Over six years after a bloody street turbulence in the valley, the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s State Investigation Agency (SIA), created on the pattern of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), has booked cleric-sloganeer Sarjan Barkati in a criminal case of crowdfunding and money laundering.
Much like Massarat Alam in 2010, Barkati in 2016 played a key role in mobilising crowds for anti-India demonstrations, attacks on Police stations and clashes with the security forces. The mass turbulence, which lasted for about four months, was triggered by killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen poster boy Burhan Wani in an encounter in Kokernag, Anantnag) on 8 July 2016. Nearly a hundred demonstrators and stone pelters were killed in the clashes while thousands of the civilians, Police and paramilitary personnel sustained injuries.
After leading a large number of demonstrations, addressing massive rallies and threatening officers of the Police and civil administrations, Barkati was arrested in Anantnag on 1 October 2016 and detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA). For over three months, he coined typical anti-India slogans and incendiary lyrics, addressed rallies, waved Pakistani flags and shouted for ‘Azaadi’.
On account of his virulent separatist profile, Barkati came to be popularly known as the “Pied Piper of Kashmir’s Azaadi”. Many of the youths and stone pelters called him “Freedom Chacha” as he kept calling them for anti-India demonstrations and attacks on the security forces and public properties. At the rallies dominated by pro-Pakistan slogans and Pakistani flags, he issued threats even to Police officers.
After four years of detention, Barkati was released on bail on 28 October, 2020. With reports of his continued indulgence in anti-national activities, Barkati was again arrested on 15 May, 2021. He has been languishing in jail.
Following the registration of a fresh FIR No: 02/2023, the SIA on Saturday, 18 March, swooped down on 8 locations across southern Kashmir, including Barkati’s residence, in search of material and evidence against 10 particular persons who allegedly associated and collaborated with him.
The SIA dossier accessed by India Narrative contains at least 10 video clips of Barkati’s seditious speeches and incendiary slogans uploaded on YouTube and Facebook on 21 September, 5 October and 21 December in 2016, 16 January, 1 June and 10 September in 2018, 12 September and 13 October in 2020 and on 28 April 2022.
“Arey tadpa tadpa kar maarna hai hamme inhen. There is only one solution: Gun solution, gun solution”, Barkati tells a large crowd. “Arey jawano barood ban jao barood jo Delhi mein jake fatega,” he shouts in another clip. In yet another clip Barkati is seen bragging that he would hoist the Pakistani flag on the Red Fort in Delhi.
The SIA claimed in a statement that in the backdrop of emotional appeals for support from Barkati’s family, the accused generated an amount of Rs 1.50 crore through crowdfunding. “Under this garb he not only generated huge funds but prima facie also laundered money coming from unknown sources suspected to have originated from terror outfits for further use in sustaining the secessionist-terrorist campaign”, the SIA statement said. It added that 10 of the suspected members of the network had been identified and their residences were being searched.
“Each search is backed by search warrants issued by competent courts, Magistrates, local police assistance, lady police team, spotters, and transport support by the Security wing of J&K police”, the SIA said.
“With the seizures of electronic gadgets, incriminating material and other corroborative evidence during these searches, SIA is hopeful that the searches would enable it to extract some vital evidence as to who all have contributed to the Sarjan Barkati fund, what was the source of such money, how much of it was from legitimate income and how much from unaccountable sources, whether such sources had anything to do with terror and Hurriyat finances”.
“Preliminary investigations have shown Sarjan Barkati has diverted a substantial part of the funds for his personal benefit and purchased a piece of land worth ₹45 Lakhs in Anantnag town in the name of his wife which he sold for ₹72 Lakhs, making a profit of ₹27 Lakhs and has also built a palatial house using public money. He has also purchased 5 Kanals of land to establish a Madrassa which as per credible information is meant for making money and providing a platform to anti-national elements and also aimed to be a breeding ground for luring youth towards terrorism,”the SIA statement added.
It added further: “A large chunk of such ill-gotten money has been deposited in several FDRs in the name of his family members. Not only has the accused breached the public trust with emotional blackmail by building a personal fortune on the crowd funds donated to him by public for the daily sustenance, he as well camouflaged money coming from suspects sources under the garb of crowd funding for furtherance of secessionist-terrorists campaign”.