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J&K Police Conducts 'Census' on People's Personal Details, Foreign Visits, Militancy Links

This is not the first time that residents of Jammu and Kashmir, which is without an elected government since 2018, have been asked by security forces to give out their personal details.

New Delhi: Since the beginning of this year, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and security forces have been asking the residents of the union territory to fill up questionnaire forms seeking their personal details without any explanation.

A resident of uptown Srinagar city said that a couple of police personnel from the local police station dropped in at his home earlier this month. He said that the cops, one of whom was in civvies, handed him a document containing a list of questions with the direction that it should be returned “at the earliest”.

“All the households in our locality have been directed to fill up the questionnaire and return it to the local police station. It has worried me but we are helpless also,” the resident, who wished to remain anonymous fearing reprisal from authorities, told The Wire.

Another resident said that the document is meant to be filled by the head of the family along with their phone and Aadhaar numbers, details about their foreign visits, links, if any, with militancy, family members settled abroad, status of land and vehicles owned, and geographical positioning of their home.

“When I asked the cops about the reason, they said that it was for security purposes and that there was nothing to worry about,” the second resident said.

The Hindu quoted a government source as saying that the ‘census’ exercise will “minimise damage to property and protect locals” in case of a gunfight between security forces and militants or a law-and-order situation.

“The form will ensure that the police and security forces have the precise details. The Army has already completed the exercise,” the source told the newspaper while police have said that the exercise will “ease … providing services (such as passport verification) to citizens.”

According to reports, the exercise is being conducted in the backdrop of an uptick in targeted attacks in Kashmir and it is aimed to systematise police records about individual households and any changes in family composition.

However, this is not the first time that residents of Jammu and Kashmir, which is without an elected government since 2018, have been asked by security forces to give out their personal details.

Last year, a similar “census” form was distributed in Srinagar by the police, prompting many residents to allege that the security agencies were conducting their “political profiling”.

In 2020, the J&K Police was forced to suspend a similar information gathering exercise in the Jammu region following a public outcry.

For decades, the Army has been conducting similar drives in rural areas of Kashmir where houses are alphanumerically marked by the soldiers of the local unit of Rashtriya Rifles, the Army’s counter-terrorism force, and the house owners are warned against erasing these markings.

In some cases, the mohalla heads have also been asked to get complete details of residents and the number of households in their locality by the army units.

The CRPF had also conducted a similar survey in parts of Kashmir last year, reportedly on the directions of the Union home ministry. This year, the central force has been reportedly asked to collect the details in their respective areas of operation.

The new ‘census’ comes in the backdrop of the increased use of surveillance systems in Kashmir following the reading down of Article 370 in 2019. In 2022, the then chief of Kashmir Police, Vijay Kumar, had said that the force was aiming to profile “80% of Kashmiris”.

While officials have defended these exercises as a necessity to keep an eye on trouble, many Kashmiri residents and rights campaigners have raised fears about the intrusions in privacy and misuse of data.

“The government already has details about a person’s profession, their phone number, passport and foreign visits, land or vehicle ownership and others. This exercise is obviously aimed to create fear. Asking for these details again is a way of telling us that we are watching you,” said the Srinagar resident quoted above.

Last year, the J&K Police introduced a Global Positioning System gadget to keep a track of the terror suspects who are released on bail by courts, drawing flak from the civil rights activists.

Senior J&K Police officials could not be reached for comments about the latest ‘census’ exercise. One police official said that the exercise was “not new” and it was repeated every year to keep the local police stations updated about the areas under their jurisdiction.

In 2023, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a spate of targeted attacks and deadly strikes on security forces which have raised uncomfortable questions about the claims of the BJP-led Union government that terrorism was over and normalcy had returned since the region was split and downgraded into a union territory in 2019.

For the first time since 2019, the casualties suffered by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir went up by 10% last year. The slain included high-ranking Army and police officers, thereby punching holes in the Union’s ‘normalcy’ narrative.