There’s a new source of anxiety in Kashmir after the Centre ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional position in 2019. Delayed or no police verification or adverse police reports have left hundreds without jobs and passports. According to top official sources, these have reached a five-digit mark in Kashmir, the highest in the past decade.
Several J&K politicians, including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her daughter Iltija Mufti, alleged they were being denied passports. The Muftis have approached the court.
A tool for denial of jobs
Dr. Imran Hafeez, 46, works as an associate professor, Interventional Cardiology, at the prestigious Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar. He was due to be promoted as an additional professor in December last year after appearing in a series of interviews. Though other doctors at SKIMS were promoted, Dr. Hafeez is among seven who were not allowed to join the new position. According to SKIMS administration, “police verification is pending in these cases”.
Dr. Hafeez is the son of Moulvi Mushtaq, the uncle of Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Suspected militants killed Mushtaq in 2004 when they opened fire on him inside a mosque in the old city. Their aim was to stall the Srinagar-Delhi talks involving the Hurriyat faction headed by Farooq.
Pending police verification has become a tool in Kashmir to deny some professionals government jobs. Rasheed (name changed to protect identity), from Srinagar, was appointed as a junior engineer in 2021 by the Jal Shakti Department. However, the family’s celebrations over his selection were short-lived. Police verification, mandatory before joining a government job, was not issued by the CID.
Mr. Rasheed lost his father, who worked in the Food and Supplies Department, to a brain tumour in 1999, when he was less than a year old. His elder sister said, “My mother was appointed as a Class IV employee (peon) on compassionate grounds in the same department. She raised the entire family single-handedly. It takes a lot of effort to become an engineer and then qualify for a job in Kashmir.” Rasheed, who is now battling depression, is fasting and praying five times a day, hoping that the police verification comes through.
Editorial | Circumscription: on security clearances for passport or government jobs
She said her brother has never been named in a First Information Report (FIR). However, Mr. Rasheed’s paternal uncle was among those who crossed into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) for arms training in the 1990s. “We have never seen him [the paternal uncle]. We asked the CID to scan our phones and check if we ever had any connection with him.”
She said she had written to the Additional Director General of Police, CID, R.R. Swain, and the Director General of Police, Dilbag Singh, but failed to get any positive response.
Waiting for passports
Hundreds in Kashmir are also being denied passports for “security reasons”. It has been a Kafkaesque experience for Amir (named changed), who worked as a scientist in Kashmir University until 2022. He received two show cause notices in two days, one on January 31, 2023 and another on February 1, 2023, from the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar.
In the first letter, Mr. Amir was asked to “submit a fresh application with correct details and a proper explanation regarding the circumstances under which you suppressed the material information in your passport application.” The next day, another official letter said his passport had been impounded.
“I am not even told what kind of information I have hidden. I do not figure in any FIR. I was given one night to reply to the letter of the Regional Passport Office before they impounded my passport,” Mr. Amir said, fearing that this is a bid to stop him from getting a better job outside the country.
He took the matter to the J&K High Court that stayed the show cause notices, with the observation that he should be given “sufficient opportunity to be heard”.
Journalists have been facing an even stiffer police verification regime for their passports. Since 2019, several Kashmiri journalists have been stopped at airports after finding themselves on the ‘No fly list’. Kashmiri photojournalist Sana Irshad Mattoo from Srinagar was disallowed from boarding a flight in Delhi on her way to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her COVID-19 coverage in 2022. No reason was, however, given.
Javeed (named changed) is another freelance journalist from Srinagar, whose passport renewal is pending because there has been no police verification since 2019. The lone earner in his family, he has worked with international publications and broadcast companies. “I am not able to make ends meet. I already missed receiving an award from Columbia University (in the United States), for my COVID-19 work last year,” Mr. Javeed said, adding that he has had to forego an international job offer because of this. “I was raised by a single parent. I want to return to Kashmir only,” he added.