Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir – The Indian government has banned Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in Indian-administered Kashmir for five years, accusing it of supporting an armed rebellion in the disputed region that is at the heart of an escalating conflict with rival Pakistan.
The ban on the religious-political organisation on Thursday came less than a week after the Indian police arrested more than 300 JeI leaders, including its leader, Abdul Hamid Fayaz.
The arrests followed the worst-ever suicide bombing in the disputed region, in which 42 Indian troopers were killed in Pulwama town earlier this month.
In a statement on Thursday, India‘s home ministry said the JeI has been banned for “unlawful association” and for activities “prejudicial to internal security and public order”.
The ministry said the group was in touch “with militant outfits and supports extremism and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere” and supported “secession of a part of the Indian territory”.
If JeI’s activities were not curbed, “it is likely to escalate its subversive activities including an attempt to carve out an Islamic state out of the territory of Union of India”, the ministry said.
It is the third ban to be imposed on the organisation since it was created in 1942, five years before India’s independence and the formation of Pakistan.
Reacting to the move, a senior JeI leader told Al Jazeera that India’s “iron fist policy” would not work.
“It has been banned earlier also, but I think in the current situation it won’t help. The government has used military might and a tough policy for the past five years and they didn’t work. The ban won’t work either,” he said on conditions of anonymity.
The JeI leader said the ban was likely to put thousands of students who study in schools run by the group in jeopardy.
“These schools are models of progressive and modern outlook. This will jeopardise the future of these students,” he said.
In a statement, the JeI said it was being targeted for “reasons unknown” to them.
“The use of muscular policy will further destabilise the situation in South Asia. Instead, sincere efforts should be made to solve the long-pending dispute of Kashmir,” the statement said.
Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of the region, condemned the ban and termed it as “high handedness” of government.
“Ideas cannot be banned or jailed, need better ideas to replace it,” she said in a tweet. “Steps like this chokes space for dissent and leads us to more violent times. “
On banning the JeI and arrests made before that, a senior official in Indian-administered Kashmir told Al Jazeera that “there will be continuous action against anti-national forces“.
“The leaders have been arrested and they are being categorised now. Police and other agencies are carrying out the process. These leaders are involved in sedition, instigation and inciting violence,” said the officer, who did not want to reveal his identity to the media.
JeI has a strong cadre base across the restive Kashmir region. It regards itself as separate from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, its Indian counterpart, and backs Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.
JeI participated in Indian elections for more than two decades before becoming engaged with separatist politics following the onset of an armed rebellion in Kashmir in 1989.
The group maintains that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, and seeks its resolution through the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
In 1989, when an armed rebellion erupted in Kashmir, the region’s largest rebel outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen, declared it was JeI’s military wing.
As violence spread, the JeI was banned while hundreds of its members were killed by a local counterinsurgency force, known as Ikhwan in the 1990s.
Earlier this week, Indian authorities launched a major crackdown on JeI leaders in Kashmir region following the Pulwama suicide attack on February 14, which was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group.
Since the incident, there has been an escalation of tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, while the disputed Kashmir region remains on the edge.