SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – One is a 19-year-old construction worker charged with aiding militants against Indian troops, the other is one of Kashmir’s most prominent lawyers, accused of being “an incorrigible secessionist”.
Despite their different backgrounds, Uzair Maqbool Malik and Nazir Ahmad Ronga have something in common: they are among hundreds of people who have been detained without trial by Indian authorities following a crackdown in the disputed region of Kashmir and moved to jails far from home.
India’s portion of the Kashmir Valley – a Muslim-majority territory also claimed by Pakistan – has been under lockdown since the region’s statehood and autonomy were revoked on Aug. 5. Authorities have cut off mobile communications in the valley and detained nearly 4,000 people, many of whom have since been released, according to the government.
At least 300 people have been arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows for detentions of up to two years without trial, the government said. Most have been sent to jails across the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Many are young men like Malik, a high-school dropout who works in construction. But there are others like Ronga, a former head of the bar association in Kashmir, and dozens of other lawyers, academics and leaders of political parties.
Indian officials say the policy of transporting detainees, which started last year but has snowballed since August, is required to cut off militants from their networks.
The transportations are often conducted without warning, and families say they are allowed little contact with detainees once they find them. Proving innocence is difficult even for those with resources given the communications situation in Kashmir and the number of cases.
Sanjay Dhar, the registrar general of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, said two judges in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar were handling around 300 appeals against PSA detentions filed since Aug. 5.