There are hundreds of women who are in prisons for their crime of asking freedom and justice in Kashmir (read as Indian Occupied Kashmir). Insha Jan is one of them who is caged for allegedly cooking food for alleged militants. Militants are freedom fighters for Kashmiri Muslims and who are asking plebiscite and freedom of their motherland under international securities provided by the United Nations to Kashmiri people.
By definition, a political prisoner is someone who is incarcerated by the state, for their political ideology and beliefs. What do you call prisoners who are in jails, without any sight of bail, in a country where the legal jurisprudence is based on ‘bail, not jail’ and ‘innocent till proven guilty’? What do you do when the executive and judiciary have become habitual offenders against these fundamental constitutional norms?
When the National Investigation Agency (NIA) comes knocking on our (Kashmiri people) door, confiscating not just our poor household’s belongings but also our old pheran (traditional Kashmiri dress), room curtains and floor rugs, observers know we are in for a long haul. We must be a terrorist or we must be a Kashmiri. In all likelihood for the NSA, we are both.
Insha Jan is one such Kashmiri. Arrested by India’s premier anti-terror investigating agency NIA on March 3, 2020, her ordinary life has been upended. A Kashmiri woman, forced to drop out of high school, daughter of truck driver Tariq Ahmed Shah, she is now accused of the criminal offence of cooking for and serving terrorists for a few days!
Let us examine the case from the viewpoint of the investigators, through the same arguments presented by the J&K Police and Indian media. From the testimony of the family, investigators found out that militants had used Tariq Ahmed Shah’s house prior to the Pulwama attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that took place on February 14, 2019.
From this piece of information, the investigators and TRP hungry India media frame that Insha Jan was in regular contact with the militants. We are told to believe that she was in contact with militants from the only non-smartphone in the house, in a region that is notorious for being under advanced electronic surveillance!
The other evidence investigators have offered on her involvement in the Pulwama attack is that she cooked and served meals to militants for several days.
In a conflict zone like Kashmir, every investigator knows that unarmed civilians do not stand a chance against the barrel of the gun, be it of the militant or the armed forces. In Insha’s mother Naseem’s words, “We thought the NIA understands the fact that a family like ours, living in a remote part of Pulwama, cannot say no to gun-wielding men when they ask to enter your home. Even when the police enter our homes with rifles, we are in no position to stop them.”
This brings us to another key aspect of the story of Insha Jan: the demonisation and criminalisation of a young Kashmiri woman as a close aide or an active operative of a fidayeen module. This perverse narrative not only harms Insha Jan’s struggle for justice, but also advances the dangerous and manufactured Army propaganda that Kashmiri women’s wombs are available to fidayeen (suicide killers) and to give birth to fidayeen.
Insha Jan’s case is by now a cruelly familiar story in Kashmir. The investigating agencies and biased media have framed an innocent civilian and her father, on fabricated terror charges. Due to laws like UAPA, long periods of incarceration await them. Remember that in some instances such as that of the three Kashmiri men accused in the 1996 Samleti Blast case, they were found innocent and acquitted after serving 23 years in prisons. Or Gulzar Ahmed Wani who walked free after serving 16 years and then acquitted in 15 different cases. Insha’s trial has just begun.
Insha is not a political prisoner. But she is a Kashmiri woman. After August 5, 2019, all Kashmiris have been made ‘political prisoners’ by the occupying Indian state – for they differ with the ideology of the colonizer. Time will tell if Insha will ever see the light of the day again, acquitted of the charges. But India will be proving its critics right by keeping hundreds of Kashmiri under trial prisoners like Insha Jan in prison.
Editor’s Note: This piece is extracted from a letter received from Srinagar.