‘Sitting in One Place is Suffocating Now’: Juvenile Detained Under PSA and Released After Court Order Relives the Past
As Jammu and Kashmir tries to adapt to life after losing special status and statehood, a minor boy from the Valley, who says he was held in solitary confinement at a UP jail for two months under the Public Safety Act, constantly relives the past while grappling with the present.
File photo of police personnel blocking the road near the residences of former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, in Srinagar. (PTI Photo)
Anantnag (Kashmir): The Valley ringed by frost-peaked mountains started fading away as the aircraft finally settled after take-off from the Srinagar military airbase. A handcuffed Mohammad Anif (name changed) looked around in shock and bewilderment. It was the first time that the youngster was aboard an aeroplane.
“There were 19 other people, handcuffed like me, and around the same number of police personnel,” he recalls. “All of us were brought in the police bus to the military airport from the central jail in Srinagar.”
Amid the loud noise produced by the propellers of the Dakota — a type of military transport aircraft extensively used in World War II and which is used by the Indian army for the transport of supplies, mostly — a curious Anif asked the officer who was sitting next to him: “Where are we being taken?”
“Bareilly,” Anif recalls the policeman holding a paper file in his hand announcing, attempting to be loud enough so all the others on the plane could hear.
“It was the first time I was hearing this name. I had no Idea about this place,” Anif told News18.
On August 4, Anif was at his home in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, when he got calls from the local police station asking him to report there immediately.
“I was detained at the police station and on August 8, the Public Safety Act (PSA) was slapped on me,” says Anif. Under PSA, the police can detain a person for a minimum of three months and can extend the detention for over a year.
The same night he was shifted to the Central Jail in Srinagar and the next day he was driven along with 19 other inmates to, what he later realised was, the military airbase.
The police dossier identified him as a 22-year-old, six more than his actual age, says Anif, and he was accused of being involved in “unlawful” and “anti-national” activities.
More than a thousand people, including politicians, separatists, activists and lawyers, were detained amid a security and communication clampdown after the Centre’s August 5 decision to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and organise the state into two union territories. Some among them, like former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, were slapped with the PSA. On October 14, post-paid mobile calling services were restored in the Valley and the government had then announced that the political leaders, detained in Kashmir to ensure peace, would be released in phases and the situation was gradually headed back to normalcy.
The grounds on which Anif was taken into custody mentioned that he was “glorifying the ideology” of a militant outfit. The authorities also noted in the PSA dossier his involvement in two cases from 2016 and 2018. Analysts say that according to J&K Police data, at least 24 children below the age of 18 were recruited by various militant groups in Kashmir from 2010 to July 2018.
However, Anif’s family moved the J&K high court and challenged his detention, pointing out that he was a minor.
The high court ruled that he “is a juvenile” and “has to be treated in accordance with the law”. The case went to the Juvenile Justice Board, which ordered his release, mentioning that the case in which he has been accused “pertains to occurrence of 2016” and “some of the accused persons arrested during the investigation have been released on bail”.
The police dossier also mentioned that he “left the studies after 12th class” but the Juvenile Board contested these claims. Anif is studying in the same class and, according to the board, he “has to appear in the ensuing examination”.
The Juvenile Justice Board directed the J&K Police not to arrest Anif and said he “shall not be called to the police station after the sunset and before sunrise”.
However, by this time two months had passed and Anif was lodged over one thousand kilometres away from his home in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, in solitary confinement.
“It was a six-by-eight-feet cell. On three sides there was no window on the around 15-feet-high walls. The fourth side had the metal bars,” Anif claims.
With a jute mat on one side and a raised area with a toilet and tap on the other corner, this was going to be his new home, for an unknown spell.
As a week passed, Anif recalled he had grown feeble because of crying. “I began offering prayers five times a day,” he says.
All this while, Anif was hopeful that his parents would come one day and he would be released because of being a minor.
Two months had passed. Anif was washing clothes one day when a security guard outside his cell informed him that a team of J&K Police had arrived at the jail.
“My arms ceased to work on hearing this. With teary eyes and a bewildered mind I told them that they must have brought more people,” he recalls. But when the guard responded that they had to take someone from there, Anif was equally excited and emotional.
He says he was taken out of his cell for the first time in two months and when he finally saw the personnel from the police station of his area he was elated.
“It was for the first time that I was so happy and excited at the sight of police personnel. Because I was detained at that police station, I could recognise their faces,” Anif recalls.
These days, Anif is preparing for his examinations. But he spends a lot of his time roaming in the apple orchards and fields of his village.
“Strange thoughts strike my mind when I am in my home. Sitting at one place has become suffocating,” he says. “It reminds me of those horrific days.”
Anif says he is not able to concentrate on his studies. Incidentally, his exam centre is adjacent to the local police station.
Anif’s mother says, since his return, he is a changed person. “He talks very little with the family and spends most of the time outside. I think we will have to consult a doctor,” she says.
Officials of J&K Police refused to comment on Anif’s case. They also didn’t reveal the number of minors who were detained under the PSA.
In August, the director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbagh Singh, said that 144 minors were detained but they were released the same day except two who were sent to juvenile homes.
On November 5, the Supreme Court directed the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice Committee, comprising four J&K high court judges, to submit a fresh report on the allegations of minors being detained in the Valley.
The SC had on September 20 sought a report following a PIL regarding the detention of minors. The committee had submitted its findings on October 1, stating the police figures.
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