On March 8, the Delhi Police’s special cell announced they had detained a Kashmiri couple, Jahanzaib Sami Wani, and his wife, Hina Bashir Beg, living in a rented flat in Jamia Nagar. They had links with the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province module, the police alleged, and were also involved in instigating protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The police also claimed they had seized objectionable material found in the couple’s possession.
Wani’s family in Srinagar is shocked by the news of the detention. They live in Shivpora, a posh neighbourhood, adjacent to the heavily fortified Badami Bagh army cantonment. The family.
“They were picked up around 3.30 in the morning of March 8,” said Sehrish Sami, Wani’s younger sister and a law student. “Their landlord didn’t call us directly. He got in touch with one of my brother’s friends there.”
According to Sami, one of her cousins, living in Delhi, had tried to reach out to the police later in the day. “They didn’t allow him to meet my brother. He could see him [Wani] from a distance, he didn’t see my sister-in-law. They didn’t show him any FIR or document.”
On the morning of March 9, her father, Abdul Sami Wani, flew to Delhi to look into the matter personally.
Moving to Delhi
Wani and Beg, both 36, had married on October 6 last year. Kashmir was still under lockdown. After the Centre stripped the state of special status under Article 370 and split it into two Union Territories on August 5, it had placed severe restrictions on the Valley, including a communications blackout. An internet shutdown imposed on August 5 dragged on for months. According to Sami, the couple would not have been in Delhi had it not been for the internet shutdown.
“My brother was working as an IT professional in a UK-based company which had an office in Srinagar,” said Sami. “He had shifted to Srinagar from Pune in June last year.”
But as the internet blockade entered its second month, the company asked Wani to shift to Delhi. “He left [Srinagar] on September 2 and returned on September 29,” said Sami. “At that time, he was living in accommodation provided by his company. The company accommodation was also in Okhla.”
After getting married, Wani left for Delhi again on October 21. This time, he rented his own flat.
Both Wani and Beg had left the Valley for higher education. Wani got a BTech degree and post-graduate degree in management. Beg had a bachelors in computer applications and a masters in business administration from Pune. “She worked in various multinational banks outside Kashmir but some years ago she quit her job,” said Sami.
Wani’s father owns a manufacturing unit which produces cattle feed. His mother is a retired private school teacher.
The Wani family greeted the police charges with disbelief. Reports quoting unidentified police officials say Wani had been on the radar of intelligence agencies for a while. According to them, his role in the Afghanistan-based affiliate of the Islamic State had largely been restricted to spreading propaganda. Officials also claimed Wani had been in touch with a Pakistani operative who had been part of the Lashkar-e-Taiba before joining the Islamic State’s Khorasan module and had played a key role in recruiting young Kashmiris to militancy.
“I stayed with them for three months, I returned from Delhi on January 18,” protested Sami. Her stay in Delhi had coincided with the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Shaheen Bagh, close to Jamia Nagar, that Wani and Beg are accused of inciting. Her brother constantly advised her to stay away from these protests, she said. “He didn’t even allow me to go out to the verandah,” she said.
According to his family, Wani was usually indifferent to discussions about the Kashmir conflict. But Sami said that, like many Muslims around the world, he was pained by the situation in Syria. “It’s normal to feel sad about what’s happening there, it’s not wrong,” she said.
She questioned the Delhi police’s claim that they had found incriminating “literature” in the couple’s possession. “My brother and sister-in-law are very religious,” said Sami. “They are observant Muslims. They read religious books and the Quran. How is that incriminating material? Is reading religious literature a crime?”
She was also incensed that the media had used a photograph of her sister-in-law that revealed her face. “It’s a very old picture,” Sami said. “She wears complete hijab these days. She wouldn’t like her face to be seen by all.”
The police visit Shivpora
On Sunday, sleuths from the local Ram Bagh police station in Srinagar also paid a visit to Shivpora. “They were just verifying his antecedents and asking about his conduct,” said a relative who did not want to be named. “They also spoke to Jahanzaib’s father.”
Other residents of Shivpora are also mystified by the arrest. “This is the first time I have seen police entering this locality,” said a neighbour of the Wanis. “Everyone here is shocked and puzzled. Nobody here believes what the Delhi Police says.”