On Friday, March 22, the Centre banned the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Jamaat-e-Islami claiming they are seditious, terrorist organisations. The government has also arrested JKLF chief Yasin Malik citing a “zero tolerance” towards terrorism under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti condemned the centre’s decision.
Other political leaders in Kashmir have also come out against JKLF’s ban and Malik’s arrest.
In February, the Centre said it was withdrawing security from Malik and other separatist leaders because of a “lack of resources”.
However, the government now says it is removing security because Jamaat and Malik’s JKLF are seditious and sponsors of terrorism.
Why did the government ban Malik’s JKLF and Jamaat?
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) published a statement on its decision to ban Yasin Malik, JKLF, and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Jamaat-e-Islami is an Islamic political party that was formed in 1942, before the Partition. Like the RSS, its fundamental principles are rooted in religion.
“Central Government has followed the policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ against terrorism and has acted strongly against terrorists”, said the MoHA.
The MoHA claims that Jamaat threatens the unity of the country by formulating its own constitution and supporting Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant organisation in Kashmir, with resources.
Although the government has accused Jamaat of fueling anti-India violence in Kashmir, the party has officially maintained distance from militant organisations. Jamaat has even contested in legitimate elections and assembly polls.
On the Malik-led JKLF, the MoHA claims that the party’s separatist ideology is one of the causes of violence in the valley, particularly against Kashmiri Pandits, a Brahmin community in the Valley.
The government claims that JKLF financially supports militant Hurriyat members.
“JKLF is actively involved in raising of funds and its distribution to Hurriyat cadres and stone-pelters to fuel unrest in the Kashmir valley as well as for subversive activities”, says the MoHA.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is a separatist movement formed in 1993. The APHC asks for the Kashmir dispute to be solved according to the wishes of Kashmiris.
Malik’s JKLF is a faction of the APHC that has renounced violence and militancy since 1994. Malik is now pushing for peaceful talks between India and Pakistan to solve the Kashmir issue as per Kashmiris’ desires.
However, the Centre now sees Jamaat and Malik’s JKLF as a threat to the union of India.
MoHA stated that securities forces have been given a “free hand to deal with terrorism”. The government also reviewed its previous decision to provide protection to secessionist leaders and decided that security will be withdrawn.
Sedition in India
Senior Advocate Rebecca John explains that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was introduced in 1967.
India declared a state of emergency during the Indo-Sino war of 1962. At the same time, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was pushing for Tamil Nadu’s right to self determination.
“The Central Government was in complete panic and wanted to put some restrictions on citizens’ freedoms and consequently it introduced the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill, 1967 before the Emergency was to lapse”, says Johns.
In 2004, the government strengthened the UAPA by criminalising funding, membership, and support of terrorist organisations.
The amendments to the UAPA act also allowed law enforcement six months to file a chargesheet.
The UAPA was amended again in 2008 after the attacks in Mumbai and in 2012. The government expanded the definition of a terrorist act to include weapons procurement and economic fraud.
In a nutshell, the UAPA outlaws “unlawful activity”, which means any activity that “disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India”.
Even to a layperson, this scope is broad.
In 2017, the government booked Delhi University Professor G N Saibaba, Journalist Prashant Rahi, and Activist and Jawaharlal Nehru University student Hem Mishra under the UAPA.
Even more recently, in 2018, the police raided five human rights activists for allegedly violating the UAPA.
Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, Author and lawyer Arun Ferreira, poet Varavara Rao, and activists Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested for their alleged terrorist links to Naxalite organisations.
Live Law says that the UAPA is a “draconian piece of legislation” that gives the government immense power to revoke freedom of speech and association.
In 2016, Kerala residents protested against the government’s “indiscriminate” use of the UAPA against activists.
Under the UAPA, the accused can be detained for long periods without bail if the government believes they somehow threaten the unity of the country. Many say the act is used unfairly against dissidents and critics of the government.
Jammu and Kashmir leaders support JKLF and Jamaat
Former CM of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah suggested that the decision to ban JKLF was politically motivated.
He tweeted, “For 4 ½ years Yasin Malik isn’t a threat, Jamaat Islami isn’t a threat, Pakistan National Day is a function that must be attended. Now suddenly once an election is announced an immediate u-turn is executed.”
Abdullah is also referring to the news that on Pakistan’s National Day, Indian officials were stationed outside the Pakistan High Commission office asking Indian invitees of the programme not to attend the function.
Former CM of Jammu and Kashmir and current President of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party Mehbooba Mufti expressed her support for Malik.
“Yasin Malik renounced violence as a way of resolving J&K issue a long time ago. He was treated as a stakeholder in a dialogue initiated by then PM Vaypayee ji”, she said. “What will a ban on his organisation achieve? Detrimental steps like these will only turn Kash into an open air prison.”
Mufti also commented on Pakistan’s National Day function in Delhi and called the Centre hypocritical because PM Modi sent his regards to Pakistani PM Imran Khan, but Indian officials were “harassing” attendees of the celebration.
As the Lok Sabha elections inch closer, the Kashmir issue will be an important topic of discussion.
Former IAS officer, Shah Faesal has also recently established a new political party that seeks to serve the interest of the Kashmiri people, especially underrepresented religious minorities and young people.
Faesal said that his party hopes to solve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and bring about sustainable peace in the region.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.