Zulkarnain Banday reports from Indian-occupied Kashmir on the first victim of a new law which allows the Indian authorities to arbitrarily sack government employees who are suspected of involvement in “anti-national” activity.
His students, relatives and neighbours come in droves as we walk in through the semi-rusted corrugated tin gate of Idrees Jan’s house. Defiant yet shocked, Idrees, a resident of Dardpora, Kupwara, is looking for answers.
A teacher at Government Middle School Kralpora, Kupwara, Idrees was dismissed from the service “in the interest of the security of the state” by the order of Indian Lieutenant Governor (LG), Manoj Sinha, of Jammu and Kashmir.
“I got a call from a concerned Zonal Education Officer asking me to stay home because the Tehsildar (executive magistrate) Kralpora wants to meet me. I asked him the reason, he didn’t give any.”
After around twenty minutes of this call, Idrees received another call from his brother informing him about the presence of the Indian army near his house and asking for his whereabouts.
One call after another, Idrees started panicking. “I got one more call from the Naib Tehsildar asking me to meet. I was bumped in a car and taken to their office where they handed over to me an orange colour envelop in the presence of police and other officials from the revenue department. They video-taped everything.”
Inside that envelope was a dismissal order for Idrees Jaan. The order No.400-JK(GAD) of 2021, dated 30.04.2021, reads: “Whereas the Lieutenant Governor is satisfied after considering the facts and circumstances of the case and on the basis of the information available that the activities of Mr. Idrees Jan, Teacher, Government Middle School Kralpora, Kupwara are such as to warrant his dismissal from service.”
However, according to Idrees Jaan, he is not involved in any activities that are a security threat to India. According to him: “How can a teacher living in a small hamlet in the frontier village be a security threat to such a huge nation? I am amazed.” The order doesn’t specify any reason for the dismissal of Idrees.
“A person who has given 15 years of his life to the department and performed his duties of teaching with honour and dignity was humiliated in this way; it is indeed a travesty,” Idrees said, adding that “police or authorities don’t have anything, be it audio, video or any other propaganda material against me.”
Idrees is a father of two daughters and a son and is the sole bread earner for his family. In a heavy voice he said: “Eid is approaching, what if my children ask me to buy them gifts, toys and new clothes, what answer will I give to them? In a snap they (the authorities) have snatched everything from me.”
Idrees Jaan has become the first victim of the government’s Special Task Force (STF) that was set up a week ago to check and initiate action against government employees involved or suspected of activities “against the security of the state” under article 311 (2) (C). The Article says: “Where the President or Governor is satisfied that the retention of a person in public service is prejudicial to the security of the State, his services can be terminated without recourse to the normal procedure.”
STF has been given powers to “scrutinise cases of employees suspected of activities requiring action under Article 311(2) (C), to complete the record of such employees and to refer it to a committee constituted by the government to engage with the other members of the Terror Monitoring Group (TMG) for identifying such employees and to take assistance of such other agencies and departments in this regard”.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, political analyst, former Head and Dean, School of Legal Studies, Central university Kashmir, said: “The constitutional provision under which Idrees has been suspended is being misused and misinterpreted. Satisfaction of the President or the Governor is not subjective satisfaction and can’t be used in an arbitrary manner. There have to be grounds for it and can’t in any situation be in violation of basic principles of natural justice which imply that in any case that an employee has to be given a chance of being heard prior to such drastic action.”
According to sources in the Government, the STF has already prepared a list of around 1,400 employees who are to be dismissed from the service.
“They want to replace us and appoint Hindus from India, they are paving way for them, slowly. Our exodus from services has already started. This is just the beginning,” said one government employee who wished to remain anonymous fearing repercussions from the authorities.
In a similar order from the Lieutenant Governor, a revenue official and an associate professor have also been terminated from the service citing similar reasons.
Repeated attempts were made to get the official version on the issue, however, calls to LG’s office were unanswered and no official wanted to talk on this issue on record.
However, Indian media have reported officials saying that government officials are involved in carrying out the agenda of separatists.
“For several years, officials in service have been building an ecosystem supporting pro-Pakistan elements through moral and financial support. These elements have to be checked and a message needs to be sent out that this is no longer acceptable,” one official said.