a night raid on 14 May, scores of police officers barged into the Padshahi Bagh neighbourhood in Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city, arresting at least 21 people for chanting pro-Palestine slogans. Among those arrested was Mudasir Gul, 32, a mural artist who created a painting that read “We Are Palestine” and showed a sobbing woman with her head wrapped in a Palestanian flag.
A video of young people standing close to the mural with Palestine flags in their hands and chanting pro-Gaza slogans went viral. The act of solidarity with Palestine agitated the state apparatus to such an extent that it detained all the demonstrators.
The authorities are worried that these small mobilisations may foster larger anti-India agitation in the Himalayan Kashmir region, which is why New Delhi is suppressing what it figures might be the catalyst for a wider social movement.
“I have been painting portraits [and] landscapes for a long time. But lately I have realised that I could express the pain. When I painted a solidarity mural for Palestine, I assumed this wouldn’t be seen as an anti-state activity. But unfortunately it landed me in jail,” said Gul.
The public outcry over these arrests flooded social media, putting pressure on the government, which released 17 of the 21 detainees. Gul was among those released. But Sarjan Barkati, 51, a cleric who had been arrested on 15 May after giving a sermon that showed support for Palestine at a mosque in southern Kashmir, was not. He had said, “Oh, oppressed people of Palestine, we are with you.”
“A number of police vehicles came and took him away,” said Shabroza Jan, the cleric’s wife. “My husband has been arrested for speaking for Palestine.”
This is not the first time Barkati has been detained. He was arrested in July 2016 when Kashmir erupted in protest over the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani, 22, by government forces in Kokernag, a town 85km from Srinagar. Barkati led anti-India protests, chanting slogans in a style that earned him the nickname “Azadi Chacha [Freedom Uncle]”.
Source: This news first appeared in New Frame.