Days after JK police said that they will track social media posts on domicile law and would initiate action against the miscreants, Tahir Ahmed Shawl, assistant lineman of Public Health Engineering (PHE) department was suspended for allegedly writing an “objectionable post.”
His social media post read, “Is Domicile Rule an April fool gift for Altaf Bukhari and his teammates?” Reportedly, the suspension order has been issued by the Executive Engineer, PHE Rajouri. Shawl is also a trade union leader and is frequently seen at the forefront of protests by PHE employees in Rajouri.
Four days ago, IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar had said that they will initiate action against anyone who instigates people on the new domicile law by misusing social media. He had added, “Arrests are on the cards.” Kumar’s had evoked an array of reactions on social media with residents terming it as an attempt to curb their freedom of expression. “This is insane. We can’t come out and protest. We can’t raise our voices. Now, we can’t even express our views on social media. What is this? Are they afraid of us? Or are they aware that they are doing wrong. This is harassment,” a resident, requesting anonymity, told NewsClick.
Meanwhile, Tahir Shawl has denied writing any such thing. He told NewsClick that his Facebook account was allegedly hacked and he had no idea what was being posted on his behalf. “I even told them that my account has been hacked but they didn’t listen to me,” Shawl said. The order reads, “Pending enquiry into his conduct, Shawl, is hereby placed under suspension for his misconduct in use of social media.”
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Shawl has been suspended under subrule (3) of rule 13 of the Jammu and Kashmir government employees (conduct) rules, 1971. The rule underlines that no government employee shall, by any utterance, writing or otherwise discuss or criticise in public or in any meeting of any association or body any policy pursued or action taken by the government nor shall he in any manner participate in any such discussion or criticism.
Shawl sees this suspension order as an attempt to settle scores with him. Recently, he had organised a protest for demanding pending wages of 700 PHE daily wagers in Rajouri. “It has been five months since these employees have been paid. Majority of them are in their 40s and have given their entire life to the PHE Department and in return they don’t have money to even feed their family,” he said.
Executive engineer in PHE, Mushtaq, told NewsClick, “Shawl has been leading protests in the past. He has been instigating workers to protest against the government. Workers have been on roads and now, this Facebook post was another attempt to instigate people. So higher authorities had to take a call."
In Feburary, the death of a PHE worker at a protest site in Rajouri had triggered anger among the protesters. Forty years old Mohammad Shabir, a resident of Kotdarda village had collapsed during a sit-in outside the PHE office in Rajouri town. He was declared brought dead to the nearby hospital. Soon after, the protesters had carried the dead body of Shabir and blocked the main road raising slogans against the administration.
“They can only protest. What else can they do? Their plea has always fallen onto deaf ears. They are poor people. Even if they die, it doesn’t matter,” said Shawl.
For a long time, PHE workers have been protesting against the administration for not fulfilling their longstanding demands including pending wages and regularisation of their jobs. The protesting workers have been exposed to police lathis and brutalities for raising their demands.
A daily wage worker is entitled to receive a honorarium of Rs 225 as a part of their daily wage. However, the employees said that they have not even received this paltry amount. The Central Government Wages Act, that promises a daily wage of Rs 520 stands unimplemented in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. “After changing the administrative structure, we hoped to receive benefits of Wages Act but it still stands unimplemented. Government is concerned about the domicile laws and other issues but doesn’t care about the poor people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said a PHE worker.
The protesting PHE workers have, time and again, lamented about their plight by accusing the central government. One of the protesters had earlier told NewsClick, “During the state Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders had promised to fulfill all the demands. However, after winning the elections, they forgot those promises. After repeated reminders, we are left with no option but to protest against the government.”
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