Twenty-year-old Asiya Jan is worried if the police will return. The thought of another raid at her home, in Gund Hasi Bhat neighborhood, adjoining the Budgam district, has been giving her sleepless nights for more than a week. Her father, Mehboob Hussain, and brothers, Raja Bhat, 18, and Showkat Bhat, 15, have not returned home since 26 August, fearing Mr. Raja would be arrested.
Mr. Raja, along with two others from the neighborhood, was booked under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for shouting pro-freedom slogans during a Muharram procession on 26 August , an allegation that his family and neighbors strongly refuted.
On that day, everyone from the locality went out for the procession, said Ms. Jan, adding that Mr. Raja was “distributing masks and sanitizers” to the mourners. Nearly two dozen neighbors, who had gathered in the family’s lawn, corroborated Ms. Jan’s statement.
A video of the incident also went viral on social media, in which a group of young men, as part of a Muharram gathering, can be heard shouting slogans against India. The police, in a statement on the same evening, said that it took cognisance of the video and identified the people in it. The statement added: “The area is isolated and there was no history of organising any such unlawful gathering before, neither was there input of any gathering/procession nor was there any police presence…”
The statement further mentioned Mr. Raja and two other men’s names, accusing them of “[taking] advantage of the area and assembled here and raised pro Azadi slogans.” In the incident, the police registered a first information report, number 177/2020, under the UAPA and sections 143 (member of an unlawful assembly), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), and 269 (unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code.
The statement had further added that more arrests were expected in the case.
The UAPA was amended by the parliament last year August, just before the unilateral abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomy, to give more powers to the police to book individuals under the provisions, which provides for imprisonment upto seven years.
The police raid on Mr. Raja’s home on 27 August, however, has left his sister, Ms. Jan, furious. The men of the family having fled their home, she was at home with her younger sister, mother, and grandmother. “How can they come inside my house?” she said, angrily. “Did they have any permission?”
The police’s mere presence in her house’s premises frightened her: “I was afraid if [the police] would misbehave with me or vandalise the house. [They did not,] but the way police personnel spoke, it said a lot.”
The police searched the two-storey house for Mr. Raja and sealed their father, Mr. Hussain’s grocery store–the family’s only source of income. “You want to go to Pakistan?” a police personnel had asked her during the raid. “You should go [to Pakistan] then.”
The Dar family that resides a lane away, shared a similar story. With the police looking for 25-year-old Arif Dar, he has also fled his home fearing arrest but the police chose to act differently. “In exchange [for Mr. Arif],” said Padshah Bano, his mother, “the police arrested his father.”
Ms. Bano was alone at home when the police “barged in”, she said. “They didn’t listen to anything and held [Mr. Arif’s father, Mohammad Akbar] by his neck and took him away,” she said, sighing. Now, the police are demanding that Mr. Arif present himself at the police station to secure the release of the father, said Ms. Bano .
The local administration, and a Supreme Court ruling, had disallowed the Muharram processions citing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir have banned the tenth Muharram processions since the 1990s, fearing that the mourning would turn into an anti-India protest.
This time, the local residents thought that the government was attempting to ban the procession forever, prompting the local residents to ensure that they take out the religious procession, said Ghulam Hussain, an elderly resident.
“If they had not gone out for the procession then the government would have banned the procession altogether,” said Mr. Hussain, “like they have done in Srinagar.” As such, he said, on sixth Muharram, 26 August, the day designated for the annual procession in the area, “the boys assembled and went on their own.”
In the subsequent days after this, on 9 and 10 Muharram, 29 and 30 August correspondingly, mourners clashed with the government forces in parts of the summer capital Srinagar as they tried to take out the procession. The police had fired teargas shells and metal-pellets from shotguns to forcibly break the procession, injuring dozens of mourners. The police had also said that several of its personnel received injuries in stone throwing.
In Gund Hasi Bhat neighborhood, the rumors floating around on further arrests, or a crackdown, and further actions by the police has forced these men into hiding. And the raids and detentions have spread the paranoia in the neighborhood, impacting their daily life chorus.
Now, Sajad Ahmad Dar, Mr. Arif Dar’s younger brother is more troubled. In the absence of the elder brother and his father detained, the 20-year-old liberal arts student now feels responsible for the household, that includes his elder sister besides his mother. Mr. Sajad said that he last spoke to his elder brother when the news of his booking under UAPA broke. “He told me, ‘When injustice is there, the heart burns. They didn’t ask us anything but charged us.’”
After this conversation, Mr. Sajad had googled the UAPA. He said: “I only understood that he won’t be able to apply for a government job and he will be sent to Central Jail for seven years.”
But he doesn’t have grudges against his brother for running away from the police. “There is no justice here. He wasn’t even questioned before charging him under UAPA, what justice will be there after the arrest?” said Mr. Sajad, disgruntled. “[Mr. Arif] is so afraid that if he will fall in their hands, no matter how many [pieces of] evidence he shows them, the police won’t admit to it’s mistake [of falsely charging him].”
Mr. Sajad hasn’t visited his father at the police station, out of fear of the police. However, other elder people from the neighbourhood have paid him a visit. In the 10×10 feet area of the lockup, Mr. Sajad’s father is detained with nine others, said the local residents, who visited him. He had only one message for his son, Mr. Sajad, from the jail: “Beta, hum kab riha ho jayenge? (Son, when will I be released?).”
His neighbours are pissed at the police action too. They believe that the cases against Mr. Arif and Mr. Raja were a witch-hunt by the police; “otherwise, the whole locality was shouting azadi (freedom) slogans, they should charge [the entire] neighbourhood then.”
Amid the tensions, in the last week, Mr. Sajad appeared for his semester examinations too, under constant fear of the police. There is no peace or calm in the neighbourhood, but horror, said Mr. Sajad, cracking his knuckles. “We are afraid [that] if my brother doesn’t return, the police will arrest me as well,” he said.
The fears are shared by Mr. Raja’s elder sister, Ms. Jan. She also believes in the rumours being floated that if the men in her family do not return the police would arrest her. “Just like this?” she shouted. “Is this the rule of law?”