The J&K government has finally released the youth whose continued detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) disrupted the state Assembly for several days. The youth was released hours after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti assured the same in the House. She also promised the release of an elderly patient from Sopore and a maulvi from Kishtwar, also detained under the PSA, and they are likely to be let off in a day or two.
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The youth’s detention had led to an uproar after MLA Engineer Rashid produced a school certificate in the House to show that he was 14. A government-appointed medical panel, however, certified him to be between 19 and 21.
The youth, a resident Srinagar’s Palpora neighbourhood, was detained in September during the crackdown on protests over Hizbul Mujhahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing.
Following Rashid’s claims, police had summoned the youth’s stepfather as well as the headmaster of his Government Middle School Palpora to confirm his age.
Police maintain the youth is a “stone-pelter”, who had been “instigating gullible youth”.
Around 580 people are estimated to be detained under the PSA in the state, 550 of them picked up following the Wani protests. He is believed to have been the youngest, in a list that includes a disabled and at least two men past their 70s.
The youth’s stepfather says few cared for their plight till Rashid brought up the matter in the House. His mother, who lost her husband and his father eight years ago, said her son had left studies and was doing odd jobs.
The mother says she is illiterate and didn’t know whom to turn to when he was jailed, and sent 308 km away to a jail in Jammu. “It was a noble soul who helped us trace the document proving my son is a juvenile.”
The mother says they didn’t see the youth during his five-month detention as they didn’t have the money to go to Kot Bhalwal. She had heard from some people whose relatives were at the prison, which harbours hardened criminals, that he would weep continuously, she adds. “He is a kid. He does not know what this fire in Kashmir is all about,” she sobs.
Shah Wali, 80, whose case was also mentioned by Mehbooba, has been in jail since September. Relatives say his wife Kathija, 70, a cancer patient who has survived two surgeries, keeps slipping in and out of consciousness. Wali’s 30-year-old daughter too suffers from the same disease. A close relative at their home in Seelo village, Sopore, says there is no one to take care of the mother and daughter. “Wali’s son remains away from home for business.”
Wali retired as a project officer from the state education department. He is accused of “stone-pelting due to which some police vehicles got damaged on September 1”. Police also contest the family’s claim that Wali is above 80, and insist he is 71.