SRINAGAR,Jammu and Kashmir — Ten days into an extraordinary suspension of civil rights and liberties in Kashmir, Indian authorities have refused to put a precise figure to the number of opposition politicians, trade unionists, lawyers, rights activists and civilians arrested, detained, or placed under house arrest, in the aftermath of the government’s decision to revoke the state’s special status and bifurcate it into two union territories.
Instead, spokespersons for Governor Satya Pal Malik, the state police and the Union Home Ministry have responded with obfuscation and evasion, even as senior police officers admitted that some of the detainees have been rendered out of Kashmir and are being held in the Indian mainland.
At a press briefing on Monday August 12 2019, for instance, Inspector General of Police Swayam Prakash Pani said: “We do not have centralised number for who is being arrested in what part.”
On Wednesday, on the eve of Independence Day, Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gilani, Additional Director General of Police, Armed, Jammu and Kashmir police, said, “There have been detentions under Public Safety Act, we are not denying that. There have been preventive arrests as well. Some people have also been shifted out of the state.”
On the same day, former IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal became the latest public figure to be detained in New Delhi without cause and spirited away to an undisclosed location. He joins three former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who continue to remain under detention since August 5 2019. Other prominent political detainees include veteran National Conference leader and former Member of Parliament Mohammad Shafi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s one-time ally and former cabinet minister Sajad Gani Lone, who once described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his older brother.
Last week, the valley’s most widely read English daily Greater Kashmir reported that more than 500 political leaders and activists have been arrested, including the president of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association Mian Abdul Qayoom, activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat, former advisor of chief minister Mufti, Waheed Para, trade union leaders Shakeel Qalander, and Yasin Khan; and activist and wife of Hurriyat leader Nayeem Khan, Professor Hameeda Nayeem. A PTI report last week had said that 20 people including Qayoom had been transferred to Agra Central Jail. The report described them as “potential trouble makers”.
The government’s refusal to share the numbers of detainees is in sharp contrast to the eagerness with which the state has been quick to publicise estimates of the number of people who supposedly offered Eid prayers in the state
All communication lines in the valley remain severed, making it difficult for journalists and civil society activists to estimate just how many people have been jailed. Meanwhile, a police source told HuffPost India that the total number of those detained could be as high as 1500.
The government’s refusal to share the numbers of detainees is in sharp contrast to the eagerness with which the state has been quick to publicise estimates of the number of people who supposedly offered Eid prayers in the state.
“In the entire area of Jammu and Kashmir, we have reports or Eid prayers having been peacefully concluded. In Jammu, for example, 5000 people offered Eid prayers at the Eidgah…in Kashmir, people offered prayers in Baramulla…over 10,000 people offered prayers at the historic Jamia Masjid (Baramulla)...everywhere the prayers were facilitated,” the government spokesperson said on Monday.
The Eid prayer numbers are meant to indicate that “normal life” has resumed in the valley.
But when HuffPost India specifically asked the J&K government’s official spokesperson, Rohit Kansal, about the number of those detained, he said, “We have no idea about the numbers.”
Night raids in South Kashmir
Outside Srinagar, in south Kashmir’s volatile Shopian district, dozens of residents told HuffPost India about the widespread night raids carried out by the army since August 4.
“Four youths were arrested from our village last week,” said Bashir Ahmad, a resident of Imam Sahab village in Shopian. “Their parents queued up outside the camp every morning for any information about the whereabouts of their kin.”
Ahmad said the spree of raids carried out by the forces has instilled fear among the local population.
“After the lockdown, we somehow managed to bring home one of my brother’s sons studying at a college in Baramulla. Now, we are wary that he might be arrested as well as the raids continue throughout the night. We have told him to not move out of his home at all,” Ahmad said.
On Wednesday, in New Delhi, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), told HuffPost Indiathat she had spoken with an 11-year-old child who had been picked up security forces and detained for days without charge.
“They are making it a point to raid houses in the night and take away young boys in the night,” said Krishnan, who had just returned to Delhi after a five day fact-finding mission in Kashmir. “Parents said they have been picked up on the way to mosques, from their homes, from their beds at night.”
When HuffPost India tried to reach Army spokesperson Rajesh Kalia in Srinagar through the only working cell phone number at Media Facilitation Centre in Srinagar, his phone was not reachable.
This reporter also tried to meet the Army spokesperson in Srinagar at his office, but was not allowed entry inside the army camp.