Srinagar: The restrictions imposed in Kashmir ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 have eased since the weekend, but families are, ironically, facing a tougher time meeting detained political leaders, ThePrint has learnt.
“We were allowed to meet him twice but that was in the first week of his arrest,” said Yawar Ali, the 20-year-old grandson of National Conference general secretary and former J&K law minister Ali Sagar. “Now we have been waiting to get permission.”
Sagar’s son Salman, also a leader of the National Conference, is in detention as well. According to Yawar, when police came to pick up Sagar from his residence, the family packed some clothes. “But they weren’t enough,” he added, speaking to ThePrint outside the Srinagar deputy commissioner’s office Tuesday.
Shabnam Lone, the sister of Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone, a BJP ally, had a similar story.
“My mother had gone there, but she wasn’t allowed to meet him,” Shabnam said, referring to Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC), one of the many sites fashioned as detention centres to hold Kashmir’s politicians amid apprehensions of law and order problems.
“They are selective in making families meet their loved ones. We spoke to authorities and they told us that they will be streamlining the meeting process soon,” Shabnam added.
Srinagar deputy mayor Sheikh Imran’s family said they had been visiting the deputy commissioner’s office for the past three days, but weren’t given the permission to meet him.
“How long can we wait?” said his father Sheikh Mushtaq, who was accompanied to the deputy commissioner’s office by his wife Gulshan and Imran’s son. “We have been made to run from pillar to post and have got nothing in the end.”
Paradise by the Dal
Sagar, Lone and Sheikh Imran are all detained at the SKICC.
Named after National Conference founder and former J&K prime minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, SKICC is a showpiece convention centre located on the banks of the Dal lake in Srinagar, with rolling greens and a stunning view of the Zabarwan mountain range.
In untroubled times, it invites guests with the promise of sprawling meeting spaces, state-of-the-art facilities and a host of leisure activities, including fishing and golfing.
— SKICC (@SKICC) November 18, 2014
As of now, however, it is home to nearly 40 “first-rung” mainstream politicians, according to sources.
These include political bigwigs like former education minister Naeem Akhtar, a close adviser to former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, and prominent Shia leader Imran Ansari.
Younger detainees include Sheikh Imran, as well as Waheed Para, who is considered close to Mehbooba.
These are, however, source-based estimates. The state police and the administration have not released the exact number of detention centres set up by the authorities, or other crucial details such as the total number of arrests and detentions and the identity of the detainees.
Mehbooba and fellow former chief minister Omar Abdullah were among the dozens of political leaders rounded up by the Modi government as it set out to strip Kashmir of its special status on 5 August.
Senior police officers told ThePrint that there are around six detention centres in Srinagar alone, though political workers claim the number could be much higher.
A state government source said at least 16 applications from family members of detained politicians had been received by the Srinagar deputy commissioner’s office over the past two days.
According to the source, the office does not have any record of the number of applications received in other districts, where multiple detention centres have sprouted up in the last two weeks as well.
Speaking to ThePrint, government sources said they were trying their best to make the visits smooth. “The applications are under process and we are ensuring that the visitations are a smooth process,” said a government official.
When this reporter visited SKICC Tuesday, he was barred from entering. “Only those people are allowed inside who have a written permission from the deputy commissioner,” said a guard. “This is a restricted area”
While media and public access at the detention centres is heavily restricted, families had been allowed to meet detainees occasionally, the testimonies of relatives suggest this may have changed.
The state was put under a complete communication lockdown ahead of the Article 370 move, with curfew-like restrictions imposed to avoid any law-and-order disturbances. However, they are now beginning to be eased, with offices and schools allowed to reopen and phone connectivity partially restored.
This report has been updated with additional information