Zubair Ahmad Turray, who commands respect among the people in his hometown Shopian, had been enduring jail and torture since the age of 12. With no hope of justice from courts, he finally gave up and picked up arms.
Zubair, 24, who hails from Bonbazar locality of the town, has been booked on charges of stone throwing and organizing street protests in as many as 23 FIRs. He has remained in jail for most of the time since 2008 under the Public Safety Act, so he gave up studies
His family and local residents said that security agencies persecuted him relentlessly for his passionate pro-freedom sentiment. In most instances, charges against him were frivolous, they said.
“He was in class 6 in 2004 when army raided our house and picked him up. They said he possesses arms. They tortured him and later handed him over to Border Security Force personnel who too tortured him. After a month-long detention he was handed over to police,” said Zubair’s father Bashir Ahmad, a shopkeeper by profession.
The police detained him for two months. He was released for a few days only to be picked up by army again.
“The army again tortured him and handed him over to police. He was booked under the Arms Act and even though he was a minor the authorities detained him under the PSA at Udhampur Jail for six months,” says Bashir.
The torture left him bedridden for a while and after recovery he resumed his studies.
In the meantime, he was acquitted by the court in the Arms Act case. However, the acquittal meant no reprieve and a sizable part of his teenage years passed off in jails only.
“Cases were registered against him during 2008 uprising, then 2009 Shopian agitation, 2010 uprising, protests that erupted in the aftermath of Afzal Guru’s hanging in 2013 and afterwards. In 2016, he was charged with instigating people to protest even when he was in custody,” Bashir said.
Invariably, Bashir said, each detention at police station will be followed by a PSA and detention in Jammu jails.
“Every time the court would quash his PSA and order his release; the police, instead of releasing him, would shift him to Central Jail Srinagar and then to the local police station,” says Bashir.
“They (police) in order to prolong his detention would again frame charges against him before slapping him with another PSA,” says Bashir.
Zubair had suffered multiple pellet injuries in the abdomen during 2010 uprising. Still, he was arrested and booked under the PSA while he was still bedridden and undergoing treatment.
Barring a few days, Zubair had spent much of the time since 2014 in prison because the authorities had booked him under the PSA, which empowers authorities to jail a person for up to 18 months without a trial, repeatedly.
“His last PSA detention was quashed by the High Court on February 28 this year and he was set free from the Central Jail,” Bashir said. But before being released, the jail superintendent told him to report to the Counter Insurgency Kashmir (CIK) wing of police after two days, which he did.
“After spending just two days at home he on his own went to the CIK office in Srinagar but he was again detained and handed over to the police station Shopian,” says Bashir.
He was taken to the police post Keegam. Police had announced that Zubair escaped from their custody from this post. He was then seen in a video announcing he had picked up arms.
“The police and district administration officials had assured me that he will be released once elections are over. I was informed by the police that my son had escaped from their custody,” says Bashir.
He said that he met Zubair two days before his escape.
“My son was left with no choice,” Bashir said, a view supported by local residents and Zubair’s friends.
“Yes Zubair was passionate about Kashmir’s freedom like everybody else in Kashmir but the way he was persecuted what option he had other than what he did,” said a friend of Zubair’s, requesting anonymity.
“He was in class 10 when repeated detentions and harassment forced him to give up studies. But he had a passion for reading. In jail he studied a lot and he was now pursuing a course from Urdu Board Aligarh,” he added.
The town observed a shutdown for four days seeking whereabouts of Zubair until the video showing him announcing he had joined the militant ranks because “tyranny” and “illegal detention” forced him to.
In the video, he is seen wearing a combat uniform and a cap while two rifles and two grenades can be seen on a table in front of him.
Zubair says he is a “victimized” Kashmiri who escaped from jail a few days earlier. He goes on to explain how “slavery” and the “imperialist forces” had led him to become a militant.
“My journey has been very painful. So, I had no other option,” he says in the video.
Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer who pleaded for Zubair in District court Shopian in various cases, confirmed that in February a PSA order against Zubair had been quashed but he was still under illegal custody.
“Since February neither was he produced before any magistrate nor bought to the court for remand. The police officials had assured his family that he will be set free in a few days. So we decided not apply for a bail fearing the state might issue a fresh PSA order against him,” Habeel said.
“It is a norm for the state to keep anybody they consider a threat in jail by repeatedly invoking the PSA. The court quashes a PSA detention but the state is ready with another set of charges for another PSA detention. Zubair had faced such a situation in the past also so he was apprehensive that he might be the victim of the same (one more PSA) again,” Habeel said.
The police had hardly produced Zubair before the court for trial during all these years of detention, Habeel said. Except for three, Zubair had been granted bail in all the FIRs.