Sameena Mir sits composed at her home in Srinagar, now empty and taken over by a deafening silence. Last week, her husband, Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent human rights defender, was arrested by India’s premier investigation agency under a stringent anti-terror law.
“He is not an ordinary man; he has stood up for justice, peace, and for everything that upholds the rights of people in Kashmir,” she says to Maktoob. “He is not anybody that you will pick up from the street and get away with it.”
Parvez, 44, is the program coordinator of the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent local rights advocacy group that has frequently published reports on human rights abuses in Kashmir. Parvez is also the chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).
On 22 November, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided Parvez’s residence in Srinagar’s Sonwar area and the office of the JKCCS for hours. “We were sleeping when they [NIA] came,” Mir told Maktoob.
From his library to their children’s books, everything was checked at Parvez’s residence, said Mir. “[NIA] seized phones, a laptop, and some books from the library,” she said. “They took Khurram with them and said they will drop him back in the evening.”
At 6 pm, however, Mir received an arrest memo.
The human rights defender was initially “taken for questioning” by the NIA and was later arrested under various sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other several charges.
His arrest memo, reviewed by Maktoob, states that Parvez has been arrested under case number 30/2021 and the sections include 120B (criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging, attempting to wage, abetting waging of war against the government), and 121A (conspiracy to commit offenses punishable by Section 121) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 1 7 (raising funds for terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy), 18B (recruits any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act) and 40 (offence of raising funds for a terrorist organization) of UAPA Act, 1967.
“They took the gadgets and didn’t even check them yet, how can they say it’s incriminating?” said Mir. “I cannot see any basis for his arrest from the things they have taken from here.”
A day after his arrest, the family met Parvez at 11:30 am at the NIA office in Srinagar’s Church Lane. “We were told to give him some clothes and that he will be taken to New Delhi,” Mir said.
The family has hired a lawyer in New Delhi to secure his release from the court. “The lawyer is in constant touch with Khurram.”
In twelve years of marriage, Mir said, she has never suspected anything abnormal in Parvez’s work. “When you live with someone, you know what that person does and how that person is. I understand the work he does has a lot of risks,” she said. “But it was never suspicious.”
For Mir and her children, the raids have been traumatizing. “It’s been traumatic because if someone barges into your private space, that’s not normal,” she said. “Our children are very sensitive. They don’t talk much. I’m sure it will have a long psychological impact on them.”
Parvez’s three-year-old daughter keeps looking for her father. But Mir has nothing to tell her. “She looks for him every morning, throws tantrums, and cries,” she said. “I tell her he has gone out for work. It’s painful and a very difficult time for me.”
In Kashmir, particularly since the repeal of Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy in 2019, India is increasingly silencing dissenting voices, raiding the residences of journalists, offices of civil society organizations, and newspapers.
Parvez’s arrest is seen as part of the ongoing clampdown aimed at democratic voices, who seek accountability from the government in Kashmir.
Amnesty International, a human rights organization, said that Parvez’s arrest is another example of “how anti-terror laws are being misused to criminalize human rights work and stifle dissent in India.” “Instead of targeting HRDs, authorities should focus on bringing accountability for human rights violations,” the organization said in a statement.
For decades, Parvez has been one of the prominent voices against human rights violations by the government forces in the region. The JKCCS has issued a number of revealing reports on human rights violations in Kashmir. While monitoring the 2004 Parliamentary elections, he had lost a leg in a landmine.
In 2006, his work got international recognition when he was awarded the Reebok Human Rights Award. He was prevented from traveling to Geneva, in 2016, to attend a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. He was later slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA) and was arrested for 76 days.
In October last year, NIA conducted the raids at several locations including Parvez’s residence, the offices of the JKCCS, and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which have played a leading role in documenting Indian forces’ abuses in Kashmir. These raids have stopped their vital work.
“It [the raid] was scary then as it was the first time,” said Mir, Parvaiz’s wife. “This time it was very normal.”
Since the raid, Parvez — who has been accused of “conspiracy”, “attempt to wage war against the government” and “terror funding” — by the NIA, was not vocal about anything, said Mir. It had affected him. “It was very difficult for him because if you tie a person’s hands and don’t let him work, it is a little choking,” she said. “For the past year, he hasn’t talked or done anything. It did bother him.”
The arrest of Parvaiz sparked global outrage, with many calling for his immediate release including the Rafto Foundation and several other human rights advocacy groups.
The Rafto Foundation, an organization working for the global promotion of human rights said, “We observe with regret that the Indian government intimidates citizens working to secure the values and norms enshrined both in the constitution of India and in international treaties ratified by the government itself.”
It further added: “The allegations made in the Arrest Memo of the NIA and in articles in the press appear wholly implausible to us.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, called Parvez’s arrest “disturbing.” “He’s not a terrorist, he’s a human rights defender,” she said in a tweet.
Another human right advocacy organization, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said that “Indian authorities have repeatedly harassed and punished Parvez for his courageous human rights work.” “Instead of attempting to silence and punish human rights defenders, Indian authorities should work to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses. He should be released immediately,” Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said in the statement.
“When you say it’s a democracy…”
Meanwhile, Mir said that she understood the importance of Parvez’s work: “How is history written? If you are looking at the positive side of it, somebody has to look at the negative also. Such people should be allowed to work when you say it’s a democracy.”
She has hope in the judiciary.
“I know for a fact that there is nothing that he has done,” she said. “I think we need to give them that time. If they have a certain thing in mind, they should investigate. I am sure he will get a clean chit on that.”