Jammu and Kashmir Police detained at least 150 separatist leaders, mainly from the Jamaat-e-Islami, on Saturday, more than a week after a a suicide attack in Pulwama, Hindustan Times reported. Jamaat-e-Islami local chief, Abdul Hamid Fayaz, are among those detained.
The crackdown comes ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Article 35A of the Constitution. The article, incorporated into the Indian Constitution in 1954, grants special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The hearing is likely to be on Monday.
Security has been increased in Jammu and Kashmir with the Centre on Friday deploying 100 additional companies of paramilitary forces to the state.
Police said detaining separatist leaders was routine and that leaders and potential stone pelters have been picked up in the past as well. However, an unidentified official said this was the first major crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami, a socio-religious political party, according to PTI.
The Jamaat-e-Islami has been previously considered the parent political party of the militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, but the organisation has maintained that it is a socio-religious group.
A Jamaat-e-Islami spokesperson said police and other forces launched a “mass arrest drive” during the intervening night of February 22 and 23 and arrested several of its central and district-level leaders, according to Greater Kashmir.
The spokesperson said the move seemed like a “well designed ploy and that there was something fishy” with the state’s special position being listed in the Supreme Court. “Article 35(A) which grants special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is being heard within days and the way forces personnel unleashed the spree of mass arrest and detained dozens of Jama’at members prior to the hearing seems something is hatching behind the curtains,” the spokesperson said.
Th spokesperson said any attempt at “eroding or tempering Article 35A” is unacceptable for people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Separatist leader Yasin Malik was detained late on Friday at his Srinagar home. The Joint Resistance Leadership, a coalition of separatist groups, has called for a shutdown in the Valley on Sunday to protest the mass detentions.
Shops and commercial establishments in Srinagar, Banihal and district headquarters were closed on Sunday, while vehicles stayed off the roads in the Valley, Greater Kashmir reported. Restrictions were imposed in areas falling under five police station jurisdictions in Srinagar city.
State leaders question move
“To protest these arbitrary mass arrests, nocturnal raids, insecurity among people due to state repression, killings and censorship and any tampering with Article 35-A, a strike will be observed on 24 February 2019 (Sunday),” it said in a statement.
Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti questioned the legality of the move. “Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in J&K,” she tweeted on Saturday. “Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said some government orders were “adding to the sense of panic” in the state. “People in the valley, especially the cities [and] towns, are taking everything said or done as a sign that some big trouble is just around the corner,” he tweeted on Saturday. Abdullah said people were hoarding food and fuel.
The former chief minister said the administration should take steps to reduce the sense of panic. “People are wound tight with worry [and] the speculation on some TV news channels is contributing to this as well,” he said. “Let’s hope someone in the government is listening.
Hurriyat Conference chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq condemned the detention of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and Yasin Malik. “Such illegal and coercive measures against Kashmiri’s are futile and will not change realities on ground. Force and intimidation will only worsen the situation,” he tweeted.
Orders issued by some government departments added to the fears of people, according to PTI. The Government Medical College in Srinagar cancelled winter vacation of its faculty members and directed them to report for work on Monday.
The Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, which provides ration to people through its outlets, directed its staff members in South Srinagar to complete sale of food grains in their respective areas by Saturday evening. They were also directed to keep ration depots and sale outlets open on Sunday as well.
The Kashmir administration, meanwhile, said rationing of fuel was ordered due to shortage of stocks from continuous closure of Jammu-Srinagar highway. “Efforts are underway to replenish the stocks at the earliest and the rationing order will be withdrawn as soon as the stocks are received,” ANI reported. The administration asked public to not heed to rumour suggesting “other motives” behind the rationing.