A wave of violent protests coinciding with local by-elections have hit the India-administered northern region of Kashmir, but one image has caused outrage. A video filmed on April 9 shows a man strapped to the front of an army jeep as it drives through different villages. The shocking video has been widely shared on social media and started a debate about inhumane treatment at the hands of the Indian army — although the government has actually come out in support of the army's shocking tactic.
The man, identified as 26 year old shawl-maker Farooq Dar, was tied to the front of the vehicle by soldiers as a way to stop protestors from throwing stones at the military convoy in the Budgam region of Kashmir. It was first posted on Twitter on April 14, and was retweeted and liked over 1000 times when it was posted by the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah.
Tensions in the region have been high while by-elections are being held to fill the seat of Srinagar after a member of parliament resigned in protest against the killing of civilians in previous clashes between separatists and security forces. Pro-independence Kashmiri activists called for a boycott of the elections, and protests erupted around polling booths, which were met with violence by Indian police forces.
The elections were marked by a record-low turnout at only 7 per cent, and high levels of violence. Protesters armed with stones targeted the security forces that had been sent to crack down on demonstrations around polling booths. At least eight civilians were killed by police opening fire on protestors on Sunday April 9.
It hasn't been possible to find out who shot the video of the army vehicle with Dar strapped to the front. A sign was pinned against him that said he was a ‘stone-pelter’, the typical phrase used in the region to describe protesters, who often have no other weapons but stones. The Jammu and Kashmir police have opened a case by filing a FIR (First Information Report) against the army officer who tied Dar to the vehicle, and a spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence said that the contents of the video were being investigated.
However, the government has openly supported the army’s tactics.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said in an interview to CNN-News18, “It was one of those spur of the moment decisions. If the Major got away without hurting anybody, it’s a great job done. If it has to be done again, it should be done again. We are 100% backing the army and the Major.”
The army says that it was forced to use the ‘human shield’ tactic as a way to get through a mob of protesters throwing stones, with some also positioned on rooftops, in order to rescue police and army personnel who were trapped in a polling booth by the crowd.
Dar was one of the few citizens who went to vote that day, in his local polling booth in the village of Chil. He says that he was stopped by an army patrol on his way back from voting, accused of being a violent protester, and was beaten up before being tied to the jeep and paraded through villages. He told Indian media about his ordeal afterwards, asking rhetorically, “Am I a toy or a human being?”