For the past five days, 55-year-old Kaif* has left his home early in the morning for the police station in Kupwara, some five km from his village, Bumhama, hoping to return home with his son.
Kaif’s youngest son, 15-year-old Zahab*, was arrested on May 29 when he, together with three other young men, all residents of Bumhama, voluntarily went to the police post in Drugmullah with their village sarpanch (head), who had been directed by the police to present them at the station.
The police booked eight young men from the village under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA), for allegedly raising anti-national slogans at a funeral. Zahab is among the four young men already arrested, his case just one among the sharply rising number of proceedings under the draconian security law in Jammu and Kashmir.
Arrested for slogans
On May 28 at around 9 pm, a car hit 29-year-old Bumhama resident Mohammad Amin Dar on the main road in the village that connects the picturesque Kupwara district to Jammu and Kashmir’s capital city, Srinagar.
Dar, a labourer, died on the way to the hospital. The next day, hundreds of people from his native and adjacent villages participated in his funeral.
Between the chanting of religious slogans according to the ritual of burial, someone in the crowd raised a pro-freedom slogan – ‘Hum kya chahte (What do we want)?’ And a few young men among the gathering responded with the word ‘Azadi (freedom)’.
The video of the funeral went viral on social media and the next day, the police post at Drugmullah told the village sarpanch to inform eight young men from the village to report to them.
“We could not understand who raised these slogans,” Nazir Ahmad Dar, sarpanch of the village, told The Wire.
Nazir convinced four young men among the eight accused to accompany him to the police post. They were taken into custody and later shifted to the police station in Kupwara.
“Among the four who were arrested, three had not even participated in the funeral. The fourth one is a minor. However, he can be seen in the video,” Nazir said.
Nazir and the village elders tried to persuade the police officers to release the arrested young men, but the officers did not budge from their stand.
At the Kupwara police station, Kaif told the officers that his son is innocent and a minor. Zahab is a student of class 10 at the government higher secondary school in Drugmulla. “I showed them his birth certificate. But they (the police) showed no mercy and sent him to Srinagar jail,” Kaif said.
Kaif, a labourer and the father of five, has no idea of the meaning of the charge against his son. He hopes that Zahab will be released soon after his bail application is heard.
“I don’t know anything about this act. They (the police) told me he will be released in the next few days. I am illiterate and I feel I am losing my senses as I roam from one door to another for the release of my son,” he said.
The other families
Among the four young men who were arrested is 28-year-old Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh, who is suffering from a chest infection and has no history of criminal activity. Aijaz has two sisters, a brother and ailing parents.
“Aijaz did not participate in the funeral. There is no evidence against him in the video that went viral on social media,” said Farooq Ahmad Ganie, Aijaz’s uncle and a government employee.
Aijaz’s family has been depressed since his arrest. “Everyone at home is shattered. They cry all day,” said Farooq. Aijaz runs a tea stall in the village and earns a paltry sum. “The family lives hand to mouth,” Farooq added.
In their struggle to get Aijaz released, his family even went to meet Fayaz Ahmad Mir, a former member of the Rajya Sabha from North Kashmir.
Like Kaif, Aijaz’s family does not know what the UAPA is. “We have approached a local lawyer and we hope all the men from the village will be released soon,” Farooq said.
Advocate Mir Qayoom who represents the four young men from the village told The Wire that he has moved their bail applications in the UAPA-designated court at Baramulla.
“The prosecution has asked the police for the report. Once the police file the report, the case will be listed for hearing,” the lawyer said.
Qayoom feels his case is strong. He believes there is no evidence against the accused. “One of the accused is a minor and we have moved the juvenile court for his bail,” he said.
When the families of the young men sought Fayaz Ahmad Mir’s help, he contacted senior police officials. However, he told The Wire that the police had already filed a case against them.
“When this law was passed in parliament, I opposed it strictly and warned that this law would make the people of Kashmir suffer the most. Now we are seeing it happen,” said Mir.
The two other arrested men are siblings: 31-year-old Qaiser Ahmad and 27-year-old Bilal Ahmad Mir. According to a family member, the brothers run a spare parts shop in the village and live a simple life.
“Both Bilal and Qaiser were busy with preparations for Qaiser’s wedding which is scheduled for next month,” said a relative who wished to remain anonymous. “The police have accused them of raising slogans at the funeral. But they are not seen in the video. The video shows hundreds of people responding to the slogans. Does that mean they (the police) will arrest all of them?” he wondered.
“This is the height of injustice and brutality. If people are arrested for such small issues, then I believe we all should be sent to jails and end the story once for all,” he added.
A senior police officer told The Wire on condition of anonymity that they have arrested four young men in the case so far. “They raised anti-national slogans at a funeral and we booked them under the UAPA,” he said.
The police officer confirmed that one among them is a minor and has been shifted to a juvenile home. He said the basis on which the four men were arrested was the video. “We have the video as evidence,” he said.
The rise of UAPA cases
Senior criminal lawyer Mir Urfi told The Wire that the police in Jammu and Kashmir tend to invoke the UAPA arbitrarily and the Kupwara episode is a case in point.
“The police could have booked them for disturbing the peace under provisions of the Indian Penal Code,” she pointed out. Instead, they framed charges under this “heinous act”.
Mir has had 15 years’ experience in criminal cases in the erstwhile state. She claims that the Jammu and Kashmir police book people under the UAPA to suppress the pro-freedom sentiment in the union territory.