That Kashmir is in a permanent state of emergency is in no way an overstatement. Besides overuse of force, an un-ending process of so-called legal and bureaucratic operations portrays a terrifying picture of the valley. While the overuse of force grabs attention, the bureaucratic manipulations are often ignored. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has quashed 28 Public Safety Act (PSA) detentions in the past 16 days, exposing the bureaucratic and administrative suppression people of Kashmir are facing. However, most of those whose PSA detention has been quashed by the High Court continue to remain behind bars, some of them slapped with a fresh PSA case.
More recently, the Jammu and Kashmir high court quashed the 35th PSA order against the separatist leader Masarat Alam on December 27. But his release from jail remains a question mark, even though he has already spent some 17 years of his life in prison. As reports suggest, the state administration is preparing another dossier against the detained activist to keep him jailed under the draconian Public Safety Act. The black law enacted by Shiekh Abdullah in 1978 to take action against timber smugglers has mostly been used for the preventive detention of the people with opposing political ideas. It provides for administrative detention of a person for a period of three and six months without a trial but it can be extended to one and two years.
The orders, however, have to pass the scrutiny by the district magistrates or divisional commissioners but, most of these officials act as rubber stamps of the government and they pass orders without giving an iota of thought to it. Since the rise of militancy in early 90s, the use of PSA has been rampant and indiscriminate. More than 30,000 people have been jailed under this law over the years. The most brutal feature of the State’s use of the PSA is the way it deliberately targets young people, with little regard to whether they are minors or not. Most of them, loosely categorised as stone pelters, are usually detained under the PSA.
During 2010 summer uprising, then chief minister Omar Abdullah broke all the records by arresting minors under this law. Faizan Ahmad (14) of Anantnag, Asif Shakhsaz (15), Sajjad Mir (16), Naeem Ahmad Dar (14) — all from Srinagar — and Adil Khan (14) of Sopore to name a few, included among scores of minor boys who were jailed under PSA.
PDP, outside government, had always opposed the law. Late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, on many occasions, termed it as draconian and sought its abrogation. In 2010, PDP MLA Basharat Bukhari (now horticulture minister) brought an amendment bill in the state assembly to stop the misuse of the law, which was instantly rejected by the NC-dominated House. One had expected that after its rise to power, PDP would do away with the law or, at least, amend it to stop its misuse. But the PDP, who shares power with BJP in the state, has proved worse. Most of the persons presently facing the brunt of the law are the common people, young being the primary one, who hit the streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The strategy is to curb the physical movements of youth who have been the vanguards of most protests. The detentions have miserably failed to stand to the test in courts. Courts have never confirmed the detention of even one case since the brutal law was enacted by Shiekh Abdullah. The powers-that-be need to understand this grim reality that blatant use of the PSA, which Amnesty International has termed as lawless law, has only added to the alienation of the people. Government should adopt some amenable and human face to win peoples’ confidence.