How A ‘Cricket Match’ Got 10 Kashmiri Youths Booked Under UAPA
How did a seemingly innocent cricket match go wrong? How did the 10 young men get into trouble? Here’s the story.
Jailed in the lock-up of a South Kashmir Police Station, 23-year-old Umer Wani wants to know from his father, Farooq Ahmad Wani, a farmer, when the police are going to set him free.
On Saturday, 5 September, Umer, a final year undergraduate student at Degree College Shopian, completed four days in police custody. He was arrested by the J&K Police along with nine other youngsters, most of them students from Pashpora, Mazham, Babanad and Nazimpora villages of Shopian district, earlier this week.
The police charged the youngsters (in FIR No. 206 of 2020) under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for the alleged ‘glorification of militancy’ – after a picture, showing them in a photo next to the grave of a militant commander – did the rounds on social media in Kashmir.
The photo in question was clicked in Shopian’s Nazimpora village on 3 August, when a local cricket team of Pashpora village was returning home after a victory against a neighbouring team, Umer’s father, Farooq, said.
“If the police find a tiny stain on his character, they can put him in jail for life. Neither my son nor I have ever indulged in any wrongdoing. We are peace-loving people. Our village has not produced a single militant. I don’t understand why they have made an issue out of it,” he told this journalist for The Quint.
The Controversial Cricket Match
Ahead of the 3 August clash, Syed Tajamul Imran, another youngster arrested by the police, had distributed customised uniforms among his teammates. The name of ‘Syed Rubani’, Imran’s brother, who commanded the Al-Badr militant outfit in south Kashmir before he was killed in January 2019, was emblazoned on the back of the shirts.
Having won the match, Umer’s father Farooq said that the team members stopped at Nazimpora graveyard in Shopian upon the request of Imran, who proposed to offer ‘Fateh Khawani’ for his deceased brother, a practice followed in the Muslim world on auspicious occasions.
The graveyard falls along the six km stretch that connects the native villages of the arrested youngsters with the cricket ground.
“They all agreed because they were not committing a crime. If people die after consuming poisoned sweets distributed at a temple, would you blame the victims for their death,” Farooq asked.
Some years ago, Farooq, who then worked as a mason, survived a fall from a three-storey building. Multiple fractures and surgeries, the scars of which are still visible on his body, have prevented him from returning to work. His youngest son is pursuing a diploma in computer science.
“I could not believe my eyes. I had never thought of seeing him in police lock-up. He looked after our orchard, our only source of sustenance, while also pursuing his education. I don’t know how we will survive in his absence,” Farooq told The Quint.
Other Young Detainees Under UAPA
A pall of gloom has been cast over the village of Pashpora, which lies among the dense apple orchards of Shopian, since the arrest of five of its youngsters. The Quint spoke with their parents who claimed that their children were “innocent”.
Abdul Majid Khan, whose son, Aqib Ahmad Khan – an undergraduate student at Shopian Degree College – has also been arrested in the case, told The Quint:
“None of them has any history of militancy or stone-pelting. It is a conspiracy to push our sons onto the wrong path.”
The other youngsters of Pashpora village who have been held are Gowhar Sheikh, Sajad Ahmad Dar and Zubair Ayoub. Except one, all of them are college students.
Another arrested youngster, Wasim Ahmad, is a student of Kashmir’s Islamic University of Science and Technology. The eighth detainee has been identified as Ashiq Ahmad, a private teacher. Both of them live in Mazhama village.
Syed Shahid, another student arrested in the case, hails from Babanad village. The identity of the tenth youngster is yet to be known.
The Connection With The Deceased Militant
Imran, who was preparing for competitive exams, was the last person arrested in the case. He was picked up from his rented accommodation in Srinagar’s Jawahar Nagar locality by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Wednesday.
A middle-rung officer told Syed Mohammad Hussain, his father, on Friday, 4 September, that the case under the anti-terror law was ‘out of their hands’. Hussain, a resident of Nazimpora village (adjoining Pashpora), has been going to police establishments in their district for help since the last two days.
A former student activist, Imran has an MBA from a college in Chandigarh. According to Hussain who is an apple farmer, the (cricket) teammates had clicked photos at Rubani’s grave. He said they couldn’t afford to purchase the uniforms and so Imran had bought it for them.
Hussain asked, adding that Imran had distributed the uniforms to encourage the youth to participate in sporting activities:
“Recently someone uploaded one of the photos on social media and it has gone viral. We don’t know why he has been arrested. Has he committed a crime by praying for his dead brother.”
Imran was held by a team from Srinagar’s Kothi Bagh police station on Wednesday night. Syed Aaliya, Imran’s sister, was informed by one of his friends about the arrest, and she broke the news to her parents.
“It’s been nearly a month since the match was played. Why has it become an issue now? I have already lost one brother. What do they want to achieve by punishing him now,” Aaliya asked.
In a statement earlier, Imran had said he had distributed 100 cricket uniforms among the participants of the cricket tournament in the “loving memory of his brother”.
“I distributed these cricket uniforms as this was my brother’s favourite game. He was a talented cricketer, admired by his friends for his love for the game, and his talent” his statement read.
A senior police officer said that “distributing or circulating material” related to militants is an attempt to “glamourise militancy.” “Such acts won’t be tolerated,” the officer said, wishing to remain anonymous.
However, a senior lawyer of Shopian, Habeel Iqbal, said that the use of UAP Act against the young boys for celebrating a cricket win is “yet another instance of it being a harrowing law.”
“Using an anti-terror law over a trivial celebration is highly disproportionate and oppressive. It will take months together for them to be bailed out which is ludicrous, considering the nature of the activity for which they have been arrested. In the longer run, it may destroy their future,” Habeel said.
Since Tajamul Imran’s arrest, a trickle of neighbours and relatives have been pouring into their house in Nazimpora to comfort the family. A Maruti, recently bought by Hussain for his only son, lies idly parked in their courtyard.
“One brother was killed just last year and now they have taken away the remaining one, and that too over a cricket match. This is the height of tyranny,” said a neighbour, wishing to stay anonymous.
Imran’s father said he hadn’t seen the FIR or the charges filed by the police against his son. After the killing of Rubani, his militant son, he had looked to Imran, his other son, as a pillar to lean on in their old age.
“A human being has two kidneys. One of mine was already taken. Now they want to take another. What can I do? I am helpless,” Hussain said, tears welling up in his eyes.
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk. This is a report and analysis, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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