New Delhi: Around 300 people from the Kashmir Valley – including politicians from the National Conference and the J&K People’s Democratic Party, students, PhD aspirants, preachers, teachers, businessmen and a Supreme Court lawyer – have been detained in jails across Uttar Pradesh.
According to the Indian Express, at least 285 people from the Valley are being held in the state, with 85 in Agra alone, after the Centre diluted provisions of Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. After the move, several people from Kashmir were detained and were sent to different jails in the country, apparently to prevent protests. While the Centre has not provided the exact number of detainees, media reports have pegged the number at around 4,000.
The DIG of prisons (Agra zone) Sanjeev Tripathi told the newspaper that the detainees were transferred “under high-security observation, and traffic route diversions were made”. “It is possible that more prisoners could be brought in. Their families, after due verification, will be allowed to meet them in the coming weeks,” he said.
Previous media reports suggest that detainees are being shifted to Agra (and other destinations) in regular batches. On August 24, reports said 27 Kashmiris were transferred to the Agra Central Jail, while on September 6, another 29 were brought.
Officials also told the newspaper that the Kashmiri detainees are lodged in separate barracks. “They are being offered the same food and they eat alongside other prisoners. They are also let out in the fields within jail premises,” said Tripathi. Meetings with families of the detainees may also be set up at a different time and place from other prisoners.
Ghulam, a resident of Pulwama, arrived in Agra to meet his 35-year-old son, a preacher, but was not allowed to meet him because he did not have a verification letter from the J&K Police. According to the Indian Express, Ghulam spent Rs 20,000 to travel, but he had not been informed about the need to carry a verification letter. “Since phones and Internet are down, we cannot call and ask for the letter to be faxed. We have to spend thousands of rupees to go back and return for that piece of paper,” a relative who accompanied Ghulam told the newspaper.
The family said though Ghulam’s son was “politically active”, he was not involved in any unlawful activity. He was taken away by police on August 5. “They told us he was being arrested under the Public Safety Act. We haven’t seen him since. He has a two-month-old daughter who is waiting for him,” the family said.
Another family who came to meet a detained student told the newspaper that while they had Aadhaar cards, did not have the verification. They hoped jail officials would allow them to meet the detainee. The family is poor and cannot afford to make another trip, they said.
The government has downplayed the number of people arrested, saying that most were “released after counselling” by the police. “Only those youth who are chronic stone pelters and those who instigate people to stage protests have either been booked under the PSA or sent to outside jails,” J&K police additional director general (law and order) Muneer Khan told media.
Reports suggest that people are being shifted to jails in other parts of India because the ones in Kashmir are “full”. The reports have prompted relatives of the detainees to camp outside the Srinagar Central Jail in the hope that they would be allowed to meet them before they are “shifted” elsewhere.