Srinagar: Over the course of nine months, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have twice arrested a politician—once praised by India’s home minister—on 10 charges, including six related to terrorism, even as two terror cases he was supposedly involved with crumbled in courts or were closed.
Waheed-Ur-Rehman Parra, 33, youth president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a former ally of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is currently in the Srinagar jail. A United Nations (UN) special representative, his family and party chief Mehbooba Mufti accused police and jail officials of torturing him during the nine months he has spent in custody without trial since November 2020.
On 20 July 2021, a Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) court in Srinagar rejected Parra’s bail for the second time in five months. The CIK is the anti-militancy intelligence wing of J&K Police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID). On 9 January, 2021, an NIA court granted Parra bail on the same 10 charges brought against him under two laws.
“Legally, if a person has been granted bail in a case, he cannot be arrested or booked in the same charges again by any other security agency,” said Shariq Reyaz, Parra’s lawyer. “But in this particular case it’s happening repeatedly. This is a clear example of the law being misused to keep a person behind bars.”
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi once favoured Parra, recognising his keen engagement with the Valley’s youth. On 7 June 2018, when Parra organised a sports conclave at Indoor Stadium, Srinagar, then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh mentioned and praised Parra for striving to change youth attitudes through sport.
“I have visited Kashmir many times and I am witnessing this scene for the very first time,” said Singh, addressing about 3,000 young people. “After seeing the enthusiasm and excitement of all these youngsters I can vouch that they will not only change the future course of Kashmir but of the entire country as well.”
The event and praise are uncommon in a region ridden with violence and separatism.
Parra Believed In Idea Of India
Politically, there are two main “camps” in J&K, according to experts.
The first seek a resolution of the Kashmir conflict within the framework of the Indian Constitution and do not challenge the conditional accession of the former kingdom to the Union of India in 1947. The second seeks a solution outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution, either through United Nations resolutions or tripartite talks, involving Pakistan.
Parra fell squarely in the former camp and is therefore referred to as “pro-India” by experts and politicians alike. “Leaders like him are pro-India for they do not favour independence [of J&K] or merger with Pakistan,” said Srinagar-based author and political commentator, Gowhar Geelani.
The unionist or ‘pro-India’ camp in Kashmir has been selling the idea of resolution of the Kashmir conflict within the ambit of the Indian constitution as a pragmatic idea which has economic benefits apart from some immunity from prosecution, said Geelani.
“When the hardcore pro-India politicians are also treated in the same manner as their ideological rivals,” said Geelani, “The idea [they espouse] will automatically become less attractive [to people at large].”
Geelani said targeting of politicians such as Parra would render “pro-India” politics in the Valley redundant.
Arrested, Granted Bail, Arrested Again
On 25 November 2020, three days after Parra filed his nomination papers for the District Development Council (DDC) elections from South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, the NIA detained him.
He was arrested in an alleged conspiracy to support the Hizbul Mujahideen terror group along with a former deputy superintendent (DSP) of the J&K police, Davinder Singh. Police alleged that Parra had a conversation over phone with Naveed Babu, a militant arrested with Singh.
DSP Davinder Singh was arrested while ferrying two Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants in a vehicle on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway on 14 March, 2020. Singh was dismissed from service on 20 May 2021, but the order said that “Lt Governor (Manoj Kumar Sinha) was satisfied that in the interest of the security of state, it is not expedient to hold an enquiry in the case of Mr Davinder Singh”.
A first investigation report (FIR) against Parra was filed in the CIK Srinagar police station under six sections (13, 17, 18, 38, 39, 40 ) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, relating to raising funds for a terrorist organisation, advocates, abets, advises or incites the commission of, any unlawful activity, conspires or attempts to commit, or knowingly facilitates the commission of a terrorist act, A person, who commits the offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation, and intention to further the activity of a terrorist organisation; Parra faces a sentence that could include anything from two years to life to death.
He was granted bail on all these charges by the Jammu NIA court in January 2020, the court noting that Parra had not been named in the original case filed in 2020. His bail disallowed him from leaving J&K, unless he met certain conditions, such as surrendering his passport.
It never came to that.
Soon after bail was granted, Parra was detained by the CIK that same day in an ‘open’ FIR (unrelated to police jurisdiction of the alleged offence), with the same charges as before and brought to Srinagar jail.
“When one investigating agency investigates and files a charge sheet then the state police or any other agency can only file a supplementary chargesheet,” said advocate Reyaz. “They cannot investigate, file charges or detain a person.”
Former J&K director general police (DGP) S P Vaid said it was up to the courts to decide innocence.
“Ultimately these cases will be tried in court and the court will go by evidence,” said Vaid. “If the police or any agency can prove the charges or do have evidence, no one can question them.”
However, as Supreme Court lawyer Abhinav Sekhi, has written previously in Article 14, the vague, almost boundless, scope of the offences of “Terrorist Act” and “Unlawful Activity” created under the UAPA, the act itself might matter far less than the intentions allegedly imputed to a person.
“These allegations can only be refuted at trial, in all probability being fought by the accused from behind bars, as the chances for securing bail are exceedingly small,” wrote Sekhri. The UAPA makes bail extremely difficult because if the police case diary constructs a prima facie case of terror crimes, courts are barred from granting bail.
More than 2,300 Kashmiris have been detained under the UAPA since 2019 until July 2021, and about 1,100 remained in custody, the Indian Express reported on 5 August 2021. Parra was one of them.
The Case According To Police
Parra came to police attention after he wrote to a 2002 committee headed by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, seeking a lawyer to defend a computer professional, Bashir Ahmad Baba. This fact is specifically mentioned in the 2020 J&K police charge sheet.
Baba was arrested by the Gujarat Police’s anti-terror squad in 2010 for allegedly researching the possibility of setting up a terror network in the state, but he was acquitted of all charges after 11 years on 30 June, 2021 and released from Vadodara central jail in Gujarat.
The judge in Baba’s case said that “the charges against the accused that he received financial aid to set up a terror network in Gujarat has not been proven sufficiently. The prosecution has clearly failed to prove the allegation against the accused to establish that he was in touch with the wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commanders”.
Baba’s release might have had an effect on Parra’s bail hearing of 3 July.
But, a day earlier, the CIK filed another charge sheet under the same sections of the UAPA that the NIA previously used against Parra, who was already in detention then, implying he was connected to banned militant groups, such as the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
A copy of the 19-page charge sheet, submitted before a Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court in Srinagar and accessed by Article 14, accused Parra of “providing false information about the details of email accounts he was in possession of and using”.
The charge sheet said that the phone device seized by the NIA showed he was using “at least two more email accounts” and received messages from Pakistani numbers. “Further, analysis of the retrieved data is in progress to find out whether any incriminating material stored in it or found, the same (sic) will be placed on record separately before the court,” said the charge sheet.The charge sheet also alleged that Parra had paid Rs 5 crore to Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s son-in-law “to keep Kashmir in turmoil after the death of Burhan Wani in 2016”.
Parra’s lawyers said the police, apart from these allegations, had found nothing specific against their client.
Abusive Interrogations: UN Report
In July 2020, Parra had attended an online meeting with some UN Security Council members. In the meeting, Parra reportedly “raised the alarm about the Government of India’s actions in J&K, its treatment of Muslim minorities, and the recent border tensions with China,” according to a 31 March, 2021 UN letter to the government of India.Parra was threatened by NIA officials for engaging in such events, a close political associate told Article 14. “They gave him an ultimatum that if he did not stop speaking out against the government, action would be taken against him,” the associate said.
Vipin Kalra, public prosecutor for the NIA Jammu court denied the allegation. “This is a baseless claim,” said Kalra, “We cannot do anything which will not fall under the ambit of law.”
The CIK charge sheet against Parra came a month after Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations (UN) sought a response from the government of India on a series of alleged human-rights violations in J&K, including Parra’s arrest.
Para was subject to abusive interrogations that lasted from 10 to 12 hours at a time, according to the UN letter.
“He was held in a dark underground cell at sub-zero temperature, was deprived of sleep, kicked, slapped, beaten with rods, stripped naked and hung upside down,” said the letter. “Para was examined by a government doctor three times … and three times by a psychiatrist. He requested medication for insomnia and anxiety.”
In December 2020, when Parra was still in detention, he won the DDC elections with 1,323 votes, defeating his rival, the BJP’s Sajad Ahmad Raina, who got 321 votes.
Detention And House Arrest
Parra was first detained on 5 August 2019 soon after India unilaterally abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status and reduced it to a union territory.
In an interview to NDTV, Parra called the day a “black day for Indian democracy”. He was detained soon after by the J&K police outside NDTV’s Srinagar office. The link to the interview has since been disabled.
Parra was among 40 mainstream leaders detained at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre, turned into a subsidiary jail in August 2019. Later, he was kept under house arrest for seven months.
While under house arrest, Parra was critical on social media platforms of the government’s policies and laws in J&K.
Being critical of one of the decisions of the government about the rights of forest dwellers Parra tweeted “While administration is busy plastering the image of 'NayaKashmir' to Country, behind this image they are evicting nomads from their makeshift hutments without even offering alternate rehabilitation.”
“Waheed believed in the idea and democracy of India, became committed to bringing the youth of Kashmir to the mainstream,” said a family member on condition of anonymity, fearing prosecution. “He engaged with stone pelters, separatists, and was a member of the Kashmir committee formed by Ram Jethmalani to engage with all the stakeholders.”
Earlier, it was the government of India’s policy to engage with people of Kashmir through dialogue, and the same policy has now suddenly turned illegal, the family member said.
Parra rose to fame after 2013 when he formally joined the PDP, of which he is now the youth president. He began working for the party as a poll agent during the 2002 assembly elections, when he was not eligible to vote.
His grandfather was close to former chief minister of J&K and PDP founder Mufti Muhammad Sayed. Parra worked with his daughter, another former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, especially in her youth outreach programs.
He was the youngest spokesperson of PDP and the secretary of the Sports Council of the PDP-BJP government in 2014. Before becoming a politician, he was a journalist and a social activist.
According to his close associates, Parra was always surrounded by people. A soft-spoken man, he was an intent listener, spotten, often, in sports shoes, ready to play cricket, volleyball or badminton.
Although he grew up in Naira, a village 30 km south of Srinagar, he went to a local school in Pulwama, 30 km south of J&K’s capital. Parra graduated with a master’s degree in peace and conflict Studies from the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora, 33 km south of Srinagar. In 2012, he was awarded a peace scholarship by the SIT Graduate Institute, Vermont USA.
Members of Parra’s family said he was a “political scapegoat” and was paying the price of speaking truth to power. Security agencies have investigated him for so long and found nothing, a family member said. “All his bank accounts have been verified but not even a penny is seen misappropriated or ever been received except his salary or from his father,” the person said.
When Parra was first arrested by the NIA in November 2020 and taken to Delhi, it was the first time he had stepped out after many months of being under house arrest. “When he boarded the flight, he called me and said it’s been more than a year since he boarded a flight,” his associate said. “He said he felt like a bird just out of the cage, even if it was for just a few hours.”
His associates thought he would be released soon. “I was confident that Waheed will come back in a day or two,” his associate said. Nearly two years have passed since.
(Safina Nabi is an independent multimedia journalist and a Pulitzer Center grantee. She writes about gender, health, human rights, social justice, development and the environment.)