Prolonged injustice: On Mehbooba Mufti’s detention

Mehbooba Mufti’s continued detention in J&K is hard to defend morally and politically

April 09, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:53 am IST

It has been eight months since the Centre revoked the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and downgraded and divided it into two Union Territories in August 2019. Several political leaders imprisoned in the wake of the abrupt decision continue to be in detention even now, the most prominent among them being the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Two other former CMs — Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah — were released last month. Freedom for Ms. Mufti is still not near, the administration indicated on Tuesday as it shifted her from a guesthouse-turned-jail to her official residence that has been designated as a subsidiary jail. She will not be allowed to move out of here or receive visitors, and remains in detention under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA). Hundreds of others including veteran Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Naeem Akhtar and IAS-officer-turned politician Shah Faesal continue to languish in jail. The manner in which the Centre hollowed out Article 370 and dismantled a State set an inglorious precedent in the history of Indian federalism. The lockdown of J&K was mostly lifted, before it was reimposed to combat COVID-19 . Meanwhile, the constitutionality of the revocation of the special status and accompanying restrictions on the entire population of a region remains unsettled before the Supreme Court, eight months on.

Ms. Mufti’s home imprisonment, at a time when the entire population is expected to lock themselves up in their own homes, is the theatre of the absurd. Her continuing incarceration even after two other former CMs have been freed is inexplicable. What is it that makes her an exceptional suspect under the PSA? The change in the status of J&K and the massive deployment of force to deal with its aftermath were spectacles of a new national resolve, according to the supporters of those decisions. The unfolding tragedy of the pandemic bespeaks the pitfalls of lopsided priorities, by laying bare the country’s inadequate health-care infrastructure. J&K is badly hit by the disease, with a fightback restricted by the absence of an elected government. The havoc by the virus should not be used as a facade to trample upon civil rights or to criminalise expression of opinion. If anything, this unprecedented crisis should spur fresh thinking on finding solutions to intractable political problems. The BJP’s view on Kashmir is as old the party itself. But that by itself is no reason to avoid revisiting the issue. The very least it can do, however, is to immediately free Ms. Mufti. That will be a good signal to the people of J&K during these tough times.

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