Twenty-two people detained by the police following violence in Jammu were released Wednesday after the VHP threatened a “repeat of the 2008 Amarnath agitation”.
The 22 were arrested after violence erupted in Jammu Tuesday over a 29-year-old man, Yasir Alfaz, allegedly kicking a Shiva idol at a temple. The youth, who is of unsound mind according to police, is still in custody.
While Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Pawan Kotwal described Alfaz’s actions as a “serious offence”, family members said he has been undergoing psychiatric treatment since 2008.
Nearly a dozen vehicles were torched, mobile services were suspended and police had to resort to lathi charge and teargas shelling to control the violence.
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On Wednesday, a meeting was held between the administration, police and civil society members, including representatives of the VHP, the RSS and the Bajrang Dal, at the state PWD guesthouse in Gandhi Nagar. J&K’s Health and Medical Education Minister and BJP leader Bali Bhagat chaired the meeting.
According to sources, Bhagat was asked by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to fly to Jammu from Srinagar to preside over the meeting. Sources said that after a senior police officer refused to release the 22 men, VHP leader Leela Karn Sharma threatened a “repeat of the 2008 Amarnath agitation”, which had sparked communal violence in the region.
Sources said Bhagat backed Sharma’s demand and also insisted that Alfaz be kept behind bars.
“To me, the youth is not of unsound mind. Had he been so, he would have jumped into the river from Tawi bridge instead of coming to the temple for committing this sacrilege act,” sources quoted him as saying. “We will not tolerate such activity and stern action will be taken against him.”
Bhagat said that a board of doctors at the Government Medical College in Jammu will ascertain if he indeed has a medical condition. “The government also will look into his antecedents — whether he has a dubious past record, including militant or separatist links,” he said, adding, “I have instructed the Inspector General of Police to do the needful.”
Meanwhile, a police head constable, Rehmatullah, who is learnt to have rescued Alfaz from the mob and taken him to the police station, has been suspended.
Alfaz, a resident of of Shiva village in Doda district, allegedly broke a flower decoration and kicked a Shiva idol at a temple in Roop Nagar, Jammu. CCTV footage purportedly showing the incident went viral on social media.
Despite his arrest, violence broke out in the region on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, a bandh was observed in Jammu.
Quoting Alfaz’s younger brother Tanveer, who had accompanied him to Jammu, a senior police officer told The Indian Express that the 29-year-old is of an unsound mind and has been undergoing treatment since 2008.
Locals in Shiva village said that Alfaz and his two brothers live with their mother. Their father Khair Din, an ex-serviceman, died a few years ago.
A police officer said that Tanveer took Alfaz to Jammu because he had been acting violently of late. The two took a bus from Doda on Tuesday morning and saw the psychiatrist around 4.30 pm.
Police said Alfaz started creating a ruckus at the clinic and was told to wait his turn outside. As Tanveer spoke to the doctor, Alfaz managed to slip away and reached the temple nearby, said the police officer.
Police said a woman at the temple called the police control room and a team, including Rehmatullah, arrived at the spot.
Police said some locals by then had overpowered Alfaz and were beating him. Rehmatullah was involved in a scuffle with the locals while trying to rescue him, police said.
Later, protesters assembled outside the police station and demanded that a case be lodged against Alfaz and that the head constable be suspended.
“We did both, but that did not satisfy the protesters,” the police officer said.