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25 May 2017

Ground Zero disagrees - Kashmir village where Dar was turned into human shield contests army's version

Villagers come out of the government school that served as the
polling booth that Major Gogoi said was surrounded by a mob
of 1,200 people
MUZAFFAR RAINA, TT,Otligam, May 24: Abdul Rahim Bhat, a former sarpanch of this village in Kashmir's Budgam district, shook his head. 
"The officer yesterday claimed that some 1,200 men, women and children surrounded the polling booth that day but he should have checked whether as many people live here. The entire population of this village, including newborns, women and the elderly is 1,200," Bhat said.

He was referring to the account of Major Leetul Gogoi, who was given a commendation card by the army chief last week after he tied a Kashmiri youth to a vehicle and used him as a human shield against stone-throwers on April 9.
It was here in this village that an army detachment led by the major strapped Farooq Ahmad Dar, who lives some 20km away in Chill village, to a mine-protected vehicle to use him as the human shield, propelling this otherwise sleepy habitation into unwanted limelight.
Yesterday - 43 days after the incident and in the middle of an uproar triggered by the award that was conferred before an inquiry was complete - Major Gogoi was allowed by the army to speak up. The officer had defended his action and said it helped save several lives.
The officer had said he had responded to a distress call from an ITBP officer who had said 1,200 people had surrounded the Otligam polling station where voting was going on for the Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll. Major Gogoi had said that when he reached the polling station, he also found the crowd to be around 1,200 and it was hurling boulders from rooftops.
In Kashmir, it is not unknown for people from other villages to join protests. But Bhat, the former sarpanch, and several residents of Otligam insisted that the size of the crowd was far smaller than the army estimate.
Bhat and the others shook their heads to convey what they said was their disbelief at the discourse on primetime television for the past several days.
Government representatives and most news outlets have been portraying the officer as a hero while rights activists and Opposition leaders such as Omar Abdullah have been saying the use of the human shield was a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The army has insisted that had the officer not acted the way he did, the situation would have ended in bloodshed.
But the village remembers April 9 differently.
Several people, including a youth whose brother was part of the polling staff at the government higher secondary school that was surrounded by a purported mob of 1,200, said that no more than five to 10 boys threw stones at the polling booth that day.
"My brother told me that the presiding officer directed the security force personnel present at the school not to open fire at them. The booth is surrounded from three sides by hills and this perhaps scared the forces and they called the army for help," said the youth who did not want to be identified by name. "How can five to 10 youths overrun the booth?"
The residents claimed that the troops of 53 Rashtriya Rifles stormed the village sometime later and, helped by ITBP men and Jammu and Kashmir police, opened fire, lobbed tear-gas shells, broke windowpanes and roughed up the villagers. Neither the army nor any government official has so far mentioned any such action.
"Several youths were injured. One Younis Tantray was hit by a bullet in his arm. Another youth, Gulzar Ahmad, was hit by a shell in his abdomen," Bhat said.
The residents said the firing spread panic. While most people retreated to their homes, some engaged the security forces in clashes. "Reports spread that several people were injured and this brought some worried women out of their homes to enquire. These women were described as 'part of the mob' that attacked the security forces," a youth said.
Amidst this chaos, Dar, who was on his way to Gampora village from his home to offer condolences at the home of a bereaved relative, passed by. "He was riding a bike and I saw some security force personnel chasing him. He got panicky and perhaps his bike overturned. They caught hold of him and beat him up. His bike was tossed down a slope and later they strapped him to the vehicle," said Abdul Qayoom Shah, a shopkeeper.
The army account so far has created an impression that Dar was briefly strapped to the vehicle to quickly defuse an explosive situation.
But several villagers alleged that Dar was paraded through a number of villages like Gonipoh, Chakpora and Najan, adding that the army dared people over a loudspeaker to throw stones.
Dar was not present at his home at Chill village today but he agreed to speak to The Telegraph over phone after some acquaintances persuaded him: "I fled my home.... I got scared when I heard he has been rewarded."
"They (the army and a section of the media) have left me frustrated. I have lost my mental balance, that is why I am not taking any call.... I dread moving out of home without somebody's help.... I gave a lot of interviews.... I am saying one thing but they (some news channels) show something else (that he is a stone-thrower)," he said.

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