Srinagar: The Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir is said to be the parent political party of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Syed Salahuddin-led terror organisation that has been preying on local youth to fuel terrorism in the Valley.
But when it was banned for five years by the Narendra Modi government this month under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, there was a bipartisan uproar in the Valley, with prominent mainstream politicians, including former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC), slamming the “misguided” crackdown.
Former IAS officer Shah Faesal, now looking to make a political debut, weighed in too, reportedly writing in a Facebook post that he was “surprised” the ban had come at a time when the organisation had “transformed itself into more of a socio-religious than politico-religious organisation”.
The sentiment seems to find echo across the Valley, with several local observers telling ThePrint that the ban will not only further alienate Kashmiris but also bolster militancy.
Professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain, head and dean of the department of law at Central University of Kashmir, said banning Jamaat would not serve any purpose. “Ideology can be countered with a counter ideology, not a ban,” he added.
“Jamaat is a socio-religious organisation and banning it will be seen as an encroachment of Article 25 of the Constitution, which allows a citizen to profess, propagate and practise religion, and Article 26, which incorporates religious freedom,” he said.
Not the first ban
The ban on Jamaat-e-Islami’s J&K chapter came in the aftermath of the 14 February terror attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed, with the government arguing that the organisation supported extremism, militancy and Kashmir’s secession.
Several members of the organisation were detained as well in February as fears of chaos gripped the Valley ahead of an impending hearing in the Supreme Court on the constitutional validity of Article 35A, which secures certain rights for locals and bars property purchases by outsiders.
The article, along with Article 370, which grants the state autonomy and also faces a challenge in court, is considered sacred among locals, who say any bid to tamper with them violated the terms of Jammu & Kashmir’s accession to India.
The current ban on Jamaat is the fourth since Independence. Professor Hussain said the organisation was first banned along with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fount of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in 1948, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Jammu & Kashmir chapter of Jamaat, which separated from the larger Indian Jamaat in 1953, was then banned during the Emergency in 1975 by the then Sheikh Abdullah government of the state. The ban was lifted in 1977, when the Janata Party alliance came to power at the Centre.
The Jamaat subsequently participated in the state polls but won just one of the 19 seats it contested.
In 1991, at the height of militancy, said Hussain, the central government again banned the Jamaat, along with other organisations like the Hizbul Mujahideen.
From 1994, the Jamaat started working again, he added. “There were people within the Jamaat, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who had adopted a hard stance towards militancy. But Jamaat side-lined these hardliners and continued with its socio-religious-political work,” said Hussain.
“Since then, it has maintained a low-profile, working extensively in the field of education,” he added.
Professor Hussain said Jamaat enjoyed a lot of respect among ordinary Kashmiris on account of their social activities.
“They not only run educational institutions, madrassas and orphanages, but are also actively involved in helping people in times of calamity,” he added. “They played an important role in rescue and rehabilitation operations during the 2014 floods.”
Others agree, saying the Jamaat-e-Islami J&K is now just a socio-religious organisation that “imparts basic Islamic teachings”.
Following protests over how the ban on Jamaat will affect the estimated 80,000 students attending schools run by the organisation, the Governor’s administration clarified last week that schools, mosques and orphanages affiliated to it would be kept outside the purview of the ban.
However, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads the moderate faction of separatist body Hurriyat Conference, said the government clarification had failed to clear the uncertainty.
“With Jamaat being banned, what happens to the funding of the schools and orphanages run by it? Will that be impacted as well?” Mirwaiz told ThePrint in Srinagar after the order for his house arrest was lifted Tuesday.
“Nobody seems to have a clear idea,” he added.
‘It defies logic’
Political analyst Professor Gull Muhammad Wani said it defied logic, the fact that the government had chosen to ban the Jamaat amid “an exceptionally politically-charged atmosphere and unmindful of how people are going to react”.
“Across the political spectrum, there has been reaction,” said Wani, a visiting professor at Jindal Global University, Sonepat.
“Not only the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference, even the Communist Party and civil society have reacted. If elections are held now, the decision will backfire on the BJP in the state,” he added.
Professor Hussain of Central University of Kashmir said it was “absurd” to ban an organisation “not triggering any violence”. “You don’t need Jamaat to trigger violence. The banning is already fuelling widespread resentment in the Valley,” he said.
“A move like this is likely to push the children studying at Jamaat schools further against the wall. Many of their parents work as Jamaat cadres and have been arrested,” he added.
“In fact,” he said, “banning the organisation will help introduce Jamaat to the younger generation who were not too attracted by its teachings. They will be curious.”
A fine line
Mirwaiz added that the ban would create further anger among the youth at a time when the Valley is already going through a volatile phase.
“Jamaat imparts basic Islamic teaching. What kind of message are you sending by banning an organisation like this?” he added.
J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik had Thursday dismissed all criticism of the ban, warning mainstream political parties to “exercise caution in their discourse… as [the] fine line differentiating their discourse from that of the separatists is fading”.
“From the discourse of the last two weeks, it appears as though mainstream parties are standing in support of violence,” he added.