J&K Police Book Journalist for WhatsApp Status on 2006 Wular Lake Tragedy

Sajid Raina says only 20 people saw his status before he deleted it.

Srinagar: A 23-year-old journalist was booked by the Jammu and Kashmir police for a WhatsApp status on a boat tragedy in which 21 children were killed in 2006.

Sajid Raina, from north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, has worked with various media outlets. On May 30, he had uploaded a WhatsApp status on the 15th anniversary of the Wular Lake boat tragedy. On the date, in 2006, 22 people – 21 of whom were children – died after a Navy boat carrying them capsized in the lake.

Raina’s status, a screenshot of which is with The Wire, had the photographs of some of the children who had died. Along with the caption, “the Wular martyred”, it said, “The children share their graves here. Brothers have been buried together, somewhere three children are buried in the same grave. The tragedy is still fresh. #Boatcollapse.”

Raina has been booked under different provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

Talking to The Wire, Raina, who is working with Kashmir News Observer (KNO), a Srinagar-based news gathering agency, said he received a call from an official on the evening of May 30 itself.

“A senior official from a security agency called me in the evening and objected over my WhatsApp status. I told him that there is nothing inflammatory in the status. I was scared and even apologised to him for my status. I also immediately deleted the status,” he said.

The news that police had registered an FIR against him over a status update which was deleted within an hour of publishing was shocking to him.

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“On June 1, I came to know about the FIR against me from a friend who also works in media. A police officer phoned me on the same day and asked me to come to the police station at Bandipora. I was scared and did not go there. Two of my friends went and pleaded with the cops to withdraw the FIR against me, “he said.

Raina studied media at the Government Degree College, Baramulla.

“What was wrong with my status? Can’t we call innocent kids who lost their lives in a tragedy ‘martyrs’? Only 20 people had seen the WhatsApp status before I deleted it,” he said.

WhatsApp status updates are 24-hour-long broadcasts.

Raina said he and his family are now deeply worried about the future of his profession and his safety now.

Charges against Raina

In the FIR registered against him, police have accused Raina of uploading a provocative post on social media and said that it has hurt the sentiments of public in the area and could disrupt peace in the area.

The FIR has been registered against him under Section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 505(1)(b) (whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report, with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility) of the IPC.

Meanwhile, Bandipora police said that “an FIR has been lodged in police station Bandipora vide FIR no 84/2021 against one person namely Sajid Raina for his WhatsApp status on 30-05-2021, which attracts investigation into the contents and intention behind it”.

“It was not against anyone’s profession particularly journalists as being circulated in social media. Investigations are underway (sic),” the police tweeted.

A senior police official in the district told The Wire that they will investigate the “intention” behind the WhatsApp status.

“If it is proven that there was no ill intention behind it, we will not admit the FIR,” he said.

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Wular lake tragedy

On May 30, 2006, 21 kids and one teacher of the Burning Candle School of Handwara, who had gone for a picnic at a hilltop shrine on the banks of the Wular lake, died when a boat of the MARCOS commandos of Indian Navy carrying them drowned.

The deaths triggered massive protests in the Kashmir Valley, forcing the then Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government to order a judicial inquiry in the incident.

The inquiry officer found three navy officials, the boat operator and the principal of the school guilty of negligence.

The J&K government accepted the findings of the report and announced that they will write to  authorities for action against the Naval persons found and named guilty of negligence by the inquiry officer.

The Navy has also build a paediatric ward in district hospital Handwara in memory of the kids killed in the tragedy.