Delayed And Denied

A union home ministry “advisory” under P Chidambaram, trumpeting constitutional rights and equality of Indian citizens in asking state governments not to harass Kashmiris working or studying outside Jammu and Kashmir, must have been issued merely for forms sake, given that three successive governments here had been persistently flagging the issue. Even as the “advisory” was hailed by many quarters, these columns had immediately pointed out how insufficient it was in addressing a problem with twenty-year-long roots, and nameless victims of intractable police and judicial bias. The advisory had undoubtedly employed impressive phraseology, but fell woefully short of incorporating deterrents for what can only be described as compulsive hostility to the idea of a Kashmiri setting foot across the Pir Panjal ranges. The other major short-coming was the total silence over cases of Kashmiris languishing in jails merely on flimsy suspicion, without trial, and years of judicial reluctance to speed up investigations into their charges. More often than not, the police and judiciary appear to be working in consort to deprive such victims of their liberty, and precious years of their lives. The Delhi Police, in particular, has an enviable record on this count, with the case of Syed Maqbool Shah serving as a sterling example. Because of shoddy and prejudicial police work compounded by a judicial process given to overturning a fundamental tenet of justice wherever a Kashmiri is involved Mr Shah spent 14 years of his life in jail for crime he did not commit.

So, many would consider Mahmooda Akhtar of Srinagar to be lucky. Her son, Rafiq Ahmad Shah, is in jail for the past six years for suspected involvement in the horrific Delhi serial blasts case. Akhtar is lucky because she at least has a last, desperate option still open – that of a global online petition platform on which to press her son’s innocence. An unknown number of such Kashmiri parents have been stifled unheard, with no one the wiser about the plight of their similarly incarcerated children. More than the mother’s assertions, what should concern everyone is that for six long years, the Delhi Police has failed to substantiate its charges against Mr. Shah with evidence, and that he continues to suffer in jail nevertheless. According to his family, the courts extend his detention on the pretext that his alleged involvement in the dastardly act was being investigated. It speaks volumes about the efficiency, capability and professionalism of the Delhi police that it has failed to establish facts in such a high-profile case for so long. And it speaks volumes about the intentions of the Delhi judiciary that it has allowed the police to get away with it. As pointed out earlier, in case of Kashmiiris, the judiciary operates on the premise that they are guilty until proven innocent – or rather, until they prove themselves innocent. Whether Ms Akhtar’s online petition for her son yields desired results cannot be predicted. What, however, is sure to happen is that her son will not remain another anonymous victim of entrenched spite and prejudice. At least, the world will come to know of his plight.

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