Haunted, Valley’s human shield

A year after Farooq Ahmad Dar was strapped to the bonnet of an Army vehicle and paraded in villages to block stone-pelters from targeting security forces, Fayaz Wani catches up with the man, broken an

Published: 08th April 2018 10:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th April 2018 10:35 AM   |  A+A-

Exactly a year after Farooq Ahmad Dar was strapped to the bonnet of an army vehicle and used as a human shield to block angry Kashmiri youths from pelting security personnel with stones, he is frightened, depressed, jobless and nervy.

“That incident has shattered my life. From an independent person earning a decent livelihood by weaving shawls, I have become dependent on others,” the 27-year-old said.
“Whenever I am alone and I close my eyes, the whole incident flashes in front of me and I get frightened... I am unable to do my daily chores. I cannot hold a needle in my hand, leave aside weave a shawl. My body still aches,” he said.

A resident of the remote Chill-Drass village in Beerwah in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, Farooq was branded ring-leader of the stone-pelters and paraded in at least a dozen hamlets by Army Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi’s men during the April 9 bypoll to the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat last year.
Large-scale violence had taken place during the bypoll, leading to the deaths of at least eight civilians in clashes with security forces. The seat had recorded only 7.14 per cent polling, the lowest ever.
Surprisingly, however, Farooq had cast his vote in polling booth No. 16 at the Government Boys Middle School in Chill early in the morning.

“After I voted and returned home, we got a call that my sister’s sister-in-law living in a nearby village had died,” he said. So, he and a friend left on his bike for his sister’s house.
Around 10.15 am, the duo reached Utligam village. “Some people told me there had been stone-pelting in the area and we should be careful. Since we were not involved in any stone-pelting, we carried on,” Farooq said.

After travelling a few hundred metres, they were stopped by army men. “My friend got scared by the aggressive posturing of the solders of 53 Rashtriya Rifles and fled. The army men caught me and started beating me with gun butts, sticks and a big log of wood. I pleaded innocence and told them I had voted but they wouldn’t listen. Then they tied me to the bonnet of their Gypsy and paraded me in some 12 villages,” Farooq said.

A video of Farooq strapped to the bonnet of the army vehicle went viral three days on. In the video, army men were heard announcing that those pelting stones would meet Farooq’s fate.
The video sparked outrage in Jammu and Kashmir but the Army chief, Union ministers and BJP leaders came out in support of Major Gogoi. Police registered an FIR without naming the Army or the Major.
The Army ordered a Court of Inquiry, which gave a clean chit to Major Gogoi. A month later, in May, Major Gogoi was honoured with the Army chief’s ‘Commendation Card’ for his sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations.

Farooq lives with his ailing mother in a mud house. His elder brother and three sisters are married and have their own families.

“I used to work as a labourer also. But now nobody is willing to hire me because of my health condition and the fear that the Army could harass them,” Farooq said.

He said since he had cast his vote, he was looked down by people in his own village. “Some claim I have received Rs 10 lakh in compensation from the government, which is not the case.”
Last July, Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission chairperson Justice Bilal Nazki had directed the state to compensate Farooq. But it declined, saying that compensation would tantamount to establishing the guilt of the accused without affording him the opportunity to be heard.
“When I cast my vote, I reposed trust in democracy. But what did I get in return? I got beating, thrashing and humiliation. I have no source of income. How can I survive and how can I take care of my ailing mother?” Farooq asked.

He said he was not a stone-pelter and “my only mistake was that I cast my vote.” Police investigations have confirmed that he did vote and was not a stone-pelter. Major Gogoi had claimed that Farooq was the ring leader of the stone-pelters and had been leading a mob.
On the army honouring Major Gogoi, Farooq said, “Instead of providing compensation to the victim, the ‘culprit’ has been honoured… It is not justice.”

He claimed he was being denied compensation because the government did not want him to live decently and peacefully. “Some people are further humiliating me by selling T-shirts glorifying the human shield incident,” he said. Farooq was referring to Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, who is selling T-shirts with the image of a man tied to the front of a jeep. The caption says — “Indian Army saving your a** whether you like it or not”.

Called ‘Major Gogoi Indian Army T-shirt’, it is being sold for Rs 495 by a shopping website owned by Bagga, called Tshirtbhaiya.com. Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, a human rights activist and chairman of the International Forum for Justice, said a defamation suit had been filed against Bagga in the High Court.
He said there were plans to file a defamation suit against the producer and director of the Tiger Shroff-Disha Patani starrer, Baghi-II, which apparently justifies the human shield incident.

“It is very unfortunate. The incident, which caused a massive outrage not only in Kashmir but also outside the state, has been justified in a movie. Bollywood has a vast reach and justifying the brutal incident will send a wrong signal,” said Untoo.

Milking human shield: From T-Shirts to films

THE T-SHIRT
Farooq Ahmad Dar sounded offended that people, far from speaking up against the April 9 incident, were playing it up. “Some people are humiliating me by selling T-shirts glorifying the incident,” he said.
Farooq was referring to Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, who is selling T-shirts with the image of a man tied to the bonnet of a jeep. The caption says — “Indian Army saving your a** whether you like it or not”.

Christened the ‘Major Gogoi Indian Army T-shirt’, it is being sold for H495 on a website owned by Bagga, called Tshirtbhaiya.com.
Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, a human rights activist and chairman of the International Forum for Justice, said a defamation suit had been filed against Bagga in the High Court.

THE FILM
Not just a T-shirt, a Bollywood film, Baghi-II, has apparently justified the incident Plans are afoot to file a defamation suit against the producer and director of the Tiger Shroff-Disha Patani starrer, Untoo, the International Forum for Justice chairman, said.
“It is very unfortunate. The incident, which caused a massive outrage not only in Kashmir but also outside the state, has been justified in a movie. Bollywood has a vast reach and justifying the brutal incident will send a wrong signal,” he said.

Complaints against Gogoi

  1. Complaint with the J&K State Human Rights Commission about the ‘Commendation Card’ given to Major Gogoi for his efforts in counter-insurgency operations
  2. Petition No. 1055 (Farooq Ahmad Dar versus State and others) filed in High Court last August questions why police is claiming Major Gogoi only had a nominal role in the incident
  3. Petition filed against Chief Election Commissioner with SHRC. Questions why CEC did not take cognizance of the incident since it took place during the April 9 bypoll to the Srinagar-Budgam seat


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