I’ve been watching the images of bloodshed and targeted attacks against Indian Muslims breaking out on the streets of Delhi. The role of the police in precipitating violence in Delhi and the detention spree in Kashmir since August 5, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the region’s nominal autonomous status, has laid bare a glaring truth: The Indian government is willing to use any means to crack down on dissent.
For as long as I can remember, my father has suffered under the Indian state. I’ve seen him in the guise of a prisoner all my life. It’s hard for me to even conjure him as a free man. On February 5, he completed his 27th year of imprisonment. I’m 20 years old.
In his absence, my mother raised me. But I haven’t seen her for two years. Both my parents are in solitary confinement, in two different jails. As Kashmiris, they have been detained by the government of India for speaking out against the occupation and demanding the right to self-determination. In Kashmir, my story is commonplace.
While much media attention in India has shown great concern vis-à-vis the detention of pro-Indian politicians like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti in Kashmir, there has been little backlash against the horrible detention of those Kashmiris who do not see their future with India. Every such Kashmiri is deemed inherently criminal and punishable.
In addition to those who have been languishing in jails for years, India has detained thousands of Kashmiris since August 5. According to various fact-finding reports, the government of India arrested an estimated 4,000 to 13,000 people. The crackdown was so massive that Indian authorities ran out of space in the local prisons and had to send detainees to jails across India.
Of the total number of detentions, 412 were booked under the Public Safety Act—a law that India has used for decades to quell any protest. The detainees do not have the right to legal representation, and can be held up to two years without charges. Amnesty International has called this a “lawless law.” The authorities are not required to inform the detainees about the grounds for their arrest if they decide that revealing the information goes “against the public interest.” In fact, it’s the very existence of this draconian law that violates our “public interest.”
A 76-year-old lawyer, Mian Qayoom, who has practiced law for over four decades in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and Indian Supreme Court, has been detained under the act. The High Court dismissed a petition challenging his detention. He is a diabetic patient surviving on a single kidney and has recently had a heart attack. He needs urgent medical care—a basic right that our prisoners have long been deprived of.
When it comes to our political prisoners, India disregards international law, and its judiciary only validates this injustice.
When my own mother calls me from prison once a month, the authorized time is 12 minutes. But the jailers rarely allow us to talk that long. The underlying message is clear: They are more entitled to my mother than I am. They violate their own laws and ignore their own dicta, to put in our mind that there is no “system” or “law” that a Kashmiri can count on.
Yasin Malik, a popular resistance leader, has been in a solitary cell for more than a year. He espouses a peaceful method of struggling for the right to self-determination. The prolonged and harsh imprisonment of a political activist like him conveys an important message: The democracy of India will not tolerate even nonviolent Kashmiri resistance.
Children as young as 13 have been taken into custody. They have been arrested while they were busy playing on the streets or picked up from their homes in the dead of night.
Fifteen-year-old Umar is an orphan but the sole breadwinner for his family; he dropped out of school a few years back when his father passed away. On August 7, he was detained from his home, handcuffed, and sent to a prison a thousand miles from his home. For three months, he was confined inside a small cell. Umar was finally released, but his life is not the same. He is in a state of war within. He has abandoned the bakery shop amid fears he would be arrested again.
Families like his are finding it hard to battle for justice and livelihood at the same time. Some of them can’t even afford the cost of traveling to the distant jails where their loved ones have been kept.
I know a mother who scurried from one police station to another, with eyes hopeful of catching one glimpse of her detained child. In most of the cases, the authorities do not inform the family regarding the whereabouts of the detainee.
On December 20, 65-year-old detainee Ghulam Muhammad Bhat died during imprisonment. Ever since his death, many families in Kashmir fear that they could be faced with a similar fate. With little or no communication with their detained family members, they wonder if they will have the closure of saying goodbye to their loved ones before they die.
In the ongoing violence against Muslims by right-wing Hindu supremacists, the lives of Kashmiri detainees in Indian jails remain in great peril. Kashmiris have always been soft targets of majoritarian nationalism. Now those attacks are increasingly also aimed at Muslims across the country. Oppression in Kashmir prefigures injustice elsewhere.
Violence is the natural state of the Indian government’s rule in Kashmir. The individual liberty of every Kashmiri comes into conflict with the national integrity of India. The Indian state’s plan of action in Kashmir is simple: crush every form of dissent and increase the cost of resistance. By compelling the people to choose between survival and resistance, the Indian government thinks it can subdue Kashmiri political aspirations. What it does not realize is that for many Kashmiris, resistance is survival.