SRINAGAR: Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI), the largest politico-religious organisation in Jammu & Kashmir, is once again in the crosshairs of the Kashmir conflict, with more than 150 of its members, including its president and spokesperson, taken into police custody in night raids conducted across the valley before Saturday dawn.
The massive crackdown has come two days before the scheduled hearing in Supreme Court on a bunch of petitions challenging Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which confers special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu & Kashmir state. It also comes as part of the government’s clampdown on resistance leaders and dissenting voices in the wake of the Pulwama fidayeen attack that killed 49 CRPF troops.
Along with the Jamaat members, police also took into custody JKLF chief and JRL leader Yasin Malik, from his home in Maisuma, Srinagar, late on Friday evening.
Later in the day, the Indian government airlifted to Srinagar 100 additional companies of the paramilitary (nearly 10,000 personnel) to reinforce government forces deployed in Kashmir Valley.
The last time the government arrested leaders and activists at such a mass level was during the 2016 uprising that followed the killing of Burhan Wani.
No statement from the police or from the government has come as yet on the mass arrests. The Jamiat leaders taken into custody include its president, Dr Hamid Fayaz, its spokesperson, Advocate Zahid Ali, and other senior leaders. A family member of Hamid Fayaz told Kashmir Reader that police raided their residential house at about 4:30am, and then took him to Humhama police station.
Homes of Jamiat leaders in south, north and central Kashmir were raided during the intervening night of Friday and Saturday, and the leaders were taken into custody, the JeI said in the statement. Many who were not found at their residences have been asked to report to nearby police stations, it added.
A JeI insider said that police have also taken into custody relatives of those who were associated with the JeI but are not alive anymore.
The Jamaat has seen such crackdowns all through its 70-year-old history. Iymon Majid, who has done his doctoral research on the Jamaat, said, “The current crackdown is not something new. Beginning from 1960s members of the Islamist organisations have either been detained or arrested. In 1975 when emergency was imposed in India by Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah brought back in Kashmir, Jamaat was banned,” he said, adding, “Most of its members were arrested, even the MLAs it had sent to the state assembly. In early 1990, a second ban was imposed and its members arrested.”
Iymon in his research found that throughout its history, Jamaat members have been arrested or persecuted especially in periods of armed insurgency.
“The point is why the current regime is doing this now. I think state recognises the organisational capacity of the party and its power to mobilise public opinion,” Iymon said.
Meanwhile, protests and shutdowns were held in many parts of Kashmir on Saturday after the mass arrest of Jamiat members. In south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, a protest demonstration morphed into stone-throwing. Witnesses said that government forces rushed to the area managed to quell the stone-throwing. However, Anantnag’s commercial hub, Lal Chowk, remained shut throughout the day.
Some of the main markets of Srinagar city also remained shut since morning. All shops were closed in Maisuma, Lal Chowk and adjoining areas. In the afternoon, markets at Hari Singh High Street also shut down. Incidents of stone-throwing were witnessed in some areas of the old city.