“I Will Never Vote Again”

  • Majid Maqbool
  • Publish Date: Apr 29 2017 9:26PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 29 2017 9:31PM
“I Will Never Vote Again”

Farooq Ahmad Dar, 26, was tied in front of an army jeep and used as a 'human shield' to keep the protesters away on the recent polling day in central Kashmir's Budgam district. He recounts what he went through that day, and why he would never vote again

 

It was about 8.30 am on April 9 when I cast my vote in a nearby polling booth in Chill Brass village here in Budgam. I’ve voted in the previous elections too. After casting my vote on that morning, I returned home from the polling booth. Then I’d tea with my old mother. She was waiting for me. Then I left home again on my Pulsar bike. I’d to visit a relative's home in a neighbouring village to condole a recent death.  

On my way, I was suddenly stopped by an army patrol party from a neighbouring army camp. An army major came up and asked me to come down from my bike on the main village road.  I didn't want to come down from my bike. But the army personnel brought me down forcefully. They dragged me on the road and tore my Pheran. Then they started ruthlessly thrashing me with batons...I cried out in pain. My right arm was fractured due to the severe beating.

I can't believe what was done to me next and how I survived it all. After a severe beating, my hands were tied behind my back with ropes. Then I was made to sit on the front of the army jeep, close to the engine. Ropes were tied around my  body, over my Pheran.

Then the army jeep drove away on several village roads. My feet were dangerously dangling in the air. I was asked not to move, not to speak to anyone. If I made a slight movement, or tried to make some noise,  one of the army personnel atop the jeep I was tied to would throw small stones on my back.  It would also hurt a lot. There was no option other than keeping quiet and bearing it all. 

I was used as a human shield. They paraded me through several villages.  They wanted to scare the protesters.  It was a signal to the local people and protesting youth to stay away from the army. 

I was driven for about 28 Kms  and about 17 villages were covered through the day.  In between the army personal also stopped their vehicles to have their lunch. But they didn't even give me some water to drink for all those painful hours. I only had a cup of tea in the morning at home. 

They also clicked my pictures which haven't come out yet. They took away my phone which is still lying at the army camp. My bike is also lying with them. I'd recently sent some people to get back my phone from the army camp, but they refused to return it. I fear they might misuse my phone.  I'm not responsible for what they do with my phone...

When I was tied to the front of the army vehicle, they asked me to keep quiet and not look left and right towards people. The army personnel atop the jeep I was tied to would shout on the roads I was driven through. “Avo, apnay bunday ko pather maro!”  (Come throw stones on your brother!)

Some people in some of the villages I was driven through would have voted but after seeing me tied in front of the army jeep, they didn't even come anywhere near the polling booths. In one village some elders dared to come near the army jeep and pledged before the army major to let me go, but he told them that I was a stone pelter and that they won't let me go. I'd given up hopes of being alive that day. God knows how I survived that day. 

I can't believe I was finally let off later that day at 7pm.  I thought I will die, such was the pain I was going through. I was terrified and couldn't believe what I had happened to me and how I came home alive at the end of that day. 

Since my release, hundreds of people from the neighbouring villages have visited my home to congratulate me for returning home alive. Many of them also told me that they’d in fact seen me being paraded through their areas, but they were too terrified to come forward to seek my release. 

When I was tied in front of the army jeep, it hurt a lot.  My hands were tied behind my back throughout the journey.  The village roads I was paraded through, being bumpy and in a bad shape, made my journey even more painful. I was driven through the villages without a break from the morning till 4pm. After that I was taken to a CRPF camp where I was again tied with ropes on a chair.  Then after one hour I was taken to another army camp where I was again tied on a chair and detained for few more hours.

I was finally let off at 7pm that day from the army camp.  My  brothers and relatives had come to know about my arrest and informed the police during the day.   After I was released from the army camp in front of a local Sarpanch, my grieving mother, who was waiting to see me outside the camp, hugged me tight and wouldn't let me go.  She couldn't believe her eyes. She was in tears. Since then she sits close to me at home.  She doesn't let me go far from her sight. 

Before my images and video of being used as a human shield emerged online and created outrage, I was only able to go for some treatment in a local dispensary the following day.  Since then I haven't been able to go out of my home for proper treatment.  I'm terrified that something might happen to me if I go out again.

My  whole body is in pain. I can't stand on my own legs beyond a few minutes. I can't sleep at night. I fear for my life. They can come again to take me or even kill me...Who will know here if they come in the dead of the night? Who will save me then?”

After my photos and a video came out on the social media and people got to know what was done to me, I've not moved out of my house for over a week now since that day. I’m even terrified of going out to buy some medicine.

A small time Pashmina shawl seller and an occasional labourer, I had voted that day, and also in earlier elections, hoping for better days ahead. I believed by voting at least some of the problems we face in village here—like bad roads, lack of basic facilities like electricity and clean drinking water, for example  – would be addressed by the ruling dispensation. I'd also voted for peace.  Now I've lost all my hopes.

I don't want any compensation from the government or army. They can't bring back my earlier self. I have to live through this trauma for the rest of my life now. It's unforgettable. No money or any other compensation can bring back my health, and earlier state of my mother who was made to suffer due to what was done to me on that day. It can't forgive them either

Look what they did to me even after I’d voted and showed them the voter ink on my finger. I've never been involved in any stone pelting or protest incident.  But I will never vote again now.

 

As told to Majid Maqbool