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.