Srinagar: Families of detained Kashmiri politicians, who were recently transferred to the MLA hostel in Srinagar, say the government facility, which has been converted into a sub-jail to lodge the leaders, is not fit to house them during winters.
The families also accused the police of humiliating them through the stringent frisking and checking measures that have been put in place. Tensions between the authorities and families of detained politicians have been high since a scuffle broke out between some detainees and on-duty police officers who had tried to pat down Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone.
The families visited the leaders Wednesday — one of the two days the politicians are allowed visitors (the other being Sunday).
Speaking to ThePrint after meeting her detained father Naeem Akhtar, lawyer and activist Shehryar Khanum said the amenities in the new facility were inadequate.
“They (detainees) have been provided with a heater that is not sufficient to warm up a room especially when the electricity supply is erratic. The power trips on its own if multiple geysers are switched on at the same time. The rooms are not only tiny but are extremely unhygienic” said Shehryar whose father is a former PDP minister and close aide of former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti.
“There isn’t proper carpeting in some rooms,” Shehryar added. “We had to spread blankets on the floor in my father’s room. The bathrooms are extremely unclean too. This is cruelty and nothing else.”
Noor-ud-din, brother of PDP politician Nizam-ud-din, said the detainees were being treated “worse than animals”.
“The windows have been sealed with nails and plywood. There is hardly any hot water in the bathrooms because there is hardly any electricity,” he said. “A heater is provided which doesn’t heat the room. The food is sub standard. We took in some blankets but those are not enough for the temperatures that we see in Kashmir.”
A senior J&K police officer, however, disputed the claims. “When the MLA hostel was fit enough to house the politicians when they were MLAs, what is the problem now?” he asked, adding the administration had made adequate heating arrangements by providing the detainees with a room heater.
Families face trouble visiting new centre
The 33 Kashmiri politicians, who since 5 August had been detained at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) — a much quieter and secluded location — were Sunday transferred to the MLA hostel, located in Srinagar’s main city centre, Lal Chowk.
Wednesday being a visitors day, a portion of the busy Maulana Azad (MA) road, which leads to the MLA hostel, witnessed heavy deployment of J&K police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.
Mediapersons were stopped on the MA Road that has the only entry and exit point to the hostel. A police officer told the media that the MLA hostel had been converted into a sub-jail not and hence the entire area around it had been notified.
Unlike the SKICC, where the families could park their vehicles by the road, and enter the facility keeping their privacy intact, the cars that were carrying the families were turned back Wednesday. The families were asked to park their cars elsewhere and walk the distance from the main check point on MA Road to the hostel.
After visiting their relatives, the family members told ThePrint that they were humiliated during the frisking conducted on them by the police.
“This is being done to humiliate us. It was better if the government would take them to central jail,” said Tanveer Veeri, son of National Conference (NC) leader and former MLC, Dr Bashir Veeri.
Mustaq Ahmed Sheikh, father of Srinagar’s deputy mayor Sheikh Imran, was among the few visitors who broke down before meeting his son. He had requested the on-duty policemen to allow him to be dropped outside the MLA hostel in his car due to his knee problems. The request was politely refused.
Noor-ud-din was also emotional as soon as he began to speak with the media after the visit. “The women, the kids, all of them were frisked down to their shoes,” he said. “Their jewellery, shawls and even socks were removed.”
As the interaction between journalists and the leaders’ families picked up pace, a police vehicle with a loudspeaker mounted on it began announcing: “This is a notified area. Photography and videography are not allowed,” said the announcement. “You are running after women and children to interview them. That is not right. You are invading their privacy. You are all professional people. You are senior journalists.”