What went down on Friday night in Kashmir when Yasin Malik was arrested?
On Friday, February 22, Indian government arrested JKLF leader Yasin Malik and several Jamaat-e-Islami cadres.
The night of Friday, February 22, Kashmir was in the throes of rumour and paranoia, as the Centre moved to arrest JKLF leader, Yasin Malik and several Jamaat-e-Islami cadres.
It all began with the silence of the Friday evening being suddenly punctured by the roaring sounds of the Indian Air Force's fighter jets, as they flew sorties over the Kashmir skyline. A sense of sabre-rattling at once began to grip the Kashmir Valley.
While many took to social media to make sense of the “unusual” sky-time activity, it was the ex-chief minister, Omar Abdullah’s curt tweet that added even more to the night-time panic: “Srinagar is agog with rumours & speculation tonight!”
This, coming from the erstwhile head of unified command, apparently set the ball rolling. As the mystery deepened, Omar’s alarming tweet abruptly vanished from his Twitter handle.
A rumour has it that the former chief minister was “chided for exposing something secretive” going on in the Valley, culminating into his tweet deletion.
The night, however, was a long one and more was about to come.
Soon, an order was circulated, that the centre is airlifting some “100 coys of CAPFs (CRPF – 45,BSF-35,SSB-10 & ITBP 10) to J&K with immediate effect and till further orders”.
Amid this late-night dispatch and hovering aircrafts, a posse of police party and paramilitary showed up at Maisuma — the bastion of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief, Yasin Malik. The prominent separatist is not new to sudden raids or arrests, but his odd-hour detention on Friday night further set the rumour mill afire.
Earlier that day, Malik had strongly reacted over the attacks on Kashmiri students outside the Valley. “If any one among those who were harassed or beaten in outside states picks up gun tomorrow, who would be blamed for it,” JKLF chief asked, while addressing a Friday gathering in Srinagar. “Will Government of India tomorrow accept that these boys joined militancy because of the oppression unleashed on them in various states?”
(Photo Courtesy: Bilal Handoo/JKLF leader, Yasin Malik being arrested)
He said that in recent past, many Ph.D scholars picked up arms and were killed in encounters. “They too had tales of oppression from the past. When today career of our youth studying in various states is put at the stake by forcing them to flee after ruthless thrashing, these young students can take extreme step in desperation,” Malik warned.
It was on heels of his nocturnal arrest that the discourse started building up around abrogation of Article 35-A in TV newsrooms. Even Twitter went berserk, with rumours and loose talk.
“Word from Kashmir is that all key separatists to be flown out of Srinagar and kept in custody elsewhere in country. So that none can rabble rouse on streets or gather crowds,” this tweet from senior journalist Barkha Dutt almost made it certain that the Valley was indeed under a wave of nocturnal arrests.
As aircrafts constantly hovered around, it did strike many that the detainees might be airlifted to be imprisoned outside the Valley. It was in this panic state that a son of one of the arrested persons made a first credible disclosure about the night.
“It gives me immense pleasure to share the news that my 64 year old father M Amin Wani has been picked up by SOG and Army in a nocturnal visit to our house,” Mudasir Wani, a JNU student posted on his Facebook account around midnight on Friday.
“Around 12:30am, they entered our lawn by climbing the walls and knocked at the windows of the house. In this chilling cold night they requested my father to accompany them to the camp. We pleaded that he will come to the army camp in the morning himself. The person in command argued ‘meri bhi naukri hai,'” the post further read.
Hailing from south Kashmir’s Tral area, Wani further detailed the night crackdown, saying that a cop suggested his father to wear warm clothes. “And I added to take along medicine of diabetes, hypertension, heart and thyroid. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find medicine for heart. Then they left, before leaving my father hugged me. I accompanied them till the main gate of the house. They vanished in the pitch darkness of the night and I came back to hold my shivering mother. Tonight my heart is filled with tonnes of love for Indian army and India. Feel proud to be part of Indian citizenry. This happiness has made me insomniac.”
By Saturday morning, it was clear that Jama’at-e-Islami leaders and activists, including their chief Dr. Abdul Hamid Fayaz, were also among those arrested on Friday, along with Malik.
“The move seems a well designed ploy and that there was something fishy when the state’s special position [hearing on Article 35-A] is listed in Supreme Court [on Monday],” Jamaat reacted over the mass arrests of its cadres.
“Any attempt of eroding or tempering Article 35-A is unacceptable for people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
These mass arrests took place at a time when Kashmiris have been facing mob attacks, hate campaign and vengeful suspensions over the Pulwama suicide attack that left around 40 CRPF men dead in the afternoon of February 14.
Following a wave of attacks on Kashmiris studying and working in many parts of India, the Supreme Court on Friday directed states and UTs to take “prompt” action to prevent incidents of threats and violence against Kashmiris. Later MHA shot a similar directive to states in this regard.
On Saturday, when Kashmir was in the state of great panic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris”. Despite this statement, Kashmir remained on edge.
Panicked people crowded petrol pumps and provincial stores to stock up for facing the possible “tough times” ahead. One Srinagar resident described the current chaos as “a sign of some big event”.
But what’s coming, even some local police officers aren’t sure. “It could be anything — war, abrogation of Article 35-A, trifurcation of state, ban on Hurriyat,” a senior police officer posted in Srinagar said.
Throughout Saturday, however, rumours about top separatist leader Shabir Shah, who is lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, made rounds. “I was told by his lawyer that something has happened in the jail,” said Dr. Bilqis, wife of Shah, who soon drove to Tihar to access the situation. “But because of Saturday, we weren’t allowed to meet him. We’ve to wait for Monday to know his condition.”
As rumours about his condition grew, especially on social media, police intervened, saying, “Shah is fine.”
In Srinagar, however, the speculations only increased, as BSF and ITBP personnel replaced CRPF. A series of official circulars began to circulate, pertaining, primarily, about the access to the availability of food grains in ration depots and emergency healthcare, and also the cancellation of leave for cops and medics.
(Photo Courtesy: Bilal Handoo)
“These eerie official orders make one believe, as if war is indeed on us,” says Abdul Samad, a trader in Srinagar. “As government isn’t clearing airs about this whole suspense, people are imagining all sorts of possibilities, which is terrible.”
(Photo Courtesy: Bilal Handoo)
Even though governor Satya Pal Malik termed these “war-footing” orders as “routine” matter, given the frequent closure of Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the uncanny events since Friday night are only derailing a sense of normalcy in the valley.
Some don’t even rule out the possibility of a psy-op being executed in the form of a panic state — aiming at creating conducive conditions for elections in the valley.
“But whatever it is,” says Wahid Ali, a social science student from Srinagar, “let it not bleed Kashmir anymore!”
(Photo Courtesy: Bilal Handoo)
As Anantnag exploded in protests and Srinagar witnessed partial shut against the nocturnal raids on Saturday, Mehbooba Mufti, a former ally of BJP, told government that “you can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
Even BJP’s Kashmir ally, Sajad Lone had a word of caution for authorities. “Large scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried tested and failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” Lone tweeted.
J&K Police, however, said that the crackdown on Jama’at-e-Islami and the additional deployment of armed police forces is “purely” part of an election exercise undertaken to ensure “free and fair” polls in Jammu and Kashmir.
But “something is cooking,” said the Joint Resistance Leadership, comprised of Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, warning New Delhi against any misadventure over Article 35-A.
However, as suspense continues, it seems as if paranoia is here to stay, and Kashmir is being pushed to a political precipice.
(The author is a Srinagar-based independent journalist.)