Kashmiri activist jailed for airing misgivings on outsiders

Sofi is alleged to have offended Ganderbal deputy commissioner Krittika Jyotsna during a Janata Darbar on June 10. By evening, he was in jail.

A Kashmiri activist has been jailed after an IAS officer from outside the state took exception to his declaration that he had no expectations from such officials, bringing into sharp focus the fault lines that mark the Centre’s assimilation policy that followed the revocation of the special status.

Ganderbal activist Sajad Rashid Sofi, former sarpanch and son of a retired police officer, was booked on June 10 on the charge of prompting enmity between different groups and under some other sections of the IPC.

Sofi is alleged to have offended Ganderbal deputy commissioner Krittika Jyotsna during a Janata Darbar on June 10. By evening, he was in jail.

A court granted Sofi, 50, bail on June 12 but the police added two more charges and he continues to be imprisoned, his associates said.

The incident comes at a time complaints have been aired that the administration has been increasingly sidelining Kashmiri officials in the Valley after Article 370 was diluted in 2019.

CPM state secretary Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami on Tuesday said the arrest of the activist was “an unwarranted and brazen violation of fundamental rights”.

Unlike many Kashmiris, Sofi and his associates from Safapora village of Ganderbal have been regularly participating in the Janata Darbars, a public outreach programme aimed at building bridges after the special status and statehood were revoked.

The participants are supposed to speak their mind during such events, and Sofi did that, only to land in jail.

At last Thursday’s event, lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha’s adviser Baseer Khan was in Ganderbal to listen to the grievances of the residents.

During an interaction, Sofi, who headed a delegation from Safapora, is reported to have told the adviser that he could have expectations from the official as he was a Kashmiri.

“I can grab you by the collar and seek answers. But what expectations can I have from officers who are not from the state?” a source quoted Sofi as having said at the meeting.

Jyotsna, a 2014-batch IAS officer who was recently sent on deputation to Jammu and Kashmir from Uttar Pradesh along with her husband, who too is an IAS officer, was apparently angered by the remarks. A police report said Jyotsna stood up and “strongly objected”.

Jyotsna was not available for comment to this newspaper. Ganderbal police chief Suhail Munawar Mir said he “will not comment” on the matter.

Safapora sarpanch Sheikh Mehraj, who was part of Thursday’s meeting with the adviser, said Sofi was summoned in the same afternoon by the police.

“During the day, he was arrested. He was released in the evening but re-arrested at 10.30pm from his home. An FIR was lodged well past midnight,” Mehraj said.

“On Saturday, a local court granted him bail. When we approached the SHO with the bail, he asked us to approach the SSP. But he was not released.”

An associate of Sofi, who pleaded anonymity, told The Telegraph: “For the past five days he has been in jail. The police have refused to honour the bail granted by a court. A delegation of village elders on Saturday went to deputy commissioner madam and told her that it was a slip of the tongue.”

Sofi’s associate added: “An elderly man in the delegation told her that he saw her as a daughter and asked whether she would not respond to a request from a father-like figure. Initially, she was unmoved but later assured us help. But he continues to be in jail.”

The Safapora sarpanch said that after the court granted bail, the police added two more charges (abetment and joining assembly likely to cause disturbance in peace) to the case.

Safapora block development council member Gowhar Reshi said: “I think many people would now hesitate to participate in such meetings. If he can be arrested, so can others.

“We had gone to the meeting with our longstanding demands, like the establishment of a college and upgrade of a hospital.”


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