An outpouring of public anger against Israeli aggression in Palestine has led to brief or long-term detention of about two dozen people in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir since Saturday.
Muslim preacher Sarjan Barkati and a young artist named Mudasir Gul were among 21 people who were detained for pro-Palestine protests in the disputed Himalayan region.
Family members of Barkati, who was released from prison just months ago, believe the preacher was detained because he included special prayers for Palestinians in his sermon during last week’s Eid al-Fitr prayers.
Sugra Barkati, 12, told Anadolu Agency that her father was having breakfast with the family, which also includes his wife and a seven-year-old son, at their home in the southern Shopian district when the police came for him on Saturday morning.
“The policemen came at about 7:30 a.m. [0200GMT]. My father asked them why he was being taken away but they didn’t say much,” she said.
Barkati’s wife Shabroza Bano said family members and people from the neighborhood went to the Zainapora police station, but they were not allowed inside nor were they told why Barkati was detained.
Asked whether the preacher had offered prayers for Palestinians in the mosque, Barkati’s daughter said, “Yes, he did. He did nothing wrong. They are our Muslim brethren and facing oppression. We are proud of our father.”
Barkati, nicknamed Azadi Chacha (Freedom Uncle), was released last October after four years in jail, following his October 2016 arrest under India’s draconian preventive detention law, the Public Safety Act.
This received little international coverage: Indian-occupied Kashmir police arrested 20 people who stood in solidarity with Palestine – including Kashmiri artist Mudasir Gul, who painted this image & was forced to deface it. https://t.co/lingM2HPkH pic.twitter.com/kIWnXk7nrj
— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed) May 18, 2021
His speeches at massive rallies made southern Kashmir the epicenter of the months-long public uprising against Indian rule in 2016, which was triggered by the killing of a popular militant commander, Burhan Wani, in July that year.
Gul, the artist, was detained for a mural he painted on the overhead tank of a sluice gate, which showed a weeping woman wearing a scarf made of a Palestinian flag, along with the words: “WE ARE PALESTINE.”
Gul and 17 other youths were later released by the police.
Police chief Vijay Kumar told the media that his “professional force” was “sensitive to public anguish … but had a legal responsibility to ensure law and order as well.”
He said they would not “allow the cynical encashment of the public anger to trigger violence, lawlessness, and disorder in Kashmir’s streets.”
“All irresponsible social media comments that result in actual violence and breaking of the law, including COVID-19 protocols, will attract legal action,” Kumar added.
Street protests and other forms of dissent so frequent in Kashmir during the past 30 years of anti-India insurgency have virtually disappeared since India launched a brutal crackdown after scrapping the region’s autonomy in August 2019.
Thousands of pro-freedom and pro-India leaders were jailed before and after the Aug. 5 move and acts deemed anti-state continue to draw harsh punishments.
Kashmir has been viewed as a second Palestine in the making after India’s reigning Hindu nationalist government introduced laws that have made Muslims apprehensive about being reduced to a minority in the disputed Himalayan region.
Last week, Indian authorities arrested 21 people in Kashmir for expressing solidarity with Palestine.
However, Kashmiris around the world continue to show their support for Palestine.
This is Oxford – yesterday.
Expression of solidarity is not a crime. pic.twitter.com/2wECUxQzCz
— Sameer Rashid Bhat (@sameeric) May 17, 2021
Kashmir has a long history of solidarity with Palestinians through strikes, protests, wall graffiti, prayers in mosques, and literature.
This time around, due to fear of reprisal from Indian forces, much of the support has been expressed on social media.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir. Also, in the Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan. According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk