Irfan Amin Malik covers the southern district of Pulwama.
At the “Media Facilitation Centre” in Srinagar’s Sarovar Portico, three glum faces await the arrival of Rohit Kansal, Jammu and Kashmir’s Principal Secretary of Planning. The three individuals are the family members of 28-year-old Irfan Amin Malik, a Tral-based journalist working for Greater Kashmir, the largest circulated daily in Kashmir.
Malik was taken from his home by “security forces” on the night of August 14. According to his family, about 10-15 men from security forces came into Malik’s house at 11:30 pm and took him to the local police station in Tral, a sub-district in Kashmir’s Pulwama.
“They shined a torched into the house and asked us which of our sons is Irfan. When we answered, they asked him to come with them. We resisted and said that we’ll come to the station ourselves in the morning, but they did not budge,” says 56-year-old Mohammad Amin Malik, Irfan’s father.
“When we tried to talk to them, they said that they’ll only discuss the detainment at the police station. They added that they had orders to detain him from above,” says the father.
Malik’s parents and his aunt were at the Tral police station till 1:30 am. A sub-inspector asked them to return in the morning. The SHO, the family claims, was then fast asleep.
Irfan’s father says that when he visited the police station at 10 am on August 15, they found Irfan at the station. He seemed unharmed. The SHO at the station asked the family to meet Awantipora SSP some 11 kilometres away.
12 hours after Irfan’s detainment, the family had not been informed why their son had been taken in custody. His mother, who does not speak Urdu, has anxiety strewn across her face. The aunt sitting beside comforts her with mellow assurances.
Upon reaching Awantipora, the family questioned SSP Tahir Salim about Irfan’s detainment. “He asked us whether he has reported something bad. When I said no, he said that then we had no need to worry.” Salim then left for Tral. The family, still reeling with confusion, followed trail.
“Back in Tral, I once again asked the SHO about my son’s detainment. He said he hadn’t discussed this with the SSP,” said Malik.
The family then drove 35 kilometres to Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, where one of the offices of Greater Kashmir is located. “We wanted his boss to know about this. But there were only two men at the office. I told them about Irfan’s detainment and they brought us here at the media centre,” says his father, who has been at the sitting near the centre’s entrance for more than an hour.
At 6:30 pm, merely a few yards away from where Irfan’s family sits, Rohit Kansal, the Principal Secretary (Planning) of J&K, told the media that he did not have information about Malik’s arrest. “We’re gathering information. We’ll collect the details and give it to you as soon as possible,” Kansal said. Kansal added that DIG (Central Kashmir), V.K. Birdi, who sat beside him, will be collecting the information.
Irfan has worked for Greater Kashmir since the last three years. His father says he covers development in the southern district of Pulwama. “My son has never been to the police station before. The police never landed at our house either. He just writes about roads and hospitals.” With a smile, he adds that Irfan is a “gold medalist” and that he studied mass communication at the Islamic University in Awantipora.
Malik has three children – a son and a daughter, both of whom study in Kashmir.
Since August 5, when the Indian government imposed an unprecedented clampdown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, local journalists have complained of movement restrictions in the Valley. Journalism has become a tough task since all forms of communication – mobiles, internet, landlines – have been cut off.
According to a local journalist, the government ensures a favourable media narrative in the state by either accommodating pro-establishment journalists or by harassing local reporters. Meanwhile, Irfan Malik still remains in custody. Why? No one knows.