hurt on the inside,” he said. “I can’t lift my hands. I can’t walk straight, I tremble if I try. They played with me like a football.”
It was two days before he was able to visit a hospital. “I was in so much pain when I came back,” he said. “My neighbours and family that supported me know what i went through.”
The family was still unsure of whether they would file a formal complaint. Dar said that he did not file an FIR that day as he was afraid that the army personnel would harass him even more.
His relatives added that Dar had never pelted stones as he was preoccupied with making ends meet. “He is a very decent person,” said Dar’s cousin Zahid Malla. “He has never indulged in stone pelting. What the army claimed is completely false.”
So far, the army has not made any preliminary statements about the results of its investigation, though officials familiar with the situation told Scroll.in that it was clear that Dar’s contention that he had been used as a human shield seemed to have been established.
On Saturday, Dar said many things in his life seemed a little uncertain. To begin with, he wasn’t sure how he would make a living over the next few weeks. With his left hand swollen and bandaged, Dar said he would be unable to do the fine embroidery that shawls require. “Look at my hands, can I work now?” he asked. “Did they leave me able to work?”
But there was one thing that was absolutely sure of: that he had lost his faith in the democratic process. Said Dar: “I used to vote but won’t do so anymore.”