Three months after Kashmiri embroidery artisan Farooq Ahmad Dar was tied to the bonnet of a jeep by an officer of the Indian Army and driven around for several hours as a 'human shield', the state human rights commission (SHRC) of Jammu & Kashmir has directed the government to compensate him.
In a strongly-worded order, the SHRC asked the state administration to pay ₹10 Lakh to Dar, who continues to suffer from psychological trauma and stress disorders in the aftermath of the inhuman treatment meted out to him by the army.
On 9 April, the 26-year-old Dar, who is from Budgam, had gone to vote in a bypoll. On his way back home from the booth, he decided to make a detour to his brother-in-law's to attend a condolence meet. But soon after he set out on his motorbike, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi of the Indian Army picked him up, assaulted him and tied him to the bonnet of his jeep, ostensibly to use as a human shield to dissuade stone-pelters from attacking the army. Das was driven around several villages for hours and released later that day in a state of immense mental and physical anguish.
Some media outlets later described Dar as one of the stone-pelters, without a shred of evidence to support their claim and also forgetting the fact that even real stone-pelters cannot be treated by law the way Dar had been. Since the use of human shield is against the stipulations of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the action caused widespread disapproval in India and beyond, even as the army, along with the government at the Centre, remained defiantly unrepentant.
Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi defended the army by calling its action expedient under the circumstances prevailing over Jammu & Kashmir. A chorus of voices joined him on social media, getting shriller and uglier by the minute, supporting an action that is a gross violation of human rights. Shortly after Major Gogoi was awarded by the army chief for his contribution to controlling militancy in Kashmir, a move that crushed Dar beyond belief. "I want to ask only one thing, was I an animal that I was tied and exhibited," he asked in a heartwrenching moment, adding that he continued to suffer from physical pain, weeks after the incident.
The SHRC's move, which is only a directive and not binding on the government, must be seen as a personal victory of sorts for Dar, who had complained to the commission at the end of May. The ruling vindicates the fact of his innocence and gives him a certain sense of satisfaction, as The Wire reported.
Bilal Nazki, a retired judge who is the chairperson of SHRC, quoted a Supreme Court judgement to make a strong case for compensating Dar. "Zoological culture can't be compatible with reverence for life, even of a terrible criminal," he said, citing a ruling by Justice VR Krishna Iyer. "Some in authority are sometimes moved by the punitive passion for retribution through the process of parading the under trial prisoners cruelly clad in hateful irons."
Even criminals and convicts cannot be handcuffed or chained, according to the law, a point that amplifies the gravity of the offence perpetrated on Dar. The larger question, of course, in any comparable situation of injustice, pertains to the meaning of compensation.
Monetary rewards may not be able to undo the damage of a lifetime caused by the trial that Dar faced. But the state's acquiescence to the SHRC order would at least indicate a symbolic acceptance of the wrong done to him by the army — as also the government's responsibility of the failure to ensure that a citizen under its watch would not be violated in the way Dar was.
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