When villagers of Tahab in Pulwama moved towards the main mosque of the village to offer prayers at the break of dawn on Saturday, they were confronted by paramilitary personnel who asked them to go to some other mosque.
“We were surprised to find them all around the mosque. They didn’t allow us inside,” a villager told The Sunday Express. “They said they wouldn’t allow prayers at the Jamaat masjid. How can anybody stop us from offering prayers at a masjid?”
The incident came in the wake of a continuing crackdown against the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) across Kashmir, with detention of over 350 of its activists, notices issued to schools run by the Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT), a former JeI affiliate, and the sealing of residences of JeI members.
On Thursday, the Union Home Ministry had banned the JeI for being in “close touch with militants”.
EXPLAINED | What is Jamaat-e-Islami?
As the crackdown intensifies, anger is brewing across Kashmir and the Muslim-majority districts of Jammu province. The government has picked up religious leaders from different schools of thought, including the Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith (JeH).
One of the biggest Muslim parties of J&K, the JeI, set up in 1942, was part of the electoral politics of the state from 1967 to 1987. The three major mainstream political parties of the Valley — the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peoples Conference — have termed the ban on the JeI against “the ideals of democracy”. The NC and PDP have taken to the streets to demand that the ban be revoked.
“The Jamaat is not a sect running exclusive mosques,” said a villager of Tahab. “Here people from all schools of thought pray. Everyone is allowed — a Sufi, a Tableegi, a Deobandi or Salafi. You can’t seal a mosque by calling it a Jamaat mosque. We see it as interference in our religion and will resist at any and every cost.”
Khursheed Ganai, an advisor to Governor Satya Pal Malik, told The Sunday Express he had not heard about the Tahab incident. “I very clearly told Mr Vijay Kumar (Advisor, Security) and he agreed with me, I told the divisional commissioner also that there is no question of closing mosques because there are no Jamaati mosques as such,” said Ganai, the lone Kashmiri and Muslim among Malik’s four advisors.
He added, “In the case of (FAT) schools, due enquiry must be held. As it is, we don’t have something that is automatically Jamaat-e-Islami.”
The situation on the ground, however, is different. On Friday, a day after the Jamaat was declared “unlawful” by the Centre, deputy commissioners in the Valley asked police and magistrates to seize all “movable and immovable” JeI properties. At several places, officials sealed personal properties of JeI workers, including their residences.
“On a cold evening, we were thrown out of our house without a reason or a notice,” said Younis Ahmad, whose father Bashir Ahmad Lone is associated with the JeI. “This is our ancestral property. How can they seal personal properties?” In South Kashmir, several JeI activists were asked to vacate houses.
On Friday night, officials admitted their mistake in at least Lone’s case and removed the seal from his house at Harwan.
The crackdown on the JeI runs parallel to the raids conducted by the NIA and Income Tax department. The NIA has raided the houses of separatist leaders including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah, Masarat Alam and Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai. For the first time, the NIA team moved beyond Srinagar and raided the houses of overground workers and the houses of two active militants in South Kashmir.
Though the JeI affiliate FAT has not been banned by the government, officials on Friday sealed at least one school in Bandipore, but removed the seal immediately after the villagers took to the streets. At several other places, government-recognised schools run by the FAT received notices. It runs over 300 schools across the Valley with close to 1 lakh students and 10,000 teachers.
A teacher at a FAT-run school said, “The government is forcing us on a path that we don’t want to tread.”
Political parties in the Valley across the separatist-mainstream divide have said the crackdown on separatists and the JeI ban would be counter-productive. Said PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, “Radicalised Hindu groups representing fringe elements are given carte blanche to spread misinformation and vitiate the atmosphere. But an organisation that has worked tirelessly for Kashmiris is banned. Is being anti-BJP anti national now?… The Jamaat-e-Islami has on many occasions publicly disapproved of violence as a method of political struggle. Banning this organisation will further shrink the space for politics and dialogue and it seems the government is now completely depending on force to subjugate the people of the state.”
Ali Mohammad Sagar, the general secretary of the NC, a rival of the JeI, said, “By banning the JeI, the government will achieve nothing but give it dissident glamour… The GoI is closing the space for political dissent.”
Urging the Centre to revoke the “unfair” ban, Peoples Conference’s Sajad Lone said, “The true test of democracy lies in allowing space to opposing political thoughts and ideologies… This organisation (the JeI) has given us illustrious leaders and legislators.”