Outrage as BJP leader sells Kashmir ‘human shield’ T-shirt

The use of representational picture on the T-shirts has further outraged Kashmiris who termed it ‘selling the pain’.

Farooq Ahmad Dar - human shield
Dar's family says the six-hour ordeal had left him traumatised and he unable to continue his work as a shawl weaver [Al Jazeera/Rifat Fareed]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Glamorising the use of “human shields” by the army in Indian-administered Kashmir, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) official in India is selling T-shirts online showing the infamous scene of an Indian army jeep with a human shield tied to the front that has created outrage in the region.

The online shopping site run by Delhi BJP spokesman Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga’s company, Bagga Fashions, is selling the T-shirts with caption “Indian army … saving your a** whether you like it or not”.

The T-Shirts are being sold for 495 rupees ($8).

The image used on the T-shirts is of 27-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar, a resident of Chill Village in Budgam area of central Kashmir. Dar was tied to the front of an army jeep by Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi on April 9 last year.

Dar’s family says he is traumatised and has had to stop working.

“His life changed completely since the incident. Sometimes he leaves home without informing anyone. His condition has worried us,” Dar’s brother, Ghulam Qadir told Al Jazeera.

“He used to weave shawls to earn livelihood, but now he doesn’t work any more. He doesn’t do anything normal now. He is very depressed.”

The incident took place during by-elections, in which Dar had also voted.

The by-election was marred by violent clashes between security forces and stone-throwing young men that left at least eight people killed and more than 200 wounded.

‘Selling the pain’

Justifying the use of human shield picture on the T-shirts, Bagga told Al Jazeera that “it is a tribute to the army officer’s heroic act”.

“We are selling the T-shirts from last six months, and we have sold thousands of them. I don’t think we are doing anything wrong. That day, the stone pelters were trying to attack polling booths and army with stones and petrol bombs,” he told Al Jazeera.

If tomorrow they walk with the pictures of Kashmir's dead pasted on their clothes, it won't surprise us

by Shabir Ahmad, a Srinagar resident

“It was his quick thinking that he tied the person to jeep instead of opening fire, he could have also opened fire in self-defence. He did it to save lives,” Bagga said adding that people supported the act.

“Except few leftists, everyone supports it.”

Soon after the incident, the Indian army commended the officer, who was awarded the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card “for his sustained efforts in counterinsurgency operations”.

Video footage showing Dar bound to the jeep was widely shared and caused a public outcry in the restive Himalayan region, where people and human rights groups termed the incident a ‘war crime’.

The use of the picture on T-shirts has further outraged the residents who termed it ‘selling the pain’.

“If tomorrow they walk with the pictures of Kashmir’s dead pasted on their clothes, it won’t surprise us,” says 43-year-old Shabir Ahmad, a Srinagar resident. “There is no humanity left in India, how can one celebrate the pain of others. They are telling us we don’t belong to them”.

‘Serious human rights violations’

People have also expressed their resentment on the social media.

Kavita Krishnan, a woman’s rights activist based in New Delhi, criticised Bagga on Twitter, saying “Celebrating the flouting of Constitutional values isn’t ‘patriotic’!”

Noted Kashmiri human rights defender, Khurram Parvez, said it is nothing new. 

“This is what sells in India; they want to boost the morale of army towards impunity which they are already enjoying in Kashmir. The BJP government wants to sell the army’s military might which is getting support from its people.” 

Human Rights Watch had also criticised the rewarding of the officer and said it included ‘serious human rights violations’.

The state-run Human Rights Commission in the region last year termed the act illegal and recommended that the victim be paid $15,000 as compensation for “humiliation physical and psychological torture”.

However, the state government, a coalition between People’s Democratic Party and the BJP, rejected the recommendation.

Critics say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hardline policy was not working in Kashmir, which has seen a rise in violence amid stalled talks between India and Pakistan.

Rebel groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have for decades battled against troops and police, demanding independence or a merger of the Himalayan territory with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of civilians and security force personnel have been killed since the rebellion began nearly 25 years ago.

Source: Al Jazeera