Srinagar: With no end in sight to the ongoing unrest in Kashmir, the state government is arbitrarily invoking the Public Safety Act (PSA), a draconian legislation previously used against timber smugglers in Jammu and Kashmir, to quell the revolt. From 78-year-old Ghulam Mustafa Wani of Baramulla to teenager Waheed Gojri of Kupwara, the PSA has been used on over 400 people on charges of fanning the unrest.
But the detention of a minor from North Kashmir’s Baramulla district under the PSA and the alleged harassment of his family by the police shows how a jittery Jammu and Kashmir government seems to have run out of ideas on how to restore normalcy on the streets, where the clamor for “azadi” refuses to die down.
Hight court order shelved
Days ahead of Eid-ul-Adha on September 13, a police team raided the house of the Mir family in Batpora, a locality deep inside the Delina village on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, to arrest 16-year-old Rayees Ahmad Mir.
“He (Rayees) wasn’t home. Police then smashed our windowpanes and damaged the main gate, warning us to hand over the boy,” said Rayees’s uncle Muhammad Ramzaan, a mason, at his single-storey house in Batpora.
A few days later, the frail-bodied Rayees was arrested by the police from an orchard close to his village where he was working as a labourer, according to his family.
“My sister and Rayees’s mother went to see him at the police station that day, only to find he had been grievously injured on his leg due to a shell fired by the police,” said Ramzaan.
The family received an even bigger shock when the boy, who had spent few days in lockup, was charged under the PSA and shifted to the Kotbalwal Jail in Jammu, more than 300 km from his home.
While the archaic law, which was first enacted in 1978, doesn’t allow for the arrest of teenagers, the authorities “fudged” the records to show him as an adult to justify his detention, said Rayees’ lawyer Qazi Syeed Irfan, who pleaded the case at a local court before it was shifted to the high court.
Quoting the dossier that was prepared by the police against Rayees, Irfan said the police had named him in four cases and accused him of participating in anti-state protests and pelting stones at security forces.
Worried, the family challenged the detention in the high court, producing Rayees’s birth certificate to prove that he was only 16 and could not be booked under the PSA.
Justice Muzaffar Hussain Attar of the high court ruled in favour of the family on October 7, directing the state government to shift Rayees, a class ten student, to Srinagar for detention at a juvenile home.
The same day, Irfan said, they sent the copy of the court order to the district magistrate Baramulla via courier, who had cleared Rayees’s detention order under the PSA, and sent copy another copy to the Jammu jail authorities.
But till date, the authorities haven’t implemented the order and the boy continues to languish in jail.
On October 19, the case caught the attention of Amnesty International, which issued a statement terming Rayees’s detention as “unlawful” and asking the government to revoke the PSA charges against him, shift him to Srinagar and book him under the relevant laws for minors.
Amnesty, which described the PSA as a “lawless law” in 2014, has been very critical of the state government for randomly using the act as a “revolving door” policy to keep people inside jails.
“We did whatever we were required to do under law. I can’t share all details with you,” district commissioner Baramulla Nissar Ahmad Naqash told The Wire in response to a question about the non-implementation of the court’s directions.
In the week following the court order, Rayees’s father Bashir Ahmad Mir kept waiting for the authorities to shift his son to Srinagar.
“Every time we try to inquire about the implementation of the court order, we are told that neither the office of the district commissioner nor the jail authorities have received the copy of the order,” said the lawyer.
Losing hope, Rayees’s father, who runs a small-time business, woke up early on the morning of October 15 and, after finishing his work, prepared to leave for Jammu to see his son and personally handover the court order to the jail authorities.
Before he could board the bus for Srinagar, Mir was picked up by the police and detained in Baramulla police station, said his family. Though the rules the police must register a case within 24 hours of someone being detained, Mir, according to the lawyer, continues to be in “illegal detention for the past nine days”.
On Saturday, October 22, Mir’s wife Naseema Begum and his parents went to the police station early in the morning, hoping for his release after they had been “assured” by the police. However, in the afternoon, they returned home disappointed.
“They (the police) told us to come a few days later, but there was no assurance given by them on his (Mir’s) release,” said Mir’s wife Naseema at her in-laws’ house in Delina.
With Mir, the lone breadwinner of the family, behind bars, Naseema and her in-laws are now even more concerned.
“My son must be thinking why we haven’t gone to see him …. this thought kills me but who will tell him about the tragedy back home,” said Naseema.
But why was Mir arrested? “The police has set the condition of handing over Bilal (Rayees’s younger brother) for releasing of my husband. They are alleging he too had participated in the protests,” said Naseema.
According to Naseema, Bilal is 15 years old, studying in class nine. Asked whether her sons had participated in the protests, she responded, “The entire Kashmir has been protesting for past four months. Bilal would never go out but Rayees had to face his father’s wrath after the police raided our house, following which both the brothers started looking for some work.”
Kartik Murukutla, who is pleading Rayees’s case in the high court along with human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz, reiterated Naseema’s point.
“What we were informed is that perhaps they (the police) wanted (Mir’s) other son to be handed over. It (Mirs’ arrest) appears not to be directly connected to Rayees but the other boy (Bilal),” said Murukutla.
The station house officer of Baramulla, Khalid Fayaz, refused to talk about non-implementation of the court order as well as Mir’s continued detention, saying only senior superintendent of police Imtiyaz Hussain was authorised to talk on the case.
“The PSA dossier clearly shows the ground of detention of Rayees,” Fayaz said, when asked about PSA charges against the boy.
The SSP too refused to comment on the case. “I won’t be speaking on the issue,” he said, hanging up the phone.