Srinagar/New Delhi: An embroidery artisan till a year ago when he was propped on a jeep as a "human shield" by soldiers against stone-pelters, Farooq Ahmed Dar says he is a broken man, shunned by neighbours, struggling to pick up the threads of his life.
Boycotted by villagers branding him a government agent and chastising him for going to vote, he says he is suffering from insomnia and depression. Unable to find a job, even as a manual labourer, the 28-year-old says his life was upended exactly 12 months ago.
On April 9 last year, a team led by Major Leetul Gogoi tied Farooq Ahmed Dar to the bonnet of an army jeep to escape stone throwing in central Kashmir's Budgam district. The image went on to make headlines and put civilian-security ties in the valley in the spotlight.
It was election day in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency and Farooq Ahmed Dar says he was on his way to cast his vote, braving the boycott call by separatist organisations. Eight people were killed in police firing on the day.
Investigations by central agencies and the local police backed Mr Dar's account of events of the day, countering the army's claim that he was a stone-pelter.
Investigations found he was on his way to his sister's place for a condolence visit after voting when the army picked him up and beat him before tying him with ropes and parading him through nearly 28 villages.
"What was my mistake? Going to the polling booth and casting my ballot?" Mr Dar said during an interview with PTI. "I am unable to sleep. Even medicines are ineffective. No one is giving me any work."
Farooq Ahmed Dar said he faced social boycott as people in his village Chill, in Budgam district, had distanced themselves after they learnt he had participated in the election process.
"I regret going out of my house on that day," he said in Kashmiri.
One among five siblings, Farooq Ahmed Dar, whose father passed away few years ago, said "I am not a politician nor do I intend to become one. But if casting a ballot is crime, who is going to come out to vote," Mr Dar said.
He said his mother Fiza Begum suffers from a heart disease and he does not have money for her treatment.
His ordeal was also referenced in the recent Bollywood film Baaghi 2 , where the hero, an army officer, is reportedly shown tying a civilian to his jeep for disrespecting the national flag, leading to criticism that the film was trying to glorify human rights abuses.
Last July, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission awarded Mr Dar Rs 10 lakh as compensation. But this was rejected by the state's PDP-BJP government, which said there were no rules under which it could pay the money.
"The news about the compensation made this worse for me. People in my neighbourhood made sarcastic remarks about the compensation and criticised me for seeking justice for myself. If it is proved I was pelting stones, hang me. Or punish those responsible for my present," Farooq Ahmed Dar said.
Mohammad Ashan Untoo, head of the International Forum for Justice and Human Rights group in the Valley, has filed a review petition against the decision to not give Farooq Ahmed Dar compensation in the State Human Rights Commission. A plea on the matter has also been filed in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
"One day we will get justice," Mohammad Ashan Untoo said.
Mohammad Ashan Untoo added that he is planning on suing the producer and director of the film Baaghi 2.
The video of Farooq Ahmed Dar, tied to the bonnet of the Major Leetul Gogoi's jeep had gone viral, triggering public outcry. Some former generals said the move went against the "ethos" of the Indian army.
The state police registered a case of abduction with intent to cause grievous hurt, wrongful confinement and criminal intimidation.
The police, in its investigations, said Farooq Ahmed Dar was "tied to an army vehicle as human shield under threat, kept in wrongful confinement and has been paraded around..."