Srinagar, Jan 07: A journalism graduate from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district has missed his ‘dream’ internship with world’s reputed newspaper, The Guardian, after he was denied passport by government: a lifelong dejection he now tries to overcome within the four walls of his home.
Ruhail Afzal Sheikh, 24, of frontier district’s of Trehgam village first applied for the travel document in November 2010 at Passport Office Srinagar but has not been issued the same even after three years.
He was denied the document on the pretext that his father, Muhammad Afzal Sheikh, has been a life-long sympathizer of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) that calls for Independence of Jammu and Kashmir State from the Indian Union.
The denying of passport to Ruhail has cost him what he said his ‘dream internship’ with London’s reputed newspaper, The Guardian. He was scheduled to join the paper’s internship program at London in the first week of January, 2014.
Ruhail had also applied for doctoral program in Anthropology in a couple of universities in Germany, prospects of which are bleak now.
He missed both the opportunities, ‘dashing down his dreams’.
“It is like you have a dream and government knowingly kills that dream inside you,” he told Rising Kashmir. “Where do I go from here? Do they have any answer?”
Born in 1990, Ruhail did his bachelor’s in Commerce from Islamia College, Srinagar. He earned a master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from University of Kashmir with specialization in narrative journalism and international relations.
“All they have to say is ‘Your father is associated with JKLF, and has spent 15 years in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) and takes active part in present movement.’ They do not count me at all as a person,” he said. “They just focus on my dad and his affiliations.”
In 1989, Ruhail’s father, Muhammad Afzal, crossed over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir and became vice chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front there. He was based in Rawalpindi, one of the main cities in Pakistan.
Ruhail was born the year after.
Before crossover, Muhammad Afzal was a government teacher in Kupwara. The job had earned him the prefix, ‘Master’, among the locals. He has also been a volleyball player and has played the sport across India.
The former JKLF vice chairman came back to Kashmir in 2004 through Nepal border. He was arrested and sent to jail. Muhammad Afzal was released after eight months.
“Sometimes, they ask me money for issuance of the document,” Ruhail said about the Passport officials.
“Last year, one official asked my dad to pay Rs 10, 000 but we showed him the door. My dad would never do that thing,” he told Rising Kashmir.
Ruhail’s passport file No is: A021623/2010.
“We are the permanent residents of Kashmir,” he said. “Why would they deny me a passport?”
On missing ‘The Guardian’ internship, Ruhail said government was solely responsible for it.
“I could have represented Kashmir there,” he said, adding, “But all government does is dash down peoples’ hopes.”
Authorities have no straight answer for clearance of Ruhail’s passport file.
“The applicant must come to my office. We will see into it,” Regional Passport Officer Srinagar Firdous Iqbal told Rising Kashmir. The officer had no immediate information about Ruhail’s case.
But another administrative official at the Passport office said, “Our job is to provide passport to an applicant in pursuance with his police verification. We don’t deny anyone the travel document, but usually there are flaws with verification.”
The officials from verification wing said Ruhail’s case was old but have no clear knowledge about it.
“It is a 2010 case. I have been here for just eight months,” said in charge Passport Cell, Kupwara, Muhammad Ashraf.
“As I can see, this case has been pending for years. The CID-SBK wing would know it better.”
The CID-SBK officials said, the beat in-charge for Trehgam had given an ‘adverse report’ about the applicant.
“In his field report, Head Constable Ghulam Ahmad Malik had stated that Ruhail’s father had gone to Pakistan,” said Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Mushtaq Ahmad of CID-SBK. “In fact, the Head Constable is applicant’s relative.”
Malik, the Head Constable told Rising Kashmir that he had given an ‘accurate’ report about the applicant.
“There is no problem with the applicant (Ruhail),” he said, adding that “He is the shining star of the locality, a decent boy.”
“All I had stated in the field report was that his father had gone to Pakistan and had come back from Nepal route,” Malik said, adding, “In fact, his father’s affiliations should not affect Ruhail as a person. I gave the report. It is now up to CID headquarters to clear the case.”
Top Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials said they had no off-hand information about the case and that they will look into the matter.
“Please send the applicant to me,” Deputy Inspector General, Criminal Investigation Department N D Wani said. “I will look into the matter.”
Inspector General of Police, CID, B Shrinivas said the same line, “I will check the file.”
Legal experts said, denying passport to Ruhail on the pretext of his father’s affiliations amounted to violation of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
“A number of Supreme Court as well as High Court rulings have made it clear that passport cannot be denied to a person on the pretext of their relatives’ affiliations,” said senior High Court lawyer Syed Riyaz Khawar.
He added, “The act of denying an individual the travel document also goes against the Indian Passport Act.”
By denying issuance of passport to Ruhail, Khawar said, government was violating International Covenants on Political, Civil and Cultural Rights of 1965 and 1966.
This is not for the first time that a well-qualified person was denied passport because of his or her relatives’ affiliations.
Last year, a student, Zial-ul-Islam son of Abdul Khaliq, from central Kashmir’s Budgam district was denied issuance of the travel document on the pretext that his uncle was a militant during 90’s.
Zia had gotten selected for an MBBS degree in Iran, but he could not pursue the course ‘shattering his dreams forever’.