Shortly before midnight on 17 March, Rizwan Pandit, a 29-year-old school principal and resident of Awantipora, a town around thirty-five kilometres south of Srinagar, was picked up from his house by security officials accompanied by the local police. Two days later, the Jammu and Kashmir police issued a statement announcing that Rizwan had “died in police custody” and that he had been taken into custody in connection with a “terror case.” The police have since revealed little information about the circumstances surrounding his detention and subsequent death, but they posthumously registered a case against him for “trying to escape from custody.” According to news reports, a preliminary post mortem report states that “profuse bleeding resulting from multiple injuries” could have caused his death. Rizwan was a known sympathiser of an Islamist organisation called the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, of which his father, Asadullah Pandit, is a member.
The Indian state’s persecution and repression of the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, its members and sympathisers has a long history. Over the course of more than six decades, the Jama’at has adopted dual functions—of a socio-religious organisation running schools and mosques, and of a political organisation advocating the creation of an autonomous state of Kashmir governed by Islamic law. On 28 February, a couple of weeks before Rizwan was picked up, the Indian government banned the Jama’at, marking the organisation’s third ban in its history. But despite its vocal opposition to India’s secular democratic setup, the National Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party—both mainstream political parties in Kashmir—immediately condemned the ban on the Jama’at. Indeed, it is a complex task to place the Jama’at within Kashmir’s political landscape.
The history of the Jama’at-e-Islami is a story weaved into Kashmir’s history, and inextricably linked with the political parties that have ruled over the region. All three bans on the Jama’at came when pro-India mainstream political parties in Kashmir were at their weakest and the Indian government was confronted with an upsurge in the Kashmiri resistance movement. Five days before the ban this year, over 150 Jama’at members were arrested in a series of night raids across Kashmir. The police also arrested Yasin Malik, a prominent separatist leader who heads the Kashmiri nationalist group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. In the following month, the JKLF was also banned. With the Jama’at’s third ban, memories of detentions, executions and disappearances from a brutal armed-forces campaign against rising militancy during the 1990s have returned to haunt the members and sympathisers of the Jama’at.
The Jama’at-e-Islami was founded in the early 1940s by an Islamic theologian and philosopher Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi, who believed that Islam serves as a code of life to govern all aspects of the individual and collective existence of Muslims. The Jama’at, as envisioned by Maududi, seeks to establish an Islamic state governed by the law of God, and argue against a political order founded on democracy and secularism. After Partition, Maududi settled in Pakistan and the Jama’at split into two—the Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan and the Jama’at-e-Islami Hind. In 1952, a distinct branch was officially set up in Kashmir, separated from the Indian branch, known as the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir.
In Kashmir, the Jama’at’s ideology challenged the prevailing Sufi traditions in the valley, which were credited with enabling an atmosphere of coexistence of different religions, by asserting political Islam. The Sufi traditions continue to be often represented by the Indian state through a narrative of Kashmiriyat—a supposed confluence of Sufi and Shaivite Hindu practices. This narrative was also frequently invoked to deny political Islam—represented in Kashmir primarily by the Jama’at—any space or participation in public life.