For over ten years Arizal and its adjoining villages in Budgam district of central Kashmir has hardly seen any militancy-related incident. I had never heard of any stone pelting taking place in this area. Until April 9 this year, when several people were killed protesting the by-election for Srinagar parliamentary seat, Arizal was a calm place.
Relations between the Army and local residents, used to be quite cordial around here. There are around three Army camps located around Arizal which is a centrally located village as well as a block headquarter. Post-1990, when militancy first began in Kashmir, there were security camps Raiyar, Hard Panzoo , Mujpathree and Tosamaidan. People around Arizal used to work as Army porters in Tosamaidan. There were no big points of friction.
But after the local company commander of 53 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) tied Farooq Ahmad Dar, who lives in Chil, a small hamlet in Arizal, to an Army jeep and drove him around many villages, the area has suddenly become tense. Much more, the incident has created a chasm between Kashmir and the rest of the country.
I have lived and worked for many years in Budgam, where I belong, as an RTI activist. Over the last decade, I have struggled, with fellow RTI activists, to have the Right To Information Act adopted in Jammu & Kashmir in letter and spirit. For inspiration, I have looked to public-spirited citizens across India.
One particularly inspiring example was a couple in Delhi who have been highlighting issues of public importance, human rights and other issues of governance through their letters and making full use of the RTI Act . Their letters are carried in several regional and national dailies across country, including those in Jammu & Kashmir. I have been following these letters for many years and have developed a lot of respect for this crusader couple.
So imagine my shock when one of them hailed the decision of Army Chief Bipin Rawat for rewarding the RR officier, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi’s decision to make Farooq a human shield. Her letter was published in a newspaper in Goa and circulated widely in an email group that we RTI activists have.
The letter reads as follows:
“Issuing commendation-certificate to the brave army officer was much-needed to raise the morale of security forces, especially at a time when the police has registered a case against security forces for the incident. It is good that Punjab Chief Minister from Congress has also appreciated Indian Army chief for issue of commendation certificate to Major Litul Gogoi. “
The letter has disturbed and confused me. I studied in a college in Karnataka back in the late 1990s, and got a lot of positive energy from that experience. It helped me build a network of supporters outside Kashmir. I do not have the hesitation, like many Kashmiris, of dealing with people in other parts of the country.
But that letter to the editor from a fellow RTI activist has moved the ground beneath my feet. If a respected RTI activist does not care about facts, and information, or the due process of law, if activists and social leaders become supporters of inhuman acts, what can we expect from the people who already have a communal and anti-Kashmir mindset?
This year I got selected for the Acumen India fellowship (Acumen is a global organization that invests in leadership against poverty), along with 21 other social leaders. At a recent interaction with other Acument Fellows, I tried to broach the human shield issue during one of the sessions, then fell silent after after some time. I have to come to realize that these days it takes very little to be labelled a supporter of Pakistan or ISI, even for non-Kashmiris.
I cannot help thinking that it might have been different if the Arizal incident had happened in the Naxalite areas of Chattisgrah or Orissa, or Jharkand, or in the North East or some other part of the country. People would definitely not have hailed it as an act of courage and dynamism.
But let me state the facts here one more time: In spite of a massive election boycott Farooq Ahmad Dar cast his vote. Soon after casting his vote he along with a relative were on their way to a nearby village, Gampora, to attend a condolence meeting. Before they could reach there, Army personnel stopped Farooq who was on his motorbike. He was whisked away and tied in front of the jeep bonnet. For 5 hours he was kept tied in front the jeep while the vehicle moved from one village to another.
The incident was straight out of the Bollywood movies, when the villain drags the hero around to create fear among those watching.
Finally after several hours, Farooq was taken to a nearby CRPF camp. When the village elders came to the camp and told the officer in-charge that Farooq had actually cast his vote and the security officials saw the ink mark on his index finger, he was released.
Those are the facts. They have damaged India’s case in Kashmir far more than anyone in the rest of the country is prepared to imagine.