Indian assault on Kashmir in third week, thousands arrested

By Deepal Jayasekera and Keith Jones
21 August 2019

The state of siege that India’s Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has imposed on Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is now well into its third week.

Cell phone and internet access continue to be denied to many of the region’s 13 million residents; and tens of thousands of Indian Army troops and paramilitaries remain deployed in J&K’s cities, towns and villages to intimidate the population and brutally suppress any and all signs of opposition to New Delhi’s August 5 constitutional coup.

On that day, the BJP government illegally stripped India’s only Muslim-majority state of its unique, semi-autonomous constitutional status by executive fiat, bifurcated it and downgraded the severed parts into two Union Territories, thus placing them under permanent trusteeship of the central government.

Despite New Delhi’s efforts to black out what is happening in Kashmir and silence all government opponents, information is leaking out that points to both the scale of the state repression and the strength and resilience of popular opposition.

It is now known that the Indian government has arbitrarily detained at least 4,000 people under a draconian, anti-democratic law that allows the state to imprison people it deems a threat to “public security” for up to two years without charge.

The detainees include “potential stone-pelters,” i.e., students and other young people previously active in anti-government protests, academics, lawyers and journalists. They also include—in an implicit admission of the lack of any support for New Delhi’s actions in the Kashmir Valley and among the Muslim population of Jammu—the top leadership and numerous cadre of the pro-Indian parties formed or traditionally supported by J&K’s Muslim elite.

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Indian authorities have refused to reveal the names of those who have been detained or tell their relatives where they are being held. State-owned All-India Radio said last week that government officials had placed the number of detained at around 500.

This has now been exposed as disinformation.

A J&K magistrate has determined that at least 4,000 people have been detained, with most sent by military aircraft to jails outside J&K, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Sunday. The magistrate had covertly collected information on the number of detainees from colleagues using a special cell phone that had been given him because of his senior government post. His account, said AFP, has been corroborated by other government sources, including a police official who said that upwards of 6,000 people have been arrested.

Since then there have been further arrests. Thirty youth who clashed with police overnight were seized and transported to jails elsewhere in India, reported Reuters Tuesday.

Reporters from the Kolkata-based daily Telegraph who visited three villages in south Kashmir, Shaar, Khrew, and Mandankpal, said residents told them that hundreds of security personnel had been deployed there and that they had rounded up dozens of “potential stone-throwers.” The report, which was published Monday under the headline “‘Iron fist’ in rural Kashmir,” said Indian forces had frequently held hostage the fathers and brothers of those targeted for detention so as to force them to surrender. This, it went on to note, is “an aspect of the crackdown that has passed largely under the radar thanks to the information blackout.”

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A relative of one young man, Sameer Ahmad, who surrendered to authorities to secure the release of his father, told the Telegraph, “For six days, we had no information about him. Yesterday, we found him at the central jail, booked under the PSA (Public Security Act). He told us he was thrashed and that there were hundreds of prisoners in the jail.”

Another establishment publication, the Quint, noting that many of the detained Kashmiri youth have been transported to jails in BJP-administered Uttar Pradesh pointed to a sinister purpose. “That (criminal gangs) have immense influence in these jails is hidden from no one,” said the Quint. “People have been murdered and assaults are commonplace. This would mean that Kashmiris are likely to have a tough time in these jails. The government’s strategy (is) to instill this fear into the stone-pelters.”

A report published Monday by the Indian Express lists the names of the most high-profile of the scores of mainstream political leaders and officials who have been detained and are now being held incommunicado. On the list are three former J&K Chief Ministers—Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the J&K National Conference, and People’s Democratic Party head Mehbooha Mufti; former J&K cabinet minister and People’s Conference head Sajad Lone; six other former J&K ministers; other legislators; and the mayor and deputy mayor of J&K’s largest city, Srinagar.

The Narendra Modi-led BJP, with the unabashed support of most of the corporate media, is trying to give the impression that normalcy is being gradually restored to J&K. But this is belied by its actions, which betray an enormous fear of popular opposition.

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