A Kashmiri man has been put behind bars for allegedly “promoting enmity” by publicly saying that he “holds hope only in native officials” and not those from outside the state. The 55-year-old had expressed his opinion during a public hearing held last week in Ganderbal by Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.
Sajad Rashid Sofi of Safapora, Ganderbal, remains under preventive detention even after getting interim bail two days after his arrest on June 10.
The public hearing durbar was organised on June 10 by the Lieutenant Governor to meet common people who seek his intervention on tricky issues. The event was attended by Mr Sofi, along with six others, as part of a civil society delegation.
During the proceedings, he reportedly addressed Farooq Khan, an advisor to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.
“I can have expectations from you because you are a Kashmiri and you can understand us. I can grab you by the collar and seek answers. But what expectations can I have from officers who are outsiders?” Mr Sofi told Mr Khan.
This apparently infuriated Ganderbal Deputy Commissioner Krittika Jyotsna, who was present at the meeting. She “stood up from her seat and strongly objected”, a police report said. Ms Jyotsna is a 2014-batch Indian Administrative Service officer from Uttar Pradesh, currently on inter-cadre deputation to Jammu & Kashmir.
Mr Sofi was arrested and put under remand at the Safapora police station. He was charged under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc.” and “doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”.
Interestingly, the police took suo motu cognisance of the matter, according to Senior Superintendent of Police Sohail Munawar Mir.
“He was first arrested after making the comments at a public hearing and then granted interim bail on June 12 by a magistrate court till June 21. However, the police kept him under preventive detention as he is a potential threat to peace,” Mr Mir told NDTV.
Many serving and former IAS officers have criticised the Jammu & Kashmir police’s move to arrest Mr Sofi. Some even said the President’s Rule had been stretched too long, making officers feel empowered.
“In 1983, we the All-India Services Officers posted in Jammu & Kashmir were called ‘East India Company’ by none other than the ruling party members in the Assembly. But we never took offence,” a senior bureaucrat who served many years in the Kashmir Valley recalled.
Another senior bureaucrat said the IAS officer, Ms Jyotsna, needs to be counseled by her seniors.
“This is not the way to deal with awaam (people) in Kashmir. After all, these durbars are initiated by the Lieutenant Governor to reach out to people to listen to their problems. If officers act this way, they will further alienate the people there,” the officer said.
Jammu & Kashmir has been under Central rule since June 2018, when the BJP ended its alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party. In August 2019, India converted the restive region into a Union Territory and rendered Article 370 of the Constitution toothless, withdrawing the state’s special status.
The Union Territory has since been under a restrictive security and communication wrap.