Rights

'Didn't Challenge Detention Fearing Consequences,' Says Jailed PDP Leader's Daughter

Naeem Akhtar's daughter Shehryar Khanum said the number of people in Kashmir who would defend the Indian government is now at an all time low.

Srinagar: Shehryar Khanum, the daughter of incarcerated Peoples Democratic Party leader, Naeem Akhter, on Tuesday said her family did not challenge her father’s detention in court as they feared facing “bigger consequences”.

A lawyer by profession, Khanum said New Delhi’s decision to take away J&K’s special status and jail the erstwhile state’s politicians has proven skeptics who viewed the Indian government with suspicion right in Kashmir and that advocates of India have “significantly reduced” in the Valley.

Khanum has been visiting her father regularly since he was detained along with other politicians on August 5. She said there was a “very plausible” reason for her family not moving to the court, referring to the detention of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).

“The day his (Abdullah) petition reached the Supreme Court, the government booked him under the PSA. I don’t think he had performed any sort of activity that could be considered a threat to public safety,” said Khanum to The Wire.

“It was not a coincidence. I don’t think any one of us wanted that to happen to our families. The action against Dr Farooq Abdullah was the reason every one among us hesitated when it came to taking recourse to legal action. We feared that there could be bigger consequences.”

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Abdullah, the three-time J&K chief minister and sitting MP from Srinagar was detained on August 5, the day Centre stripped J&K of its special status. He was later booked under PSA and detained at his Gupkar Road residence in Srinagar.

“Our fears aren’t baseless,” said Khanum. “We have an example in him [Abdullah],” she said.

‘Other side proven right’

According to Khanum, the detention of the politicians was a loud and clear message to the people of Kashmir that if the government can jail those who have stood by the idea of Kashmir-in-India, then they should absolutely remain silent.

“It tells us that we are wrong in thinking that India is a strong democracy and also wrong for believing in that idea of India,” she said.

Khanum stressed on the clear demarcation of ideologies in Kashmir and said there were many people who believed in the idea of India and have sworn allegiance to the Constitution.

Today, she said, when the credentials of the same people were questioned, it “basically proves the other side right.”

“Look at the profile of some of these incarcerated people. They have lost immediate family members in this conflict, but they never moved away from the idea of India. Today, the same people are being persecuted by the government,” Khanum said.

“Whosoever has said that India doesn’t treat us as their own, I think their ideology has been proven right today.”

‘Treated like second class citizens’

She said the “biggest fallout” of the Article 370 decision was that advocates of India in Kashmir have significantly reduced in number.

“There were people who believed in the idea of India, but I haven’t met any one of them in the last four months who have held on to that ideology. That is a big loss. They were the bridge. I do not mean only politicians. There were many ordinary Kashmiris too,” she said.

Daring the Centre to block internet in Delhi for two hours, Khanum said the treatment meted out to Kashmir’s masses shows the latter that the people of Kashmir were not at par with citizens of the rest of India.

Also read: Hundreds of Kashmiri ‘Influencers’ Barred by Centre from Travelling Abroad: Report

“You (the government) have suspended all fundamental rights in Kashmir. Leave aside whether Article 370 was beneficial, the manner in which it was read down is shocking. We have been treated as second class citizens. For the government it doesn’t matter if we can call an ambulance because they snapped all mobile phones,” said Khanum.

‘Not anymore’

Khanum talked about a column she had written. “I wrote if we were ever to divide Kashmir I would choose to stay with India since I believed that it is a secular and democratic country. The courage is not only in speaking truth but also in correcting yourself. I think I don’t believe in that idea anymore. That is how I personally feel,” she said. “I have spoken to so many people who had similar beliefs as I did and they have been feeling exactly the same. I think we were wrong.”

She said people would often tell her that her political ideology was not correct. “Today, I don’t have any argument to counter them. Nationalism cannot be forced at a gunpoint. The decision [to read down Article 370] was taken at gunpoint. How can you make a decision about a population without consulting the people or their elected representatives?” she said.

‘Bond to give up freedom of speech’

Khanum said the detained politicians were asked to sign a bond if they wanted to walk out free. “It is not a bond for freedom, but it is actually a bond to voluntarily give up your right to freedom of expression,” she said. “It really is just that.”

Anyone who signs the bond, she said, has to give in writing that he will not speak anything against the government’s decision.

“The reputation plays a big role in politics in Kashmir. If tomorrow someone is released after he signs a bond, he will look like a sellout to people,” she said.

‘Lack of facilities’

Khanum said she went to meet her father after the detainees were shifted to the MLA hostel. She said many of them complained about lack of facilities.

“The rooms allotted to them are very small. It is a very old building. My father says the building is only fit for demolition. That is how bad it is,” she said.

“The day they were shifted, there were no towels and soaps and the carpet on the floor was in a very bad condition. The corridors are not properly lit up there. They are covered with ply boards on either side. The heating arrangement is not very robust. They all have been given room heaters but the power fluctuation is very bad,” said Khanum.

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The detainees, she said, complained that there were a lot of jammers installed and it was very difficult to sleep at night.

“At least three people complained about the bathrooms being very dirty. One of them told me that he tried to clean his bathroom thrice but it was of no help because it was in such a bad state,” she said.

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’

Stating that people in Kashmir have been under clampdown for the last four months to the effect of the suspension of normal activity, Khanum said it was rather alarming there was no expediency on part of the Supreme Court to pull up the government on Kashmir situation.

“Every time there is hearing the government gets more time to respond. So either what is being represented to the court is a misrepresentation or people of Kashmir are not at par with citizens from the rest of the country,” said Khanum.

She referred to Delhi’s air pollution case in the apex court. “The court pulled up the government and rightly so, as it concerns the people. But we don’t see that kind of expediency when it comes to Kashmir,” she said.

“In the last hearing, the court said the government will have to answer everything. My point is when is it that the government will have to answer? Justice delayed is justice denied. It is disappointing to see that there is no urgency.”