Public protests in Indian-occupied Kashmir were once an almost weekly occurrence but two years after New Delhi imposed direct rule on the region, locals say arbitrary arrests and intimidation by secu-rity forces wielding batons and snatching phones have left many too scared to voice dissent.
A week before the region’s partial autonomy was abolished, and as a massive troop deployment fanned out to help forestall a local backlash, “Rafiq” was one of thousands put in “preventative deten-tion”.
He believes he was arrested because in the past he had “protested against injustices”.
Freed after a harrowing year behind bars, the 26-year-old — too frightened to give his real name — says he is a “broken man”.
Echoing accounts from a dozen other Kashmiris told to AFP, he and 30 others were bundled onto a military aircraft to a jail hundreds of miles from his home where they were “abused and intimidated”.
“A bright light was kept on all night in my cell for six months… It was hard to imagine that I would come out alive,” he said.
He at least was finally released. Activists say that scores of other Kashmiris are languishing in India’s notoriously harsh jails. Mother-of-five Tasleema hasn’t seen her hus-band Gulzar Ahmed Bhat, who used to belong to a separatist group but left it in 2016, in two years.
Initially when police and soldiers raided his home, Bhat was out. So they held his 23-year-old nephew until his uncle turned himself in.
“I almost beg for work to feed my children,” a tearful Tasleema said, a young child on her lap. ‘A tool to silence dissent’ India has, for decades, sta-tioned more than half a million soldiers in occupied Kashmir.
Its troops are fighting people demanding inde-pendence or a merger with Pakistan, which controls the western part of the region.
Saying it wanted finally to achieve peace, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped a section of the constitution guaranteeing the terri-tory’s partial autonomy in August 2019.
Kasmhiris now no longer have a locally elected government and are ruled by a lieutenant governor appointed by New Delhi.—AFP