Srinagar: Days after veteran separatist leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai died in preventive detention, the Jammu and Kashmir police arrested his two sons under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for “raising anti-national slogans” during their father’s funeral.
This police action has come under criticism from different quarters, with political parties accusing the administration of punishing the children of the late leader for their father’s ideology. Seventy-seven-year-old Sehrai, who was booked under the Public Safety Act in July 2020, died at the Government Medical College Jammu on May 5, a day after he was shifted there for treatment after his condition worsened in district jail Udhampur.
Police picked them up on Saturday night: Family
Family members of the deceased leader told The Wire that 35-year-old Rashid Sehrai and 33-year-old Mujahid Sehrai were picked up by the police on Saturday night from their residence in Barzulla, Srinagar.
“At around 11 pm, the cops scaled the walls of our house and entered the premises. They first told us that they want to question Rashid and Mujahid and would release them after half an hour. But they did not release them,” said Ishraque Khalid, the separatist leader’s grandson.
He said both his uncles were later whisked away in a police vehicle to an unknown destination. “We don’t know where they are lodged or what the charges are against them,” he said, adding that the family was shocked to learn in Sunday morning from social media posts that they that have been arrested for raising slogans during the funeral.
He said both his paternal aunts have tested positive for COVID-19 and the entire family is in isolation.
“One of them was admitted to SKIMS for treatment. My grandmother has also gone into isolation,” he said, adding that both his uncles’ children have been crying out for their fathers. “How can I make them understand that their parents have been arrested by the police?” he asked.
Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir police said that Rashid, Mujahid and others were arrested for raising anti-national slogans during Ashraf Sehrai’s funeral.
“They have not been booked under PSA. People are appealed to not to pay heed to rumours,” the police said.
When contacted, superintendent of police, Kupwara G.V. Sundeep Chakravarthy said they have booked the two under UAPA for raising anti-national slogans.
On May 5, Ashraf Sehrai, who was serving detention under the PSA, died at the Government Medical College Jammu where he was shifted a day earlier from the district jail Udhampur. After his death, according to medicos of GMC Jammu, the separatist leader tested positive for COVID-19.
Amid tight security arrangements, Sehrai was laid to rest at a graveyard in his native village in Kupwara on May 6 before dawn, after his body was brought in an ambulance from Jammu.
Only 20 persons, mostly his relatives, were allowed to attend the funeral, which the police claimed was done to maintain COVID-19 protocol
Sehrai’s family had claimed that he was not provided medical facilities by the authorities at the district jail Udhampur after he was lodged there in July 2020, two months after his youngest son Junaid Sehrai, who had picked up arms, died in a gunfight with forces.
According to the family, Sehrai was suffering from multiple ailments for the past 15 years and medical tests were conducted every three months in the earlier period of his detention. “But he was not provided any such medical facility after he was lodged in Udhampur jail last year. He was never brought out of the jail for treatment or medical examination in the past 10 months,” his son Mujahid had earlier told The Wire.
He also said the jail authorities shifted him to the hospital on May 4 only after his condition worsened.
Police action faces criticism
Meanwhile, police action against Sehrai’s sons has come under criticism from different political parties in Jammu & Kashmir.
PSA is GOI’s go to method for every problem. Latest example being Ashraf Sehrai’s sons who lost their father in custody due to inadequate medical care & have been arrested under PSA. In rest of India dead are being ill treated but in Kashmir its the living who are made to suffer
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) May 16, 2021
Mehbooba tweet say the two have been detained under the PSA, but in fact they have been arrested under the UAPA.
People’s Conference chief Sajad Gani Lone came down heavily on the police authorities for action against Sehrai’s sons.
And y do u have to do that. Which society will condone ur actions. They lost their father who died while being in govt custody. What r u competing for—- ferocity. Point taken. Yes u do come across as ferocious, Cruel and Ugly. Now Can we have an end to this Rambo culture. https://t.co/lOrI7BSvmM
— Sajad Lone (@sajadlone) May 16, 2021
Former Union minister Saifuddin Soz said that “some people are adamant to see Ashraf Sehrai’s sons punished for the ideas of their father”.
“This is an obnoxious trait in the character of those who want to fight Ashraf Sehrai’s family after his demise. I reject this attitude with contempt,” reads a statement issued by Soz, who was also ex-president of the Pradesh Congress Committee.
Who was Ashraf Sehrai?
Born in Tikkipora village of Lolab in 1944, Sehrai was chairman of the Tehreek-I-Hurriyat, a political group formed by veteran separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in 2004 after his differences with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). JeI was declared an unlawful organisation by the BJP-led Central government in 2019.
Sehrai remained close to Geelani for more than five decades after he came into touch with him in 1959. He was jailed for the first time in 1965 over anti-government activities after he delivered a speech criticising Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq’s government.
Sehrai contested elections against National Conference founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah after the Indira Gandhi-Abdullah accord of 1975 from Ganderbal, which is considered as bastion of the Abdullah family.
In the 1987 polls, Sehrai, who was candidate of the Muslim United Front (MUF), a conglomerate of political parties against the NC-Congress combine, secured 26% of the votes polled in the Kupwara assembly segment.