Thirty-two-year-old Mohammed Haneef Ahmad was sitting outside his one-storey house in Kulangam Handwara in North Kashmir with other mourners lamenting his father 65-year-old Ghulam Mohammed Bhat's death. Bhat was a former member of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested on 17 July and booked under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). Bhat died in Naini jail in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj.
It is the first death of a political prisoner from the Kashmir Valley in a jail outside the state since 5 August, when the Narendra Modi-led Centre revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories.
Haneef says some plain clothed officers from Chogul police post in Handwara came to his house on 20 December (Friday) at around 6 pm to inform him that his father was sick in Naini jail and that the PSA charges against him had been quashed. The family had challenged the case and it came up for hearing on Friday.
Haneef said he hadn't seen his father since his arrest in July since he was shifted to the UP jail on 22 August. When the plain-clothed officials showed up at his home, Haneef told them it was difficult for the family to arrange for tickets in such short notice to travel all the way to Prayagraj. The officers left, but they came back on Saturday with tickets to Lucknow. "You have to just bring him back home," they told Haneef.
Bhat died 16,000 kilometres away from his home in Naini Central Prison. Bhat, who was frail when jailed, was among 20 Kashmiri prisoners brought to Naini prison from Anantnag. They had been detained under the stringent PSA immediately after the Centre scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The septuagenarian was already quite ill during the time of his detention and had been suffering from ailments like gastroenteritis, pancreatitis and liver issues, the police said. Bhat was transferred to Naini prison because the government thought that if he were in Anantnag he would disrupt peace. Interestingly, the superintendent of Naini prison HB Singh said that Bhat was paralysed when he was brought to Prayagraj. "He was paralysed at that time and could barely move on his own."
Singh also said that Bhat was kept in the jail barracks initially but after a few days he was sent to the jail hospital for treatment. The SP said that Bhat's post-mortem report showed that he died due to septic shock and infection to the lungs. However, the family refuses to buy the cause of death.
"He (Bhat) was very healthy and wouldn't even take as many medicines," told 54-year-old Zareefa Begum, Bhat's wife, who was sitting with the mourners and wondered what actually happened to her husband. According to Zareefa, Bhat was suffering from arthritis but never had any other health issues.
Haneef was taken to the Srinagar airport where he was accompanied by plain-clothed officials. They landed at Lucknow airport and went directly to the police station where they met the jailer. "Your father is dead," were the first words that Haneef heard from the jailer. Haneef was shocked because he went thinking he will be bringing his father back home a free man. "I was told to identify the body of my father and then they sent his body for postmortem," Haneef said.
Bhat's body reached Handwara late on Saturday night.
The family, however, is not convinced about the reasons cited for Bhat's death. One of Haneef's relatives, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the current situation and said, "Court bhi inki, judge bhi inka," mocking the process in which things were done.
Bhat was a former member of Jamaat-e-Islami, an organisation which was banned in February 2018 after being declared an unlawful association by the Centre. Police arrested hundreds of Jamaat-e-Islami members after Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement and alleged that the group was "in close touch with militant outfits".
The PSA dossier alleged that Bhat tried to disturb "peace and order" in the Valley in 2016 when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces. "He was always very religious and was associated with Jamaat since he has young. That's why he was framed in these cases," one of the family members who didn't wish to be named said.
Bhat, who worked as a labourer, was arrested on 22 February in 2019 on the charges of unlawful activities, and released in May this year. He was again arrested in July 2019 and shifted to Naini jail in Uttar Pradesh.
Bhat's family presently lives in a small three-room house which reflects their high financial strain. The family is clueless after Bhat's death. "Who is responsible," asks Zareefa who last saw Bhat on 17 July when he was taken to Uttar Pradesh. None of them even remember their last conversation with Bhat, laments Zareefa.
However, Zareefa adds that probably her last conversation with her husband was when Bhat told her that he has been called by the police in Kupwara and that he does not know whether he would come back soon. "May God keep you all safe," were his last words to his family.
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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2019 14:19:21 IST