Shopian: Zainab has not seen her father for over four months now. She is just two years old and doesn’t leave her mother’s side for even a moment. Shazia spends most of her day consoling her daughter who can barely speak a few words, including “papa.”
Shazia’s husband, Rouf Ahmad Dar, was arrested in June this year for allegedly supporting the “ideology of secessionism”, a charge his family denies. The authorities, in Rouf’s dossier, claimed he was a member of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), a socio-political organisation which was banned in Kashmir in February last year.
“He was just a student and spent most of his time in studies. He has never participated in any such activities that would jeopardise his family,” Shazia says.
A post-graduate in Arabic from the University of Kashmir, Rouf was preparing for the National Eligibility Test (NET) and M. Phil degree at the university before he was arrested. According to a relative, he was never a member of JeI but was formerly associated with Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT), a student organisation affiliated with Jamaat. Rouf, 32, was a member of the organisation till 2017, his family members say.
Rouf is currently lodged in Srinagar central jail under the Public Safety Act or PSA and in his dossier he is accused of being involved in “anti-national activities and threatened the sovereignty and peace” in his area. His family, however, claims he has been “detained illegally on false charges.”
At his home in Khurrampora village of Shopian’s Imam Sahib area, about 60 km from Srinagar city, his daughter Zainab has not been keeping well since his arrest. “She calls for her father a lot and I keep telling her that he is coming soon. It has become tedious,” Shazia says.
A few days ago, Rouf’s name was associated with Jamia Siraj ul Uloom, an educational institution in Shopian’s Hillow village of Imam Sahib, as a “teacher” involved in militancy-related activities. His family, however, says he never taught there.
Rouf was named along with two others identified as Abdul Ahad Bhat and Muhammad Yousuf Wani, the trio, according to the police, were booked under PSA. This has also brought the institute under the scanner of the security grid.
The authorities in the region believe the institute has ties with JeI even as there no apparent links have been established.
Farooq Ahmad, principal of Siraj ul Uloom Educational Society, told NewsClick that the three men had never taught at the institute since it was established in 2000. The school administration maintains that they are not affiliated with the organisation at all.
“It is an independent institution and our records, finances are open and clean. We have earlier cooperated with the authorities as well. We cannot understand why our name is unnecessarily being dragged into controversies,” Farooq says.
Shopian, one of the most politically volatile districts of the Valley, is considered to be a hotbed of insurgency. The district is also known for the best apple produce and its dense orchards provide a tactical advantage to militants for hiding and escape. But, a majority of local militants were also killed around here this year.
The Jamia Siraj campus is spread over 15 acres and has additional 5 acres of apple orchards. The land was donated for the establishment of an educational institute by a local land owner and Sufi mystic, Peer Gul Muhammad Sofi. The institute offers education from Class V and college degrees in arts and science, as per the state education board and University of Kashmir curriculum, respectively.
“Over 600 students are currently enrolled in the institute. Apart from regular education, we teach the Quran and Arabic as additional subjects,” Farooq says.
The institute began advertising for its admissions for 2021 which have since been affected due to the fresh controversy. The administration has received a list of 11 alumni from the authorities who have been allegedly associated with militancy in the region.
According to a staff member, none of them is an active militant currently and weren’t involved while they were enrolled or employed in the institute. “Besides, this number is too less if we compare it with the thousands of students who have passed out from this institution in two decades,” the member says, wishing anonymity.
The administration of the institute, which is situated close to an Army camp, a Central Reserve Police Force camp, and a police station, says many of their students have also joined the police and Army. “We do not belong to a particular school of thought, as is being propagated. We have enrolled students from all social and religious backgrounds and employed teachers the same way,” Farooq says.
Muhammad Yousuf Wani, who has been named along with Rouf, was released recently after his health condition deteriorated. The 65-year-old father of four children lives in Maldera village of Shopian. His family also denied that he ever taught in Jamia but worked in the institute’s mess for some period.
Yousuf is old, diabetic and hypertensive and under rigorous medication, including for pulmonary issues. His family says he was associated with Jamaat e Islami until it was banned last year. “Since then he has been either detained or has been dealing with his health problems. He never taught at Siraj ul Uloom and he would stay mostly at home since he is old now,” a relative said.
Regarding the arrests, during a press briefing in Srinagar, IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar said the police had “data” but refused to share any information in the case with the media.
Scores of Jamaat activists and senior office bearers of the organisation have been arrested across Kashmir Valley since the ban. The Jamaat, which is separate from India, Pakistan or Bangladeshi chapters, is believed to have a strong sway in Kashmir. Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani was a member of JeI for nearly five decades and even won state Assembly elections twice as JeI participated in polls before the armed insurgency broke out in the region.
Following the ban on JeI, the government said it will keep schools, mosques and orphanages outside the scope of seizures and sealing. Pertinently, JeI doesn’t own a mosque or school in the Valley currently. It ran a network of schools in the region but these were detached from its organisational structure after the National Conference (NC) government issued an order against it in 1971.
The schools then came under the Falaah e Aam Trust (FAT), a state-registered trust. As many as 350 schools are currently functional under FAT, and are either directly run by the trust or by the village-level committees. But, all these are former affiliates of the organisation.
One of the former students of Jamia Siraj, Sajjad Bhat, is believed to have been involved in the February 2019 Pulwama attack that killed as many as 40 CRPF personnel. But, he had left the school years ago, according to the school administration, much before his alleged involvement in the attack came to light.
As the ban was announced soon after the Pulwama attack, the authorities had launched an investigation in Siraj ul Uloom. “Many security agencies and the local administration approached us to verify whether we have any affiliation with JeI and they were convinced after checking our property files and other documents,” Farooq Ahmad says.