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Outrage as Authorities Arrest Prominent Clerics in Kashmir

Anees Zargar |
The police are yet to clarify the reasons behind these arrests.
Lal Chowk, Kashmir

Lal Chowk, Kashmir. Image Courtesy: Flickr

Srinagar: Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have arrested several clerics and the leaders from the banned socio-political organisation Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in a fresh spate of arrests triggering outrage in the valley.
Those arrested included three prominent religious clerics Moulana Abdul Rasheed Dawoodi of the Tehreek-e-Sout ul Awliya, Mushtaq Ahmad Veeri and Abdul Majeed Dar Al Madni, both from the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees organisation. According to sources in the security establishment, the Jama'at leaders who have been arrested included Ghazi Moinu-Islam, Tariq Rehman and Fahim Mohammad Ramzan. The leaders have reportedly been booked under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA).
The police are yet to clarify the reasons behind these arrests.
A close aide of Moulana Dawoodi, a prominent Barelvi scholar from South Kashmir, told NewsClick that local police called the cleric for questioning on Thursday. "Later in the afternoon, we came to know that they have been detained and will be shifted outside the valley," he said, wishing anonymity.
Another prominent cleric Mushtaq Veeri from the Jamiat Ahl Hadees organisation, who regularly preaches at a central mosque in the Anantnag area of South Kashmir, was also called by the police and later booked under PSA, his family was told. Veeri, known for his firebrand commentary on social issues, was also detained previously due to preventive measures ahead of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in August 2019.
Hundreds of thousands follow the three clerics, who also have a mass following on social media. Despite being from different schools of thought, both Veeri and Dawoodi's takes on social as well as religious issues are often circulated widely.
“There are reports about the detention of three well-known religious clerics. The move is rather deplorable and bound to deepen the uncertainty further," Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, former MLA of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), tweeted following the arrests.
This is the first such major crackdown on clerics and preachers in the valley since the crackdown in 2019. The supporters of these religious scholars have condemned these arrests terming them "arbitrary", especially on social media.
“They are choking any independent voice, and unfortunately, there is no accountability. It is clearly driven by an agenda to further suppress people," a follower of Veeri from Srinagar said.
In a statement, National Conference's Sarah Hayat Shah said that she was told that the three leaders were booked for alleged hate speeches. She, however, said that the action against these clerics is unjustified.
“Kashmiris are being treated with a step-motherly behaviour. There are many people outside who raised controversial slogans like Goli Maaro, but they were never booked for hate speech. How is the action against these clerics justified then,” she said.
Various bodies and rights groups, including the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), have shown concern over religious freedom in India. Some say it has worsened "significantly", especially after the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power. The BJP has also been accused of mishandling and curbing religious freedom in the restive region of Jammu and Kashmir by various rights groups and political parties, including the NC and PDP.
The fresh arrests come at a time when many, including the political leadership of the J&K's, have been urging the authorities to release the region's head cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads various key religious and social groups. Mirwaiz has been put under house arrest at his Nigeen residence in Srinagar since August 2019.

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