Amid the political firestorm over the unrest in Kashmir that crossed 100 days on Sunday, the J&K government has recorded an unprecedented number of arrests in the Valley under the Public Safety Act (PSA) that provides for jail without trial for up to six months for those posing a threat to state security.
J&K government figures accessed by The Indian Express show that police submitted dossiers under the PSA against 563 people since the protests started on July 8 and had warrants issued against 487 out of which at least 434 have been detained.
Forty-seven dossiers were rejected in this period, sources said, most of them due to questions over whether the suspects were over 18 years old — deputy commissioners of districts evaluate every dossier under their jurisdiction before taking a decision.
In 2010, when the Valley witnessed protests for close to five months, police had booked around 370 people under PSA. This time, the highest number of warrants issued under the Act was recorded in Baramulla district (106) followed by Pulwama (82), and the lowest in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district (19), the figures show.
Defending the arrests, state government spokesman and J&K Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar said, “This has been done because we found ourselves in an unprecedented situation.”
J&K Police DGP (coordination and law & order) S P Vaid said the arrests under the Act were necessitated by the situation in the state. “The situation was quite bad. They (accused) indulged in arson, burnt vehicles and damaged public property. They have been dealt with as per the law,” said Vaid.
The most prominent arrest under PSA this year was that of rights activist Khurram Parvez who was picked up on the night of September 15 and charged for “instigating and advocating disgruntled elements to resort to illegal activities”.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that those arrested under the Act during the protests include a cross-section of residents: teachers, students, political activists, government employees and even a Special Police Officer (SPO).
According to J&K government records, those booked under PSA from July 8 to October 16 include:
* Private school teacher, Shopian: Abdul Qayoom Dar was booked for “inciting protests”. Dar’s only son Sagar Qayoom is an engineer and trainee in Bengaluru under Udaan, a scheme for J&K funded by Ministry of Home Affairs and implemented by National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). He has since returned home to support his family.
* Jamat-e-Islami leader, Sopore: Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf, 80, was been booked for “motivating and instigating youth” and “creating law and order problems”. Yousuf’s older son Sheikh Altaf was killed by militants last year and his other son Sheikh Rauf by the Army 15 years ago.
* College student, Srinagar: Ashiq Hussain Dar, a Commerce student from Srinagar, was booked for “anti-national activities” and “disturbing peace and tranquility”. Dar was granted bail after his mother, a cancer patient, approached the J&K High Court.
* Unemployed, Kupwara: The family of 65-year-old Mohammad Ibrahim Shah, who was booked for “persuading youth” to join the protests, said that he and his two sons are “mentally challenged” and “can’t even speak properly”. Police’s dossier on Shah, a resident of Lilgam Kupwara, said he is “an eloquent speaker” and that he brainwashed and persuaded youth to throw stones at security forces. Shah’s family has approached the J&K High Court.
* Government employee, Bandipore: Tahir Ahmad Mir, a librarian in the J&K Education Department, is evading arrest after having been booked for “participating in the protests” and “provoking youth”. His father Habibullah Mir was a Personal Security Officer (PSO) attached with S P Vaid, who is now DGP, J&K Police. Habibullah, whose brother is also a policeman, was killed during an attack by militants on Vaid more than a decade ago. Tahir Mir is on study leave, pursuing a Master’s in Mass Communication from Kashmir University.
* BSNL contract staffer, Bandipore: A lineman on contract with BSNL, Aqib Hussain Shah of Papchan village was booked for “participating in protests”. The 18-year-old is the son of a policeman.
* Special Police Officer, Pulwama: Rafi Ahmad Pandit is a resident of Karimabad village, known to be a stronghold of militants in south Kashmir. He was booked for “participating in the protests”.
* Retired school teacher, Bandipore: Ali Mohammad Dar, a retired school teacher and Hurriyat activist, was booked for “inciting protests”. Mohammad’s family said he used to lead prayers at a local mosque. His son, Showkat Ahmad Dar Hajin, was booked for “indulging in stone-throwing”.
* JKLF leader, Srinagar: Noor Mohammad Kalwal, a leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and described in the dossier as an “incorrigible secessionist”, was booked for continuing “to indulge in illegal activities”. In their dossier, police invoked the kidnapping of former Union home minister and previous J&K chief minister, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaya. Kalwal was among those released in exchange for Rubaya in 1990.
* Hassan Babar Nehru, Doda: Nehru, a lawyer and social activist, was booked for “acting in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state as well as the maintenance of public order”.
* Rehmatullah Bhat, Doda: An undergraduate student, Bhat was booked for “participating in the protests”.
Then there’s the case of Tanveer Bhat, who dropped out of Class IX to support his family in 2014 — he could well be the youngest detainee under PSA. Bhat’s records from a government school in Anantnag’s Mattan list his age as 17, while police records claim he is 21 years old.
Tanveer was arrested by police on August 21 and shifted to Kathua jail in Jammu. His family has challenged the police version and said that Bhat became a labourer to support his family after his father suffered a dislocated disc on his back.
“He was working as a labourer at a neighbour’s house on the day of his arrest. After finishing work, he left with his uncle to tend to our sheep. He was arrested while returning home,” said his mother Nageena Begum.
Bhat’s mother manages their three-room mud-and-brick house in Krangsoo village. His older brother occasionally used to help him at work. His older sister, 19-year-old Sameera, discontinued her studies after Class X while younger sister, 11-year-old Abreena, is a Class VI student.
The warrant issued by Deputy Commissioner (Anantnag), Syed Abid Rashid, described Bhat as a stone-thrower whose activities were “highly prejudicial to maintenance of public order”. The dossier on Bhat, who doesn’t have a past record, listed three FIRs filed on July 10, July 12 and July 13.
When contacted, DC Rashid said that if Bhat’s family approaches him with school records proving that he is under 18 years of age, the government will “quash the detention”.
Among the PSA dossiers rejected by DCs include those against Mudasir Yasin Shah, a revenue official in Bandipore accused of inciting protests; Firdous Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Jablipora Bijbehara suspected of involvement in stone-pelting; and, Bashir Ahmad Shah, a teacher from Papchan village in Bandipore accused of similar charges.
The dossiers of the official and the teacher were rejected on “weak grounds of detention”, Bhat was found to be under 18 years of age.