Jammu and Kashmir police has pressed charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a harsh anti-terrorism law that guarantees lengthy pre-trial detention and makes bail difficult, against the students of two medical colleges in Srinagar. They are alleged to have celebrated the victory of the Pakistani team during the ICC T-20 cricket match between India and Pakistan in Dubai on Sunday, 24 October.
As the match, in which Pakistan won by 10 wickets, concluded several neighbourhoods across Kashmir, especially in the Srinagar city, erupted in jubilation with scores of youth taking to streets and allegedly waving Pakistan flags and bursting firecrackers. While some videos of the incidents, which went viral were old, there were other clips as well that have not been previously seen. The Quint could not independently confirm the veracity of the clips.
The Videos That Flooded Social Media
Other viral clips flooding the Internet shows what appears to be a hostel mess of Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences Srinagar, where students are seen cheerfully going about in the hall, laughing, shouting, and whistling. But it is not precisely clear if the atmosphere of the rapture is particularly about the Pakistani victory, even though in other clips some students are seen shouting pro-Pakistan slogans as well.
In another clip from Government Medical College Srinagar, a student is seen mounting what looks like a dais and taking off her cardigan and waving it in the air. Sloganeering in support of Pakistan can be heard in the background.
Police on Monday, 25 October, evening said it has filed charges under Section 13 of UAPA dealing with advocacy, abetment, and incitement of the “commission of any unlawful activity”. Charges have also been slapped for “inciting violence against a particular class or community of persons” under Section 505 of Indian Penal Code.
Now, the controversial events have found themselves being debated on the split screens of news channels across the country, drawing adverse reactions from viewers across the spectrum.
In the Valley, politicians are scrambling to contain the fallout and are urging the administration to take a lenient view of the matter.
'Will You Arrest Kohli for Congratulating Pak Too?' Leaders React
Responding to a Twitter user calling for the suspension of students, Sajad Lone who heads People’s Conference tweeted, “I strongly disagree. If you think that they are not patriotic enough because they cheered for another team, you should have the courage and the belief to wean them back, if you think they have gone patriotically astray. Punitive actions won’t help. Have not helped in the past either.”
He further wrote that, “We live in Kashmir and have to live with those who are ideologically opposed to us. But we’re confident that it is a game of narratives of discourses. And that we will win. We will convince all about the goodness of our ideology. We will prevail. But that is if you allow us to.”
Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson National Conference, while reacting to the same tweet wrote: “Would that include those from the country who congratulated Pakistan? Will captain @imVkohli be booked? He clearly didn't mourn the loss India suffered. He even put his arm around the Pakistan Captain.”
The measures count as among the toughest that the J&K administration has taken against the displays of what is called “anti-national” behaviour since the abrogation of article 370.
They are also part of the larger trend of increasing use of UAPA, a draconian anti-terrorism law in the region. J&K already accounts for a third of the total number of UAPA cases filed across India in 2020.
Only Selective Videos Leaked
“We were watching and enjoying the match. The leaked videos are selective because they are not showing how students were also cheering and shouting slogans when Virat Kohli was hitting sixes,” a student at SKIMS Medical College who did not want to be identified told The Quint.
“That part is simply missing. Besides, there’s no fencing in our hostel. That night we had many outsiders including attendants coming to the mess and having dinner.”
The students also said that UAPA charges constituted a disproportionate response. “It’s a game, for God's sake,” he said.
“The students were enjoying the match. There were those who supported the Indian team, many others who supported Pakistan and yet many more who were neutral. There was no politics going on. We have our internal exams going on and because of this news, none of the students have been able to study properly. We are extremely tense.”Student, SKIMS Medical College
Meanwhile, female students at GMC Srinagar told The Quint that making ostentatious display of support for favourite cricket teams during sporting events had a history at college but it never led to students being charged under terrorism. The students were disappointed by the tone-deaf nature of the public commentary in the media.
“Whenever India-Pakistan matches happen, such displays are common. In fact medical students from Jammu do it more often in India’s favour than Kashmiri students do for Pakistan’s,” a female student who was hesitant to give her name said.
“This region has a certain political history. Our non-Muslim colleagues from Jammu have been very cognisant of these nuances and hardly view it adversely. In fact, when Pakistan won, they called their Kashmiri Muslim classmates and asked us to arrange a party. The relationship has been pretty healthy and harmonious until today,” the student added.
The students also alleged that their dorms often ring with slogans like ‘Jai Mata Di’, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ when things turn bad locally or when militants or protestors are killed during the forces’ action.
“It happens both ways,” the students said. “But never before were videos of such incidents taken and shared on social media. The slapping of charges is now souring the relationship. We have not been calling them and they have not been calling us since Sunday.”
The developments come amid a rare visit by Union Home Minister Amit Shah who had originally come to the UT for three days but later extended his visit. On Monday, Shah told a crowd inside Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) that he would talk to the youth of the Valley and engage with them rather than with Pakistan.
He was responding to a statement by former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah who had endorsed the idea of dialogue with Islamabad.
The Nature of UAPA and its Use
Police generally slap charges under the UAPA against militants or those civilian non-combatants who are alleged to have helped militants with logistics. In security parlance, they are called Over Ground Workers. But since August 2019, police have been increasingly resorting to UAPA to rein in civic expressions that “reek of anti-national fervour”.
In February earlier this year, police in Shopian slapped UAPA charges against Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, father of Ather Mushtaq, the slain teenager who police say was an ultra and was killed during a gunfight on the outskirts of Srinagar city in December last year. His family denies he was a militant. Wani had led protests demanding the return of the mortal remains of his son who was buried more than 100 km away in north Kashmir under a new policy.
The following month, police arrested Hilal Lone, a politician associated with the National Conference Party under the same law. He was also accused of anti-national slogans but courts were prompt to review the evidence that the police presented and issued him bail saying that his speech did not “prima facie lead to the commission of offences of unlawful activity [under]…the Act”.
This year, the police in Kashmir have also invoked UAPA against users for spreading rumours about a strike call, for resisting the cordon and search operations, for leading funeral prayers of slain militant men, for throwing stones and for raising “anti-national slogans” during protests.
Earlier this year, police also filed UAPA charges against a female Special Police Officer for refusing the entry of armed forces into her house during searches. Her language was also deemed provocative. In the video that went viral, she was seen shouting, “Kashmir humara hai” (Kashmir is ours). The female cop was later terminated from the service.
In August, the police booked many Shia Muslim mourners under UAPA for shouting anti-national slogans during the holy Ashura processions.
Last year, police detained people under the controversial legislation for accessing the internet through proxy servers, delivering “provocative sermons” inside mosques, and even for “playing cricket in memory of a dead militant”.
The increasing recourse to UAPA has fuelled the belief that the government is ruthlessly policing the dissent in Kashmir, deepening the sense of mistrust, alienation, and resentment in the region. In fact, since 2019, the J&K police have booked over 2,300 people under more than 1,200 cases filed under UAPA, among the highest in the country.
'Politics & Cricket Must Not Be Mixed'
“Politics and cricket must not be mixed,” said Nasir Khuehami, who heads J&K Students Association, a student advocacy group.
“We feel that shouting of pro-Pakistan slogans is unjustified but the harsh treatment is also uncalled for. We had already urged students to hold back their emotions and not do anything that puts their careers in jeopardy.”Nasir Khuehami, Head, J&K Students Association
Khuehami said such actions are likely to aggravate the alienation in the former state.
“We are requesting the lieutenant governor to meet us. Students have agreed to file a formal apology letter. Counselling should have been an appropriate response. Government needs to understand that such measures can have serious repercussions. Students must be given a last chance.”
(Shakir Mir is a freelance journalist who has reported for the Times Of India and The Wire, among other publications. He tweets at @shakirmir.)