Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy told Rajya Sabha on February 5 that 389 people are currently in detention under the PSA in J&K. He added that detention orders were issued against 444 people under the Act since August 2019.
Soon after Modi government declared revocation of J&K’s special status, district police chiefs in Kashmir were ordered to take pre-emptive action to contain the anticipated blowback with an iron hand.
The Union Home Ministry is said to have warned that in case of protests and demonstrations, they will be held accountable.
Little wonder then that in no time, the Superintendents of police were galvanised into action. The result was mass detention of people, mostly on the basis of suspicion.
The idea was to ensure a chilling effect on the population and few Superintendents bothered to see of the arrests and detentions were deserved or warranted.
Advocate Mohammad Ashraf Wani, a former executive member of Kashmir Bar Association has filed over 50 petitions in the fresh PSA related cases. But he has got only five cases dismissed so far.
Last month, the J&K Home Department had revoked the stringent act against 26 people—who were lodged in various jails in the newly-carved out UT.
“As per the apex court’s directions, the petitions concerning PSA must be heard on priority. But in practice it’s not happening,” he says.
“The Srinagar High Court has a sanctioned strength of 17 judges but as of now at least nine posts are lying vacant. There are several other reasons as well because of which hearings are getting delayed,” Wani discloses.
In the few cases in which the court has ruled in favour of people detained under PSA, the court orders are apparently being ignored. Wani cites the case of a final year BSc student, Asif Khurshid, a resident of Handwara. He is currently lodged in a jail in Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh.
“Khurshid was expected to write his final exams on February 8 in Srinagar but despite court order the police didn’t cooperate,” he laments, adding that he is resigned to the situation. “There is no point in filing a contempt petition. It won’t make any difference. There is absolutely no hope.”
One person booked under PSA has lost his life in detention. Ghulam Mohammad Bhat (62), a native of Kulangam Bagh village in North Kashmir’s Handwara town, who was booked under PSA, died in Naini Jail in Prayagraj in UP in December last year.
He had been arrested at Chougal police station on July 17, 2019 and then taken to Anantnag, some 55 km south of Srinagar, and lodged in the district jail before he was finally shifted to Naini Jail weeks later. He is said to be a separatist leader.
Amnesty International India in a research paper published in June 2019, “Tyranny of A ‘Lawless Law’: Detention without Charge or Trial under the J&K PSA”, maintained, “the role of the detaining authority has been little more than a rubber stamp, with officials frequently failing to properly scrutinize and evaluate the information presented to them by the police, and preparing detention orders riddled with errors, vague and general allegations and contradictions.”
It also accused the authorities of frequently misusing Section 19 of the PSA to issue repeat detention orders to keep people in detention for prolonged periods.
Section 19 states that “there shall be no bar to making of a fresh order of detention against a person on the same facts as an earlier order of detention where the earlier order of detention is not legal on account of any technical defect or where the order has been revoked by reason of any apprehension, for avoiding any challenge that such order or its continuance is not legal on account of any technical defect.”
However, Amnesty maintains that authorities frequently issue repeat detention orders on the same grounds as earlier orders, arguing that the earlier orders had been quashed on “technical grounds” even when they were quashed on substantive grounds.
“This then contributes to creating a ‘revolving-door detention’ system, where detainees whose PSA orders are quashed are immediately detained again under fresh orders on identical or similar grounds,” it observes.
Wani gives live examples. At least three executive body members of the Bar remain in different jails despite release orders, he claims.
According to PSA dossier against them, the booked Bar members are accused of providing assistance to the separatist leaders involved in criminal cases.
“Even when the cases got quashed, the police booked them on the same charges again. There are people, for example separatist leader Masarat Alam, against whom PSA has been slapped nearly 10-20 times to make sure that they don’t come out of the jail,” he says, adding, “Earlier, police would book only militants and their supporters. But this time, the PSA is being used in the most random and arbitrary manner.”
On Twitter, Kashmir-born, London-based journalist and novelist Mirza Waheed, recently offered a “tiny bit of native wisdom for journalists newly awakened to the horrors in Kashmir”.
“The PSA was always a cruel thing, a Gestapo-style ‘lawless law’ used to keep thousands of ordinary Kashmiris in jail. It’s a tragic abdication of your duty to have not listened to us for 30 years,” he wrote.
Corroborating his views, Wani avers, there were already over 600 PSA related petitions pending in the Srinagar HC in January last year.