CHILL-KHANSAHAB: In a small room of a decrepit mud house, Farooq Ahmad Dar sits under a large picture hung on a decorated wooden wall of him tied to the bonnet of an army jeep, “human shield” printed in bold letters on it. Across the room, multi-coloured threads used for weaving shawls hang on another wall.
“I still find it hard to believe that a year has gone by since the incident took place,” Dar says of the day parliamentary by-polls were being held for the Srinagar constituency on April 9, 2017, the day an army unit led by Major Leetul Gogoi caught hold of Dar and tied him to a jeep, then paraded him through many villages in Budgam, an act that drew outrage and condemnation in Kashmir but earned Major Gogoi a commendation from the army and praise from many Indian admirers.
While talking to Kashmir Reader at his home at Chill-Brass, located some 50 kilometres from Srinagar, Dar said that eight civilians were killed by government forces in Budgam on that day of parliamentary by-polls and he could have been the ninth one. “My survival was no less than a miracle,” Dar says. “I consider myself a year-old now.”
Dar is still to resume his normal life and his work of shawl-weaving. “The incident shattered my life and dogs my footsteps whenever I remember it,” he says. “After the incident, my health deteriorated. I spent months struggling to sleep. I am unable to work for more than a few hours as my left arm still aches with pain.”
Dar says “it is very difficult to live with the pain and the memory of that day. I have become dependent on others. I cannot hold even the needle in my hand.”
Despite the meagre earnings from his work, Dar says he was happy living with his old mother. “I used to earn Rs 3,000 a month, but after the incident I hardly earn Rs 1,000 a month. It is not sufficient to meet even the basic needs of my family,” he says.
“I’m still in pain. My body is swollen and I have to take medicine daily for a heart ailment. I feel restless and am unable to focus much on work,” he says. “The April 9 incident flashes in front of my eyes whenever I see an army vehicle or army men.”
After the horrific incident, Dar stayed along with his mother for months at his brother and sister’s house in a neighbouring village. “I never dared to live at my home for months, because I feared they might kill me,” he says.
“Although my bike has been released after three months but the smart-phone which was taken from me by army men is still in the army’s possession,” he says.
Dar had gone out to cast his vote on that day but no one from the government has bothered to visit his home. Except for his relatives and people of his village who helped him, Dar says that no one from the government or any NGO came forward to support him.
Dar’s mother, Fazi Begum, is a heart patient. She says she is still terribly afraid for her son. “I don’t even sleep whenever he leaves home,” she says.
“Before the incident, we’d begun to look for a suitable match for my son. But the incident changed everything. Had it not happened, he would have been married a couple of months ago,” she says.
“People come to inquire about his condition and that of our house, and never return,” she says. “Allah knows when he will be married and what will happen to him.”
Dar says the army men and Major Gogoi who tied him to the jeep should be booked for the act. Dar still awaits the Rs 10 lakh compensation that the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) recommended for him last year.