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Denied Bail, Kashmiri Students in Agra Jail Continue To Suffer for T20 Posts

Pursuing B Tech at Raja Balwant Singh Engineering and Technical College in Agra, the trio has spent 90 days in jail.

Published
India
7 min read
Denied Bail, Kashmiri Students in Agra Jail Continue To Suffer for T20 Posts
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Sitting idle in a single-storey house, Hafeeza, a frail middle-aged woman, is heartbroken after hearing that a court had rejected the bail plea of her 22-year-old son jailed some 1,000 kilometres away, in an unknown city. Her muted tone and sunken eyes depict her hopelessness and dejection.

On Tuesday, 25 January, the CJM court in Agra rejected the bail plea of her younger son Showkat Ahmad Ganie and two other Kashmiri students – Inayat Altaf Sheikh and Arshid Paul, both residents of central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

The three students were arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police on sedition charges for allegedly celebrating the victory of the Pakistan cricket team over India in the T20 World Cup match played in Dubai on 24 October last year.
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Madhuvan Dutt, a Mathura-based senior advocate who is representing the three, after local lawyer associations refused to allow any of its members to represent them, explained to The Quint that the court rejected their "plea of compulsory bail under Section 167(2) of (Code of Criminal Procedure) filed by the trio”.

This provision, which was recently relied on by Bhima Koregaon accused Sudha Bharadwaj to get bail, gives an accused a right to get bail if the police fail to complete their investigation within a specified time limit – given the kind of offences raised here, the deadline was 90 days from their arrest.

Pursuing B Tech degrees at Raja Balwant Singh Engineering and Technical College in Agra, the trio have now spent over 90 days in jail.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Hafeeza, Showkat's mother, holding mobile phone displaying his pic.</p></div>

Hafeeza, Showkat's mother, holding mobile phone displaying his pic.

(Photo: Ishfaq Majeed Wani)

“I am losing my heart after the court rejected his bail plea,” Hafeeza, a housewife, says, at her crumbling home located on the banks of the river Jhelum in Shahgund village of north Kashmir's Bandipora district.

"He came in my dream today and shared that he (Showkat) has spent three months in jail, and he is desperate to come out... (He said) my heart is aching. Kindly do something to free me. It is cold here and I am feeling alone,” the mother lamented.

'They Arrested Him in a False & Fabricated Case'

Ganie’s family lives on the banks of the river Jhelum in a dilapidated house with cracked walls, broken windows, and rusted tin-sheets bearing witness to their abject poverty.

In a sober tune, Hafeeza continued:

"My son has completed 90 straight days in jail merely for congratulating a cricket team's win. They [police] have arrested him in a false and fabricated case."

Uttar Pradesh police in a statement has accused the three of “promoting enmity” between two groups and creating or publishing content to “promote enmity” – charges the college administration had vehemently denied while talking to The Quint.

Following their arrest, the trio were produced before a magistrate and later shifted to Agra jail; lawyers and local goons thrashed and abused them when they were produced in court. A video of the incident was widely shared on social media.

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Court Denies Bail

Back home, the families of the trio had told The Quint that they were eagerly awaiting the court’s decision. But after the court turned down their application, they are now frustrated and heartbroken.

“For the last 90 days, we had pinned our hopes on this day, but this day came as a doomsday yet again for us,” they said.

“I will tell you the truth, I have never admitted my son to any private school never ever. We never tried to offer him tuition, but rather we taught him in government-run schools from the beginning,” Showkat's brother Parvaiz Ahmad Ganie said.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Parvaiz and Hafeeza sitting in a room with cracked walls in their native village at Shahgund.</p></div>

Parvaiz and Hafeeza sitting in a room with cracked walls in their native village at Shahgund.

(Photo: Ishfaq Majeed Wani)

Today, if he was doing a professional degree, it was not because of us, he lamented, it was because of a scholarship scheme funded by the government which provided opportunities to Kashmiri students.

Like Showkat, Inayat and Arshid also belong to below-poverty-line families who hardly have the resources to pay for the legal costs of the case.

Living by a narrow lane in Shahgund, Showkat’s father Mohammad Shaban Ganie does hard labour to meet the expenses of his family.

“He makes a living by working as a labourer. Out of his earnings we hardly afford two meals,” teary-eyed Hafeeza told The Quint.

During winters, when everything comes to a halt in the valley, Shaban’s family would look after a cow to support the family. However, with the detention of their son, they sold the animal to pay their lawyer.

“I have lost my appetite since my son was jailed 1,000 kilometers away in an alien land,” she said, adding that his absence has "created a hole in my heart”.

Burden After Burden

Inside a single-story house in Chadoora, some 15 kilometers from the city Srinagar, live the family of Arshid Paul. Paul, who lost his father at a young age, is another student arrested in the case. He is the oldest among the three siblings, including two sisters.

“We had sent him to Agra to make his career, but it is now ruined. Our hopes have turned upside down. He doesn’t deserve this treatment even if he has committed any crime,” Rubeena, aunt of Arshid, told The Quint.

“It is like burden after burden,” she said, adding that her mother [Haneefa] first lost her husband at a young age and "now when she had a shoulder [son] to rely on, he too is behind bars”.

“She has none except Allah,” Rubeena concluded.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Arshid Paul's family sitting together.</p></div>

Arshid Paul's family sitting together.

(Photo: Ishfaq Majeed Wani)

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Inordinate Wait

From day one of their arrest, the families told The Quint that they have moved from pillar to post to seek the release of their children, but to no avail.

“In the beginning, the lawyers refused to provide any legal assistance in our case. Then, for months together the court wasn’t hearing our applications. And now, after 90 days of inordinate wait and suffering, the court has refused to grant them bail,” Altaf Ahmad Sheikh, father of Inayat told The Quint.

The distressed families of the three are apprehensive about the future prospects and the career of their boys.

"The career of our children is ruined by the sedition charges. Even if the court would have granted them bail, what difference would it make for them. They are no different than educated illiterates now."
Altaf Ahmad Sheikh, father of Inayat

No Money to Afford Legal Costs

With each passing day, the pain and suffering of Ganie’s parents increase manifolds.

“We are very poor people with negligible income. How can we afford his legal costs?” asked Parvaiz Ahmad Ganie, Showkat’s elder brother, adding: “we had to borrow money from neighbours to be able to visit him”.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Family of Ganie sitting on a varandah of their ramshackle house.</p></div>

Family of Ganie sitting on a varandah of their ramshackle house.

(Photo: Ishfaq Majeed Wani)

“Showkat was a bright and talented student, more than his older siblings. Even his teachers would praise him for being the topper in his school,” he said, and continued: “We couldn't provide higher education to our elder children, who dropped out of school at a young age, out of poverty.”

Hafeeza said that a day before he was arrested, college authorities had called us to convey that he (Showkat) was going to fetch a job soon. “It wasn’t less than a dream come true for us. We thought his job will relieve our burden of poverty, hardly knowing this dream too will shatter”.

“This is a catastrophe and disaster for our family that seems to have long lasting impacts,” she said, while tears rolled down her cheeks.

In the last three months, Shaban has visited Agra thrice to meet his son, but the meetings could only last for a few minutes.

"In first visit, we were only allowed to meet for five minutes. In the second and third visit we had a conversation in front of the police personnel for half an hour."
Shaban told The Quint.

“Even though Showkat is desperate to meet us, we only keep delaying on one or the other pretext,” he said, adding: "The truth is we have not even a single paisa to pay a visit to him."

Showkat would speak to his family from jail over the phone once a week. Every time he would only inquire about when he is going to walk out.

“What sort of punishment is this? If one commits a crime, isn’t there a scope for justice?” asked Parvaiz in broken words.

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Court’s Verdict Arbitrary

Senior advocate Dutt, while sharing the details of the proceedings, said: “The court took cognisance of the charge sheet presented by the police without the permissions of the state government.”

“Objecting to the cognisance, it was said that in the absence of the prior permission of the government (required under Section 196, CrPC) the court did not have jurisdiction to take cognisance,” Dutt explained.

"Obtaining permission and presenting it in original with the charge sheet is part of the investigation, and in this sense the investigation is incomplete even after 90 days of custody. Hence, the three are eligible for compulsory bail,” Dutt further said.

“I don’t consider the cognisance taken by the court and the denial of compulsory bail as legal,” he said adding: “I will soon challenge it in the high court.”

Meanwhile, Nasir Khuehami, spokesperson of student's association, Kashmir, condemned the “arbitrary” verdict of the court.

“Uttar Pradesh police filed a charge sheet against three Kashmiri students booked under sedition charges without sanction of state. This is arbitrary. Court cannot take cognisance without previous sanction,” he tweeted.

(Ishfaq Reshi is an independent journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @IshfaqReshi_)

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