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 soldiers 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 9 April, 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 kms 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 security forces and the vandalism by them.”
“It was the security forces 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 kilometres 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.
Muhammad Aslam, another villager, said the police picked up 22 youth from the village over the past couple of days without any charge.
“Most of them are labourers and students. We are least bothered about if any one comes to vote or not. We have formed a committee to ensure there is no law and order problem in our village this time because we are concerned about our boys,” he said.
There is a sense of deja vu among some residents here.
A young woman died Thursday morning due to brain hemorrhage. Preparations were underway for her final rites at the graveyard right next to the polling station.
“You would not have been able to come here had it not been for the death of the woman this morning. The scenes here would have been different,” said a youth, who wished not to be named, indicating that disturbance in the area was planned.
As this PTI 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 said.
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. 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.