Woman Who Held 'Free Kashmir' Poster Booked by Mumbai Police

In response to the outrage and the negative messages that had been making rounds on social media, Prabhu put out a clarification.

Mumbai: At Mumbai’s protest against the Jawaharlal Nehru University attack, several organisations, students’ groups and individuals had gathered in large numbers.

Among several placards condemning the attack on students and on those protesting the newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), one young woman was seen holding a placard with “Free Kashmir” message. The woman, Mehak Mirza Prabhu, a city- based story teller and performer soon became a target of internet outrage. Her photo was shared by several right-wing social media profiles, including Maharashtra’s former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.  

Prabhu was branded as an “anti-national” woman and demands for her arrest were made on social media. The Mumbai police on January 7 filed a FIR against Prabhu under Section 153 (B) of the Indian Penal Code for “imputation, assertions prejudicial to national interest”.  

In response to the outrage and the negative messages that have since been making rounds on social media, Prabhu put out a clarification behind the poster. Prabhu, in a three-minute-long video released on social media, says that she, like several hundred had gathered at Gateway of India in support of the students who have been attacked in universities for speaking up.

The placard, she says, was lying at the protest venue and her intentions were to only highlight the restrictions that have been imposed in the Valley for over five months. 

On August 5, in an unprecedented move, the BJP government had suddenly decided to read down the Article 370 of the Constitution. Ever since, the Narendra Modi government has incarcerated almost the entire mainstream Kashmiri leadership, and have snapped internet connections in the Valley.

Prabhu in her video message says that her reasons to hold the placard was not to stir a controversy but to bring the public’s attention towards the living conditions of those in Kashmir. “At around 6 pm, I reached the protest space… Like anybody else who believes in democracy, I too joined the protest… We were raising slogans, about various issues. We were talking about JNU, about the violence in the country…” 

Also read: In Delhi’s Defence Colony, Disruption of CAA Event Underlines Shrinking Space for Debate

Around then, Prabhu says she came across a group that was painting placards and one such placard read, “Free Kashmir”. “At that point, I only thought of one thing… That we are here to speak about the basic constitutional right to freedom. And for the past five months due to internet shutdown, that right has completely gone for the people of Kashmir. If we call them our own, we should also treat them like us,” she said, further adding that the pic was taken out of proportion and that she has been accused of being a member of some gang and was paid to stand there with the poster in the protest. 

On the internet, several messages floated claiming Prabhu is a Kashmiri and her intention was to “hurt” Indians. Prabhu, in the video clarifies that she is a Marathi-speaking Mumbai resident and has lived all along in the city.

“I am a story-teller. My work is available on the internet… you will get to know about my entire life on the internet.”

The BJP has strongly objected to the poster and demanded criminal action against Prabhu. 

Nationalist Congress Party’s senior leader and cabinet minister Jayant Patil soon stepped in to “clarify” the motive behind the poster. 

The Shiv Sena too have defended Prabhu and have said that the poster spoke of the situation in Kashmir in the past few months.

“I read that those who held the ‘Free Kashmir’ poster clarified that they want to be free of restrictions on Internet services, mobile services and other issues. It doesn’t mean that they advocate freedom from India,” Raut said.