“They have drowned justice,” said Farooq Ahmad Dar, the 26-year-old Kashmiri civilian who was tied to the bonnet of an Army jeep as a human shield during elections for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency on April 9. Dar was paraded through at least six villages with a placard strapped to his chest declaring that he was a stone-pelter. Footage of the incident went viral on social and mainstream media as the “human shield video”.
On Monday, news emerged that Army chief Bipin Rawat had awarded a commendation card to Major Leetul Gogoi, the officer responsible for the incident, for his “sustained efforts in counter-insurgency”. Gogoi has claimed that Dar was the leader of a mob that had surrounded a polling booth. He said that using Dar as a human shield was the only reasonable way to rescue poll workers and security men from the mob without having to fire at them.
But Dar denied that he had been part of a mob. He maintains that he was detained while on his way to a condolence meeting. Since April 9, he said, no one from the state administration or the police has recorded his statement or came forward to express regret over the matter. “This is injustice, oppression,” said Dar. “They have drowned justice and legitimised oppression.”
The award for Gogoi came even as the Army has set up a court of inquiry to investigate an officer for the incident. On Tuesday, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Range, Munir Khan, said that the First Information Report that the state police filed against the officer soon after the incident still stands.
Dar said that the incident had left him feeling humiliated and had caused physical trauma. “They did it right by their standards, they commended their officer,” he said. “But if it was his [Bipin Rawat’s] own son on the jeep, would he still give out an award?”
The anger and humiliation expressed by Dar also found echoes elsewhere in the Valley.
‘An insult to Kashmiris’
India has proved itself to be “a lying, deceptive nation”, said Farooq Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Gundipora village in Pulwama district, from where the incident was recorded on camera. “The award shows the character of India,” he said. “We were expecting action against the Major. See how they have belittled something that happened in front of us and was documented.”
Architectural engineer Zaraf Shah, a Kashmiri who works in Dubai, said that Rawat’s award was an insult to Kashmiris. It is wrong to even “use an animal as a shield”, she said. “Irrespective of the stone pelting, if India still says that Kashmir is an integral part of it, then basic human rights should apply here.”
Shah added: “Humans do not matter in India, especially in Kashmir.”
A postgraduate student in the Valley, who wanted to be identified only as Singh, said that the Army chief’s commendation was shameful. “It shows Kashmir’s importance to India if you are giving out awards for torturing people,” said Singh, adding that after the commendation, “the 1% respect” Kashmiris had “for the Army, and its discipline” had gone.
Other people interviewed by Scroll.in said that the commendation was not surprising since it was in line with India’s attitude towards human rights violations in the Valley over the decades. “Since the ’90s no action has been taken against any of the [human] rights violations,” said Parvez Ahmad, a postgraduate student at Kashmir University. “The average Kashmiri simply tires out, either dies or gives up waiting.”
Ahmed questioned the message the Union government wanted to convey to Kashmiris by awarding Gogoi. “What is stopping them from using a human shield during an encounter tomorrow?” he asked.
‘Adding to alienation’
Some believe the incident and award will lead to further alienation among Kashmiris.
The “wave of alienation is only going to spread deeper” with the the lack of support from the government and “an insincere Army”, said Nilofer Masood, an advocate at the Baramulla District Court. “Whatever sense of belonging there was, will not remain.”
She added: “A fair investigation was not done. The effect of such atrocities will show in the long run. It is only going to add to the unrest, which still has not subsided. The award will mean that people will continue the unrest.”
Nizamuddin Bhat, the general secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, which is ruling the state in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, said: “If there is any violation by the forces which, in public perception, seems bad and seems to be a human rights violation, then there should be action. The stand of the state government [on the issue] is [to conduct an] investigation. The stand of the PDP is that this seems bad in public perception and is a human rights violation and there should be an investigation. If he [the officer] has been rewarded for this bravado, I don’t feel this is proper.”
‘A dangerous game’
Author Rao Farman Ali, who hails from South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, claimed that India was playing a dangerous game. “If they [India] want to continue this misadventure, they should stop with the rhetoric of calling Kashmir an integral part [of the nation],” said Ali. “Agitation is a tool of communication with an oppressor. If dialogue is not encouraged, agitations take place.”
He added that the award for Gogoi was emblematic of India wanting “to beat violence with violence”.
Ali warned that with such tactics, the anger would only turn into hatred. “It percolates vertically, down to the youth and the children – the fourth generation of the conflict,” he said. “That is dangerous for India, for Kashmir, too.”