Maharashtra: Checking what protester meant by ‘Free Kashmir’, says Home Minister

Mohamed Thaver

Anil Deshmukh

A DAY after writer Mehak Mirza Prabhu was booked for holding a placard with the message ‘Free Kashmir’ at a protest at the Gateway of India against the violence at JNU, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said on Wednesday that what she meant to say through the placard will be reviewed.

The police, meanwhile, said the crux of the investigation will be to “check her antecedents” to see if she has any cases registered against her or if she belongs to any group. It added that the popular interpretation of ‘Free Kashmir’ was secessionist and hence, an FIR was registered.

Soon after a controversy erupted when photographs of Mehak, a writer who has done theatre plays and monologues, displaying the placard was shared on social media, she had uploaded a video explaining that the placard was meant to indicate freeing Kashmir from Internet shutdown.

Speaking to mediapersons, Deshmukh said, “We are checking what the woman meant by ‘Free Kashmir’. If she was talking about how there is no Internet or mobile connectivity in Kashmir, where leaders have been kept under house arrest, there is nothing wrong. We will have to see what her intention was and accordingly, the matter will be reviewed.”

“We will also check the cases filed against those organising the protests to see if there was anything unlawful in the protests,” he added.

When contacted, a senior police officer said: “If the woman wanted to talk about Internet shutdown, that should have been put up on the placard. The slogan ‘Free Kashmir’ has a certain popular secessionist connotation. However, we will record her statement... Importantly, we will also be checking her antecedents to check if she has a prior record, etc.”

Sources said the police have access to video footages, which are in contrary to Prabhu’s claim that she reached the protest site around 7 pm on Monday, came across a placard with ‘Free Kashmir’ written on it and picked it up. On Tuesday, three FIRs were registered against protesters on charges including rioting and unlawful assembly. While Colaba police and MRA Marg police booked people for protesting against JNU violence, an FIR was also lodged against ABVP members for a protest.

“The decision to lodge FIRs was taken at our level, as it is in clear violation of high court guidelines. The protesters did not have any permission to protest. Had they shifted from the Gateway to Azad Maidan, we may not have registered an FIR. In spite of trying to persuade them for hours, when they did not move, we had to register an FIR. Had we not registered an FIR, tomorrow anyone would protest without seeking permission,” the officer said.

On the strategy to handle the crowd, the officer said that when the Gateway continued till late Tuesday, the initial plan was to remove them at night. “However, the crowd was very charged up... we were worried that it would lead to a scuffle. There was a low barrier between the spot and the sea and we didn't want any accident. Also, there were many women, so we decided to wait till 6 am,” the officer said. “Around 7-7.30 am, as the crowd seemed to have ebbed, we decide to shift them to Azad Maidan.”

The officer added that based on inputs, they zeroed in on the main organisers of the protests and accordingly booked them. “They will be called to record their statements... No immediate arrests will be made. Also, the sections under which they have been booked are bailable.”