Shah Faesal Is Not a Gunda, PSA Charges Were a Bad Surprise, Says His Family

The family said they will soon take a call on whether to challenge Faesal's detention under the PSA.

Srinagar: Family members of Indian Administrative Service officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal said the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) charges on him came as a surprise as not long ago, he was seen as a “model citizen” for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

In an exclusive conversation with The Wire, family members said even though they were mentally prepared for anything, the PSA charges came as a “bad surprise”.

“It is ironic that till yesterday, he was a model citizen for people and now he has been put into the category (of criminals),” the family said. “Faesal is not a gunda (hooligan). He is a scholar who has graduated from Harvard. Anybody can vouch for him. He doesn’t deserve this.”

Faesal, who was detained after the Narendra Modi government read down Article 370 of the constitution and removed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, was booked under the PSA on February 14 – the day his six-month preventive detention ended. He is currently being kept at the MLA hostel in Srinagar’s central Lal Chowk.

According to the J&K police’s dossier, Faesal has been advocating “soft separatism” through his articles, tweets and social media posts. It also talks about allegedly “provocative statements” he made last year.

His family, though, says Faesal has never done anything that could have disturbed the peace anywhere. “If you see his last tweet, he preached for a non-violent movement. How can he be a threat to peace?” they said.

On August 13 last year, a day before his arrest, Faesal had taken to Twitter to express his views against the Centre’s decision on Article 370.

The family said they will soon take a call on whether to challenge Faesal’s detention under the PSA.

“As of now we have not discussed this option with Faesal. There are many other people who are detained with him. Let us see what will happen with them. Then we might take a collective decision about what to do next,” the family said.

Before the PSA charges, Faesal’s family had filed a habeas corpus petition in the Delhi high court immediately after his detention. However, they withdrew the petition quickly. On being asked why that was, and whether the threat of PSA charges had been used against them, the family said the decision was Faesal’s and there was no pressure on them to withdraw the petition.

It was Faesal’s conscious decision to withdrawn the case to show solidarity with his detained colleagues, they said. “He didn’t want to challenge his detention alone, when the rest were not doing so. So he decided to withdraw the petition and stay with the others till all of them could be released.”

“Soon after his arrest, he was given the option to sign a bond (saying he will not to get involved in any political activity) and be released, but he didn’t accept the offer,” they continued.

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Faesal, who topped the 2010 civil service exams, is the eight prominent mainstream politician who was slapped with PSA charges. Earlier, former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were also booked under the PSA after their preventive detention period came to an end.

After Faesal’s success in the civil services, the Government of India and national media portrayed him as a youth icon, countering the image of young people from the Valley taking up arms against the state.

However, Faesal soon quit the services to protest against “unabated killings” in Kashmir and the “marginalisation of Indian Muslims”.

In March 2018, he launched a political party – the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM).

Back home, family members said that neither Faesal nor his family have any regrets about his decision to quit a lucrative job and join politics to “serve the people”.

“We have no regrets. He wanted to something about the people of Kashmir. And he took a brave step to follow his desires,” they said.

Will he continue to be in politics after his release? “He will continue to serve people, irrespective of whether as a politician, activist or in any other form,” his family replied.

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On the possibility of his return to the civil services, his family member said, “There are many restrictions on the bureaucracy.”

How is the family coping with Faesal’s absence? Other members of the family say his mother has shown “extraordinary courage”. “It is sad to see him under detention but we are all okay. Our spirits are high.”

Faesal’s five-year-old son, though, is badly missing his father, they said. “Because we keep sending Faesal books, we have told [his son] that Papa is in school to complete a project. So he has also packed his bag to go to the same school in which his father is working,” they said. “We have told him that the name of the school is MLA hostel.”

The family said that after reading the Quran, Faesal is currently reading on political science and the holocaust, and Tolstoy’s books.

Junaid Kathju is a Srinagar-based journalist.