Tral: Five days after the militant attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy killed at least 40 paramilitary personnel, a large number of armed forces personnel carried out a midnight raid at the house of a labourer, Mehraj-ud-in Chopan. His wife, children — a five-year-old daughter and a toddler son — and mother were forced into a room before the 24-year-old Mehraj was whisked away. The family was told that he would be released soon and was taken away to assist the forces in carrying out searches in the village.
It was only three days later that they learned that he was lodged at a police station, before being shifted to a jail in Jammu, where he remains imprisoned under the Public Safety Act (PSA) under
an executive detention order. His family lives in modest mud-and-brick house among a cluster of similar houses on a hillside in the Handoora village of Tral and does not have the financial means to afford the lawyers to fight his case.
A police official at Tral Police Station said that Mehraj was detained under the PSA in connection with a case involving the recovery of arms. The raid at his house was part of a crackdown on youths who have been supporting the militancy or indulging in stone-pelting after the 14 February convoy attack.
Mehraj's detention order has been issued by the deputy commissioner at Pulwama under the PSA, a law that has however been often abused by authorities as the detention orders are issued on the basis of a police dossier and not by the courts. Critics of the law are of the view that it was applied to avoid the "release" of youths on bail by the courts.
Advocate Shafaqat Hussain said that the PSA was a "draconian law" and " in cases of stone pelting or those related to militancy people are held in the prisons for upto two years without trial". He added, "The period of prison detention is extended often without any fresh evidence about any illegal involvement of a person and is done when the person is in prison. It is a draconian law and people are not even released after the detention has been quashed by the high court," he said.
In the southern district of Pulwama in Kashmir, where Mehraj and his family live, at least 18 youths have been detained under the PSA since 14 February, said an official at the deputy commissioner's office in Pulwama on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media. The detentions were confirmed by the PSA board of the Home Department, which is headed by a retired high court judge.
But Shafaqat said that the PSA board "was not working fairly" and even as it was empowered to revoke any cases that are "wrongly framed", it has been doing so "rarely".
A senior official of the Prisons Department said that at least 50 people have been imprisoned since 14 February, which does not include the large number of people detained at police stations.
"We have seen numbers swell, which could be also on account of the ban on Jamat-e-Islami," he said. Scores of JeI cadres were arrested earlier after authorities banned the religious and political
organisation that calls for holding a plebiscite in Kashmir.
The separatists have said that the night raids, like the one at Mehraj's house, at the homes of their leaders after the convoy attack was a "heavy-handed" measure. The night raids were more common during the protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, in 2016, in which over 75 civilians had died.
Mehraj's house is only a few kilometres away from Burhan's multi-storey home in Tral across a foot track and at least two more youths from the area have been detained in past week by the forces.
On the day Mehraj's house was raided, his mother, Khatija Begum, was baffled by the manner in which the raids were carried out at their house.
"The forces barged us into a room and told us that my son would be released in few hours. I waited till 1 am, but he was not released. I am worried about his safety," she said.
Mehraj’s wife, Nigeena, said that her husband had been framed in a false case.
"Several years ago, the police also charged him falsely for indulging in stone-pelting during an encounter at Aripal. He was the only breadwinner in our family and it is difficult to eke out a living after his detention," she said.
Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 19:09:25 IST