Srinagar: Thirty-eight-year-old Idrees Jan Mir, does not know why he was fired from his position as teacher at a government school – one he held for 14 years.
His termination order, issued by J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha accused Idrees of working against the “security of the state.”
But this father of three small kids, who was posted at a school in his native Kupwara district of north Kashmir, says it is news to him that he can be a threat to anyone at all. “I can’t crush an ant under my feet. How can I pose a threat to the state,” he asked The Wire.
On May 1, Idrees got a phone call from a senior colleague who asked him to show up at the SDM’s office near his home.
Once he reached there, he was swiftly handed a termination order in a sealed envelope in the presence of three magistrates, a Naib Tehsildar and a police officer.
The entire episode was filmed, said Idrees, “When I opened the envelope, beyond the ‘security of the state’ clause, I could not find anything substantial,” he said.
Idrees is among three employees sacked last week by J&K administration. None of them had charges against them specified.
The other two are Dr Abdul Bari Naik, a professor at a government-run college and Nazir Ahmad Wani, a middle-rung officer in J&K’s revenue department.
Their termination is part of a new policy to “cleanse” the J&K administration of the employees broadly categorised as ‘anti-nationals’, threat to ‘law and order’, ‘sympathisers of terrorists’, supporters of ‘secessionist’ activities and such.
Using a clause in the Article 311, the administration has done away with the requirement for giving targeted employees a chance of fair representation which, lawyers argue, goes against the principle of natural justice.
Before his termination, Dr Bari was an assistant professor at Government Degree College in Jammu‘s Udhampur district. A PhD scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University, his trouble began in 2018 when he was posted at the college in his home district of Kulgam.
A protest had broken out in Kulgam against the construction of an Army camp and he was booked in a case filed by Kulgam police against several suspects under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
In the aftermath of the protest, the Army had allegedly ransacked the village and also targeted a local mosque. Dr Bari had posted a video on social media purportedly showing Army soldiers vandalising a mosque and allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran.
A professor of geography who was appointed by the government in 2015, Dr Bari was also booked for allegedly provoking protests at Government Degree College in Kulgam when the Army soldiers barged into the college in 2018 and fired teargas shells, sparking clashes with students.
“I request the students not to pelt stones, they always can fight their battles with the pen, stones should not be our weapon,” Dr. Bari had then told a local news portal.
“His termination is an act of crude vendetta by the government. He is paying the price for speaking out against the injustices surrounding us,” his brother, Rauf Naik, who is an advocate, said.
The third employee sacked by the J&K administration, a revenue officer Nazir Ahmad Wani, was booked by J&K police on May 25 last year for allegedly providing “logistic support” to the militants. His arrest came over a month after he had filed a complaint with the Pulwama district magistrate after his driver was assaulted by police.
Dr Bari and Nazir Ahmad Wani are still in jail as under-trials, police said. While all three terminated employees have been accused of serious charges, none of them have been convicted by courts.
Idrees, the now-terminated teacher, said he had been arrested by J&K Police in August 2016 and slapped with the Public Safety Act, which has been described by the Amnesty International as a “lawless law.”
His detention followed widespread protests that year against the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
“I spent nearly five months in Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu before the high court held my detention as illegal and ordered my release,” Idrees said.
In its order dated December 31, 2016, the J&K high court ruled that the “other connected documents” which were used as a ground to detain Idrees were never shared with him or the court, as mandated by law.
“Valuable constitution right conferred on the detenue under Article 22(5) of the Constitution of India has been admittedly breached,” the court ruled while quashing his detention.
Idrees is an adopted son of Ali Mohammad Mir, an activist of Jamaat-e-Islami group that was banned by the BJP’s central government in 2019. He said his father was subject to an enforced disappearance in 1993.
Idrees said he tried to stay away from trouble since his “illegal detention” in 2016.
“My students and my senior officers (in education department) can testify to my character and capabilities. If they claim that I have not been good at my job, then the government has a right to act against me,” he said.
When Idrees returned home after collecting his termination order, he was shocked to learn that the Army had laid siege of his village and had asked neighbours about him.
“It’s my constitutional right to speak on issues which are important for us. A person’s ideology doesn’t make him a criminal. But I fear I am being silenced,” he said.
“God gave me three beautiful children. I don’t know how I am going to take care of them. They will remember what was done to their father,” he added
Education department ‘not consulted’
Speaking with The Wire, Dr Abdul Hamid Fani, who heads the education department in Kupwara, admitted his office was not consulted before Idress’s termination order was issued.
“If there was evidence of my culpability, I am ready to face the gallows. But only because I have an opinion on important issues doesn’t mean I am a criminal,” Idrees said.
Habeel Iqbal, a US State Department fellow and human rights lawyer in Kashmir, said the “vague charges” levelled against these employees rarely hold in the court of law.
“This is a move to control the behaviour of people. It is designed to send out a message to others that they must comply or prepare to face the worst,” Habeel said.
In 2015, the PDP-BJP coalition government terminated nearly five dozen employees on similar charges. A senior officer in General Administration Department, which has issued the latest orders said, 90% of the terminated employees made their way back into the government by going to courts.
“I think the high court in Jammu and Kashmir has been overreaching in these cases,” the GAD officer said, adding that action is also going to be taken against those employees involved in financial crimes.
The unceremonious sacking of Idrees and others has sparked outrage on social media. Basit Hussain, a journalist based in Srinagar wrote: “Fired for thinking. For affiliating. For resisting. For being Kashmiri Muslims. The Brahminical Order wants us back as ponies. Back as porters. Back as unlettered ‘malechs’. Back as subjects.”
The move has been also widely criticised by rights activists and Kashmir’s mainstream camp. It comes in the midst of a raging pandemic during which the administration has passed several orders to choke freedom of speech and expression in the region.
Former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the employees were being terminated on “flimsy grounds”.
In the middle of a pandemic GOI should focus on saving lives instead of firing govt employees on flimsy grounds in Kashmir. No wonder its misplaced priorities have converted India into shamshanghats & kabristans.The living continue to suffer & the dead are deprived of dignity pic.twitter.com/VenrxxptN8
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) May 3, 2021
“In the middle of a pandemic, GOI should focus on saving lives …. No wonder its misplaced priorities have converted India into shamshanghats and kabristans. The living continue to suffer and the dead are deprived of dignity,” she tweeted.
Tanvir Sadiq, senior National Conference leader said, the J&K administration is violating the fundamental rights of citizens by passing “arbitrary orders” against people who have not been convicted in any court of law.
“The Centre has previously signed MoUs with armed groups such as Bodos to withdraw and review cases against some of their members. Why can’t the government work on the same analogy in J&K? Why two yardsticks,” Sadiq said.