BUDGAM, JAMMU AND KASHMIR: At a CRPF camp an hour outside Srinagar, we meet the men who have become the face of restraint by the armed forces in an otherwise increasingly volatile Kashmir valley.
These are the jawans of the 35th battalion at the centre of a viral cellphone video in which they can be seen calmly ignoring a hostile mob that jostles, kicks and even punches one of the jawans on the head.
The leader of that platoon, Amir Alam, told us they are stationed in West Bengal, and were flown into Kashmir for election duty at a polling station in Budgam, an hour from Srinagar. Voting was on for a by-election to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, when suddenly, a large group arrived and began throwing stones.
As they made their way out of their station carrying their belongings – weapons, bedrolls, a water canister – the crowd hemmed them in, chanting “Go India, go back”, before turning violent.
Mr Alam said the mob, though aggressive, had no weapons. “They were out common people, our brothers, civilians,” he said, adding “We did not see using force on them a viable option.”
The video is about three minutes long, but Mr Alam said that their ordeal lasted close to 25 minutes.
In the video, one of the jawans is seen having his helmet knocked off, a young man in the mob carries the headgear triumphantly. When asked if didn’t they get angry even once, Mr Alam impassively said “Kashmir is ours, Kashmiris are also ours. They were not militants.”
From the CRPF camp, our journey took us much deeper inside Budgam district – from smooth metalled roads to bumpy, half-built rural pathways, past apple orchards and mountain streams before descending into a picturesque village.
We have journeyed here to meet Farooq Ahmed Dar whose ordeal – also at the centre of a viral video – represents the darker side of security forces in Kashmir.
The video shows Mr Dar strapped to the bonnet of an army vehicle, a piece of paper pinned on his chest, being driven through a village. In the background, an army man is heard announcing in Hindi that anyone who pelts stones will meet a similar fate.
11 days later, 26-year-old Mr Dar still appears to bear the scars of that day.
He was bedridden, propped up on pillows. His left arm was bandaged. His mother, Fazi, sitting next to him, broke down. “They have beaten him brutally,” she said.
Mr Dar insists that he was not a stone-pelter. He said he had cast his vote in the elections, and was on his way to a funeral when the army pulled him over.
As proof he showed us his index finger. We couldn’t see the mark of voting ink; there was, however, a scratch along the side of the finger.
He said the army first paraded him through 28 villages before taking him to a military camp. He was questioned for an hour before being strapped to a vehicle, and paraded again.
In the video, Mr Dar appears to speak. He said the army asked him to say “come pelt stones on one of your own, who is tied up. If you want to pelt stones, pelt on him.”
His family takes down a plastic packet from a shelf. Inside is a partially complete shawl – floral embroidery on fine white wool – that Mr Dar says he was working on. He will resume work once his hand is healed.
Meanwhile, inside the room there is an anxious wait for justice.
The young men who attacked the CRPF patrol have been identified; five have been arrested.
In the case of Mr Dar, the Army has instituted a court of inquiry. The police too, have registered a case. But Dar’s family says no one has come to meet him or take his statement.