Is appearing in a court of law against state interest? It might be if you are a Kashmiri, as petitioner-in-person Zahoor Ahmad Bhat found out

Advocate and political science teacher Zahoor Ahmad Bhat’s six minutes appearance before the Supreme Court in the de-operationalisation of Article 370 was enough for him to face consequences for ‘going against the interest of the state’. 

WHEN Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, a Kashmiri teacher, appeared before the Supreme Court In re Article 370 as a petitioner-in-person, perhaps he would not have imagined the consequences.

As an advocate and senior lecturer, Bhat might have thought he was only exercising his legal right to present his case before the court.

Yet, two days after his appearance in the Supreme Court on Day 9 of the hearings, he was suspended from his lectureship at the Government Higher Secondary School, Jawahar Nagar, Srinagar, where he teaches political science.

The suspension Order refers to Bhat as the ‘delinquent officer’ who was immediately suspended for violation of provisions of Jammu & Kashmir Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1956; Jammu & Kashmir Government Employees (Conduct) Rules,1971; and Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Leave) Rules, 1979.

An investigation by The Leaflet has found that Bhat submitted a leave application to the principal of the school, clearly disclosing his reasons for taking a two-day casual leave from August 22 to 23.

A source, speaking to The Leaflet on the condition of anonymity because he feared administrative action, said that the principal called Bhat during the lunch break of the hearings on August 23 and asked him to return to Kashmir.

The principal informed Bhat that “agencies” and “authorities” were unhappy that he had “decided to argue against the State”.

Bhat booked a flight ticket for later that day and rejoined the school on August 24, the source said.

The Leaflet is in possession of a letter that the principal wrote to the Director of School Education, Kashmir, informing him that Bhat had followed procedure to go on leave to appear before the Supreme Court.

The letter also states that the principal had given permission for the same.

Suspension not on technical grounds

On Day 11 of the hearings, senior advocate Kapil Sibal informed the court about Bhat’s suspension.

When the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told the court that Bhat had been suspended because there were “some previous issues as well”, the Bench said that the fact that he was suspended in “such close proximity” of his appearance before the court was suspicious.

The CJI asked the Attorney General of India R. Venkataramani to find out what had happened in the case.

Under the 1956 J&K Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1956, one of the grounds that is considered ‘appropriate’ to place a government employee under suspension is when “a public servant is suspected to have engaged himself in activities prejudicial to the interest of the security of the State”.

The 1956 rules also take note of the natural justice principle of affording a chance to the person to defend himself.

The rules clearly state that an employee cannot be suspended unless he is informed in writing of the grounds of his suspension and an adequate opportunity to hear him is given.

Further, the rules require that the grounds on which an employee is suspended must be reduced in the form of definite charges or the charges shall be communicated to the person along with the statement of allegations and any other circumstances which compelled the authorities to pass an Order of suspension.

However, these safeguards do not apply where in the interest of the security of the State, it is expedient to not give a show cause against employee’s action.

On September 3, Bhat’s suspension was revoked after intense pressure from the civil society and media and in the backdrop of the Supreme Court seeking a reply from the government of the status of Bhat’s suspension.

The darker side of abrogation

Bhat’s case is a testimony of the larger clampdown in the Kashmir valley since the de-operationalisation of Article 370. 

On one side, it is argued that taking away the special status of J&K under the Indian Constitution brought the residents of J&K at par with all Indians.

On the other hand, the state, which is one of the most militarised zones in the world, has been ever more tightly controlled in the last few years.

The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA) gives armed forces stationed in the state wide powers to shoot on suspicion, and to search any premise and apprehend any person without a warrant.

Similarly, the J&K Public Safety Act, 1978 (JKPSA) allows law enforcement agencies to detain a person for up to two years without a trial.

Since the summer rebellion of August 2016, upon the death of the young militant commander Burhan Wani, many thousand activists have been put behind bars.

In February 2019, Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest politico-religious organisation of J&K and one of the two largest cadre-based organisations in the state, was banned for five years for “being in close touch with militant organisations”.

In March 2019, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, a separatist organisation with a huge cadre, was banned under anti-terror laws.

Thousands of members of these parties have been in jail since then. Most have been released, but a significant number continue to be incarcerated.

Immediately before the de-operationalisation of Article 370, hundreds of people were put under house arrest as Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was imposed throughout the state.

Many of the people arrested during this period belonged to pro-India political parties like National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, including at least three former chief ministers of the state— Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

A blanket suspension on telecom services was enforced for 552 days, from August 4, 2019 to February 6, 2021, the longest suspension in a democracy.

The Supreme Court, in a 2020 judgment, recognised that the indefinite ban on telecom services in J&K was illegal.


The media in J&K has always faced severe restrictions, for which authorities blame the ‘proxy war’ in the state and the special national security requirements of a tense border state. 

But since 2019, the media clampdown has been ramped up to a different level.

Aasif Sultan, who was an assistant editor with the monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator, was arrested for a piece ‘The Rise of Burhan’. 

Subsequently, more journalists in the valley were arrested and charged with sedition, terror-funding and larger conspiracy.

Fahad Shah, who is the founder and editor of the news magazine The Kashmir Walla, was booked under the JKPSA. 

A research scholar Dr Abdul Aala Fazili, who was a former contributor to The Kashmir Walla was arrested for an opinion piece ‘The shackles of slavery will break’ under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and sedition.

The article was considered by authorities as “highly provocative and seditious”.

Sajad Gul, who was a trainee reporter with The Kashmir Walla, was booked under the JKPSA in 2022 for disseminating information “against the national interest” on the “dictation and guidance” from Pakistan-based agencies on his Twitter account.

These are only a few instances of what a recent BBC account described as a “crackdown on media” in J&K.

Civil society

Civil society organisations and human rights groups working in the state have also been under intense pressure from the authorities.

A Kashmir-based leading human rights organisation Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS), known for documenting human rights violations and the disappearance of people from the valley, has been facing reprisal since 2019.

Human rights defender Khurram Parvez and journalist Irfan Mehraj of the JKCCS were slapped with conspiracy charges and for propagating secessionist agenda under the UAPA. 

While Parvez was detained in November 2021, Mehraj was detained in 2023. 

However, a chargesheet is yet to be filed in the matter.

Under the UAPA, a person can be detained for up to 180 days without a chargesheet. Moreover, as per the embargo under Section 43(D)(5) of the UAPA, jail is a norm and bail is an exception. 

Employees of vicarious punishment

Further, much has been claimed about extending all fundamental rights and other constitutional guarantees to the state for the first time, but post-abrogation measures indicate that personal liberty and free speech are not available to the residents of J&K.

A September 2021 policy introduced by the government states that government employees’ services can be terminated if a family member was a militant or overground workers (OGW) who provided logistic support to militants.

The Order Verification of Character and Antecedents of Government employees states that government employees are required to maintain “absolute integrity, honesty and allegiance to the Union of India and its Constitution and do nothing which is unbecoming of a government servant”.

As per the Order, a government employee can be dismissed from his service merely for associating or sympathising with persons attempting to commit sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism and other such activities.

The wide and vague reasons for an employee’s dismissal basically cover charges under the UAPA and JKPSA.

Statistically speaking, the J&K government booked 2,300 people under the UAPA and 954 people under the PSA between 2019 and 2021. Around 46 percent of those booked under the UAPA and 30 percent of those booked under the PSA continue to languish in jails.


During his brief appearance before the Supreme Court, Bhat told the court that it had become embarrassing for him to teach the Indian Constitution post the de-operationalisation of Article 370.

I teach Indian politics to the students in Jammu and Kashmir, and it is very embarrassing and very difficult for me. People like me, since 2019, when we teach this beautiful Constitution and the beauty of democracy, the students ask: ‘Are we really in a democracy since post 19th August 2019?’”

The Leaflet