Millennium Post

In draconian times

Just as the six-month-long 'preventive detention' under Section 107 of CrPC arrived at its natural culmination, the Jammu and Kashmir administration extended the detention of former chief ministers of the erstwhile state under the provisions of the Public Safety Act, 1978. Both Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were put under house arrest back in August when the state's special status was diluted. Along with former CMs, Ali Muhammad Sagar of National Conference and Sartaj Madni of People's Democratic Party were also booked under PSA following the end of their preventive detention period. J&K veteran CM, Farooq Abdullah has been detained under PSA since the abrogation of Article 370. Since the law does not permit detention beyond the six-month period, PSA was invoked as their release was not an option for the administration. The Public Safety Act, 1978, of Jammu & Kashmir is an administrative detention law that allows detention of any individual for up to two years without a trial or charge. PSA allows for the arrest and detention of people without a warrant and for an unspecified period of time. The Act safeguards the grounds of detention, allowing the detaining authority to not reveal any facts. PSA allows administrative detention for up to two years "in the case of a person acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state", and for up to a year where "any person is acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order" without a trial. Muft's statements from 2010 were reportedly cited as reasons for keeping her in detention while Omar Abdullah's alleged statements in the past that were deemed as "subversive" in nature got him booked. The reasoning behind booking both former CMs under PSA remains a subject of debate. While their preventive detention was itself contentious, serving them with PSA based on their previous statements only makes the matter more contentious. While these political leaders made headlines with their administrative detentions, Rajya Sabha was informed on Wednesday that a total of 389 people are currently in detention under the PSA in Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister on Thursday cited in Parliament that the detention of former J&K CMs was due to the fact that they had tried to instigate people to rebel. The prime minister justified the step to detain them on grounds of what they expressed in the wake of abrogation of Article 370. But the question remains that if the prime minister thinks it fit to detain them under the garb of law and order — citing how they can instigate people to rebel — why is the Centre ardently expressing claims of normalcy. If these political leaders are released and they are capable of immediately mobilising people to rebel and inflict disharmony, the situation should be deemed as fragile. There is no doubt that the Centre is nursing J&K towards development. But claims of normalcy appear to be a facade if fear of local politicians indulging in separatist or rebellious machinations remains. The number of people detained under PSA in the erstwhile state also opposes the claim of normalcy.

Ironically, it was Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Omar Abdullah's grandfather, who was the architect of the Public Safety Act, 1978. His purpose for the law, however, was to check timber smuggling. Years later, his own son and grandson are paying the price for the draconian law. The Central government sought the PSA to detain the politicians in the Valley, citing the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order. Their statements were served as the reason for their detention. If the Centre found their statements to be qualifying as a threat to public order, why hasn't it found statements by politicians in regard to anti-CAA protest as the same? They have also uttered controversial statements that can be seen as instigating violence and deemed as a threat to the maintenance of public order. They have also made a case to be booked under the stringent National Security Act that runs along similar lines of PSA. Booking them under NSA in order to "prevent them from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State or from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order" qualifies here. Even the Election Commission found them guilty of flouting the norms and consequently banned them from campaigning. Their remarks were a direct attack on peaceful protestors and can instigate people to indulge in violence. The Jamia shooter — Rambhakt Gopal — is a case in point or for that matter, others too, who were found brandishing guns at protest sites. There is no given evidence that Mehbooba Mufti or Omar Abdullah went out there to instigate the crowd. Only their statements were deemed as reasons for their detention. These MPs can also be booked under NSA. There is an argument that Kashmir is a fragile matter and people there can be easily instigated into a separatist ideology against the government. But if that argument is cited, one has to admit that Kashmir is far from normalcy — something that the government has been claiming for a while now.

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