On 9 April 2017, the day that recorded one of the lowest voter turnouts in Kashmir’s electoral history, Farooq Ahmad Dar cast his vote at around 8.30 am. Dar, a 26-year-old resident of Chill Brass village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, was one among the seven percent of the registered voters who voted in the Kashmir by-elections for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Upon returning home, he told me, he had tea with his aging mother who had been waiting for him, worried. Soon after, he left on his Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle to visit a relative.
En route to Utligam village to meet his relative, on the Beerwah-Budgam road, Dar said he was suddenly confronted by the members of an army-patrol party from the neighbouring Raeyar army camp located between the Beerwah and Khan Sahib areas of Budgam. An army major, who was later identified as Leetul Gogoi of the Indian Army’s 53 Rashtriya Rifles, asked him to climb off his bike onto the road. “I didn’t want to climb off the bike but the army personnel pulled me down forcefully, dragged me on the road, and tore my pheran,” Dar recalled when I met him at his house on 17 April. His mother, Fazi Begum, who is suffering from a heart condition, sat by his side as I spoke to him. Dar continued, “Then they started ruthlessly thrashing me with batons.” When we spoke, his right arm, which had sustained a fracture because of the beating, was still bandaged, and his body, he said, still ached. Dar told me he has only gotten medical treatment from a local dispensary near his house. He said that he had not gone to a bigger hospital despite the severity of the injuries because, “I am terrified that something might happen to me if I go out again.”
Dar told me that what followed the beating will always haunt him for the rest of his life. “I can't get it out of my mind,” he said. Dar said that after he was assaulted, “my hands were tied behind my back with ropes.” He continued, “Then I was made to sit on the bonnet of the army jeep, close to the engine, and tied with ropes around my body.” Once he was tied, the army jeep sped away through the village roads, while Dar’s body was tied to the front of the car and his feet were dangling in the air. He told me he was asked not to move or speak to anyone. “If I made a slight movement, or tried to make some noise, an army officer on top of the jeep would throw small stones on my back, hurting me more,” he said. Terrified, Dar told me, he kept quiet.
He was used as a human shield and paraded through several villages for more than six hours, he said, to scare the protesters on the polling day. “I was driven for about 28 kilometres, tied in front of the army jeep, and around 17 villages were covered through the day,” Dar said. In between, he added, the army personal stopped their vehicles to have lunch. “But they didn't even give me some water to drink for all those painful hours.”
Dar said that those from the army in the jeep also clicked pictures of him as he was paraded through the villages. These pictures have not come out in the public domain yet. “Your father should see these photos on TV,” Dar recalled the one of the army personnel telling him. Dar was concerned about the fact that they had kept his phone. “It is still lying at the Raeyar army camp,” he said, adding that he had sent his neighbours and brothers to bring back his phone from there, a few days before I spoke to him. They returned empty-handed, because the army, Dar said, had refused to return the phone to them. “I fear they might misuse my phone,” he continued. “I’m not responsible for what they do with my phone.”