Nearly two years ago, when Srinagar voted in a Lok Sabha bypoll, Farooq Ahmed Dar was used as a ‘human shield’ to ensure safe passage for army jawans as they came under intense stone-pelting, but now he finds himself posted on election duty.
“Farooq Ahmad Dar is working on consolidated terms as sweeper in the Health Department. He has been posted on election duty,” said Budgam Chief Medical Officer Nazir Ahmad.
In 2017, a picture of Dar tied to the bonnet of an army jeep splashed across the front pages of newspaper, invoking sharp but divided reactions.
Investigations later found he was on his way to his sister’s place for a condolence meet after casting his vote in the bypoll on April 9 2017 when the army picked him up and tied him with ropes, parading him through nearly 28 villages.
“What was my mistake? Going to the polling booth and casting my ballot?” Dar had told PTI in a video interview last year.
At this village, nearly 40 km from the Srinagar city, where Dar was tied to the army jeep, the incident is still fresh in the minds of the locals.
After the polls opened at the Utligam polling station, only two of the registered 1,016 voters had cast the ballots in the first 100 minutes.
The residents allege the stone-pelting was in response to the “unprovoked harassment” of the locals by the army officer and the “vandalism” by the troops.
“It was the army personnel who went berserk and started beating up people and broke window panes of many houses that day. The youngsters were infuriated and retaliated by pelting them with stones,” Nazir Ahmad, a local resident, told PTI.
Ahmad admits the stone-pelting was very intense, which probably forced Major Leetul Gogoi to catch hold of Dar and use him as a human shield.
“He is not even from our village. He is from Cheill-Brass village, 15 km from here. That incident has brought only unwanted attention from all sides to our village. If we vote, it is a problem and if we do not vote, it is a problem,” he said.
As this reporter travelled to Cheill-Brass, a remote village just at the foot of the mighty mountain, Dar was not at his home.
“He has gone for election duty,” his mother Fazi Begum told.
She said Dar was appointed as a daily wage employee in the state Health Department and has been on election duty since Wednesday.
Asked if the eligible members of her family had cast their votes, Fazi Begum said, “I almost lost my son due to voting two years ago. Do you think we will go to vote again?”
The 65-year-old woman said her son had to seek daily wage employment in the government department as he could not work on shawls anymore.
“His thumb has been damaged after he was tied to the jeep by army people. Now he cannot work on shawls,” she said.
The State Human Rights Commission had awarded Rs 10 lakh compensation to Dar but the state government refused to pay up.
“We have not got any help from the Government. (Then chief minister) Mehbooba Mufti did not honour the ruling of the SHRC,” Fazi Begum said.
She has now pinned hopes on the court where the case is under consideration.