Sitting idle in a small room, Gulzar Ahmad Dar in his mid-60 is yearning for the release of his two sons who have been arrested for their alleged involvement in a “militant-conspiracy” case.
Manan Gulzar, 24, a journalist by profession, and Hanan Gulzar, 22, a student of tourism, were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) last month in a “dramatic way”.
In utter shock, the family members have denied the allegations and expressed concerns about the well-being of their wards. Talking to The Quint at their home located in a narrow lane in a densely populated area in Firdous Abad colony in Batamaloo, the family members said that their sons are innocent and the charges levied against them are “false and concocted”.
“They [police] planted a false story to book my sons. They can book anyone here as per their will. Who will ask them … there is no accountability,” Gulzar Ahmad Dar, father of duo, told The Quint.
‘A Call from Police'
While narrating the sequence of events, the family members told The Quint that on the evening of 9 October, they got a call from Batamaloo Police Station, asking them to bring Manan to the police station.
“We thought journalists are being questioned, so this would be a sort of normal questioning. So, we cooperated,” Dar said. “After a while, we reached the police station. However, we were told to come back in the morning, and we went again the next morning on the 10 October.”
“On reaching there, a constable informed me that Station Head Officer (SHO) wants to meet him. After waiting for a few hours on the lawn, the officer informed us that Manan has to be taken to Cargo, the infamous interrogation centre,” Gulzar said. “I asked them the reasons why Manan has to be taken to Cargo and they gave me no explanation.”
“He [the officer] told me to go home and let him [Manan] be there. However, I refused, saying I will stay here till you won’t shift him,” Dar said. “They put him in a vehicle in front of my eyes and left for the Cargo”.
“Since that day,” Dar said, “I kept visiting the police station and the Cargo centre asking for the whereabouts of my son, but they always feigned negligence.”
NIA Raid at Home
“On 13 October, we had just finished our breakfast when the National Investigation Agency raided our home,” said Dar.
“After searching for over four hours, they turned upside down the rugs, papers, beds, books and everything that was inside the house. But they didn’t find anything incriminating during the raid,” said Huma, cousin of Manan.
“However, they took away photocopies of passbooks, Aadhar cards and land papers of my uncle and took us [Hanan and me] along to the police station and then to the NIA office to sign some papers. Late at night, they allowed us to go home,” Dar said.
However, the NIA issued a statement on 13 October, stating that the agency conducted searches at 16 locations across Kashmir in relation to the “hatching of conspiracy both physically and in cyberspace for undertaking violent militancy acts in J&K”.
The NIA had further said that they have seized some gadgets and incrementing material during the raids and registered a case (RC 29/2021/NIA/DLI) on 10 October 2021 in this regard.
However, the statement mentions the arrest of neither Hanan nor Manan.
“They seized property papers and cell phones. Is that incriminating material?” he asks.
Manan’s Brother Arrested in Similar Fashion
Manan’s younger brother, Hanan, a second-year college student at IGNOU University, was detained on 17 October in a similar fashion, the family told The Quint.
“On 17 October, we received a call from the police asking to present Hanan at the police station. The officer told us that he would be questioned in front of his brother [Manan] and would be released tomorrow,” Dar said.
However, Fahmeeda, their mother, told The Quint that days have passed but both of her sons have not been released so far.
Although on 20 October the NIA in a statement took the responsibility for the arrest of Hanan, there was still no information about Manan. “The media reports, quoting the NIA statement, had only named Hanan’s arrest by the agency,” added Dar.
On 22 October, the NIA issued another statement confirming the arrest of photojournalist Manan Gulzar Dar. “During the searches at ten locations across Kashmir eight people were arrested related to ‘conspiracy for undertaking violent militant acts in Jammu and Kashmir’,” NIA said in a statement.
The people arrested were identified as Adil Ahmad War, Manan Gulzar Dar, Hilal Ahmed Dar, Sobia Aziz, Rouf Bhatt, Shaqib Bashir, Zamin Adil, and Haris Nisar Langoo.
Manan's Work Was Featured in Many Publications
Manan’s work as a photojournalist with the pen name Muhammed Manan has been featured in many international news organisations. He has also appeared in The Guardian’s compilation of ‘Twenty Photographs of the Week’.
“See, these are the pictures clicked by Manan and we’re published by The Guardian,” Huma told The Quint while pointing to a photograph on her cell phone.
“If clicking the sufferings of people amounts to jail, jail all journalists. Booking a journalist in a fabricated case is an assault and a direct attack on journalism,” she added.
She said, “He had done a diploma in photography and he was sincere in his profession.”
Manan also loved cricket and spent a lot of time playing. “At night, he would often fall off his bed while dreaming of cricket,” she added.
Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, could not be contacted for comments despite attempts by The Quint.
'We Went to Srinagar, But Manan Wasn't There'
It was only on the evening of 22 October that Huma’s brother Yasir, got a call from the NIA, informing him that they had arrested Manan and he will be presented before the lower court the next day in Srinagar.
“They told us to come to lower court, and we went there,” said Dar’s family, who was hoping to see Manan after days.
“But they did not present him in the court citing bad weather as the reason. The hearing commenced online and the lawyer informed us that Manan will be taken to Delhi on remand on 24 October,” she added.
Dar said that Manan was initially detained at Cargo, a notorious detention centre in Srinagar. He said they came to know about Manan’s detention by the NIA on 22 October, when they got a call from a friend.
“He has been taken to Delhi,” Dar said, quoting the lawyer. The family says they don’t know the reason behind Manan being taken to Delhi.
“My son wanted to study further in one of the reputed universities in Aligarh, but the recent arrests have ruined his career,” Dar said, adding that the authorities have spoiled the career of many youth by slapping them with terror cases.
“At this stage,” Dar said, "though we demand release of our sons, we have no expectations from them [the authorities] because had they been sincere , they would have let us meet our children at least”.
“Only those whose sons are facing the wrath of jail can understand our suffering and pain,” said Fahmeeda, adding, “Sooner or later, my sons will be proven innocent.”
(Ishfaq Reshi is an independent journalist based in Kashmir)