The Jammu and Kashmir government has declined to compensate Farooq Ahmed Dar, the "human shield" tied to an Indian Army jeep to deter stone pelters from attacking the army convoy during the Srinagar by-election on 9 April this year.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission chairperson Justice Bilal Nazki had directed the state government to give Rs 10 lakh as compensation amount to Dar in July. But the state government has responded to the human rights panel saying there was "no scheme or policy in vogue in the state, which could cover the payment of compensation" in such matters.
The statement argued that an FIR was filed, and paying Dar a compensation would tantamount to establishing the guilt of the accused without affording the opportunity to be heard.
In the four-page reply, filed through Deputy Secretary (Home) Mushtaq Ahmed, the state government said the empowered committee of the government had examined the order of the rights panel and observed that the grounds on which compensation was recommended "cannot be accepted".
Dar was tied to the bonnet of an army vehicle and taken around 19 villages in Budgam during the Lok Sabha bypoll in April, purportedly as a shield against stone pelters. A video showing the youth tied to the army vehicle went viral on social media and elicited a sharp reaction from civil society.
The army had defended the officer in question, Major Leetul Gogoi, and honoured with him with the army chief's 'Commendation Card' for his "sustained efforts" in counter-insurgency operations. Gogoi had said he took the step to save local people.
The army's claim that Dar was among the stone pelters was not substantiated by local police officials, who established Dar's statement that he was on his way to another village to offer condolences. Dar's statement that he was taken hostage after he cast his ballot was also verified by the district election officer.
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), while taking cognisance of the incident, had said that such treatment to a human being "can't be accepted by any civilised society", and had directed the Mehbooba Mufti government to pay Dar the compensation amount, according to The Indian Express.
"The police report accepts that Dar was tied to the bonnet of a vehicle and used as human shield… There are laws in this country and international laws which prohibit such a treatment even to a convict. Such a treatment to a human being cannot be accepted in a civilised society," Justice (Retd) Bilal Nazki had said in his judgment.
"The protection of life and liberty of the people is the basic responsibility of the state government. The commission thinks it appropriate to direct the state government to pay compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the victim," Nazki said, as per the report.
The commission, however, didn’t rule on the role and culpability of the army officer in the case, citing the "limited applicability" of the Protection for Human Rights Act 1993 to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Army awards 'presence of mind'
Gogoi was exonerated by an Indian Army court in May for his actions, which he said were taken to avoid stone pelting at the armed forces.
Following the incident, the Army Court of Inquiry (COI) had ordered a probe after the police registered an FIR regarding the incident. But army sources revealed that Gogoi was instead praised by the Court of Inquiry for his "presence of mind" to avoid casualties or injuries.
The fact that the army chose to felicitate Gogoi shortly after the incident became the subject of heated debates. The major’s action triggered a fierce debate about military ethics and atrocities.
Twenty-six-year-old Dar described the award conferred on Gogoi as illegal. He approached the SHRC to seek an explanation as to why the army awarded Gogoi, while the inquiry into the incident was still underway. Dar had said that he was not part of any stone-pelting mob and had gone to attend a funeral of a relative in the area. "This is grossly inhumane... to turn me into a stone-pelter. I am still under trauma and now the entire case is being turned against me, whereas I am the victim," he said.
Shortly after, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat came to Gogoi's defence and said that the army was facing a "dirty war" in Kashmir which had to be fought through "innovative ways".
Rawat had said the objective of awarding Gogoi, even though a court of inquiry was still finalising its probe into the incident, was to boost the morale of young officers of the force, who are operating in a very difficult environment in the militancy-infested state.
"This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way. The rules of engagements are there when the adversary comes face-to-face and fights with you. It is a dirty war... that is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovation," Rawat said, in what were the general's most comprehensive comments yet to the media on the issue.
Former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi had also praised Gogoi and said that the government would defend him in court on the Kashmir human shield row if needed. "I salute Major Gogoi," he had said.
Many others had expressed concern over the incident and had condemned Gogoi's actions. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah expressed shock, saying, "This young man was tied to the front of an army jeep to make sure no stones were thrown at the jeep? This is just so shocking."
"A warning can be heard (in the video) saying stone pelters will meet this fate. This requires an urgent inquiry and follow up now," he had said on Twitter.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which shares power with the BJP, also slammed the army chief's commendation for Gogoi. PDP general secretary Nizamuddin Bhat said that honouring Gogoi was "not proper", as the act was a human rights violation.
An influential citizens' group in Kashmir had also demanded the withdrawal/deferment of the army award to Gogoi till the probe is completed. "The act is condemnable. The effort to legitimise the act by cooking up and concocting facts is bizarre and deserves to be equally condemned, " it had said.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Nov 07, 2017 15:25:20 IST