On 5 August, a 30-year-old Kashmiri businessman was headed to a pharmacy near Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area to pick up medicines for his mother. On the way, “there is a CRPF camp,” his mother told me, referring to the Central Reserve Police Force. “As he began to walk by the area, astation house officer,” of the Jammu and Kashmir police, “detained him, and kept him imprisoned in the local police station.” She said her son was booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows preventive custody for two years without trial or charges.
The businessman is one of thousands of young men arrested in Kashmir over the last month. The Valley has been in a state of lockdown since 5 August, when the government effectively abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir a special status, and downgraded the state into two union territories. The government’s announcements were followed by a heavy security clampdown, a communications blackout and large-scale arrests and detentions in the state. According to media reports, at least 4000 people have been arrested under the PSA, though residents said the figure may be far higher.
Across the Kashmir Valley, women have been anxiously waiting outside police stations for their turn to meet family members who have been detained. Some have learned that their kin have been moved to jails outside Kashmir. Over the last month, I met several Kashmiri mothers whose sons had been detained and arrested.
Every afternoon for the last several weeks, the businessman’s 55-year-old mother sat by the window in one of the rooms of her mud house, waiting for her son to return home. Her husband died a decade ago, and she lived alone with her son. He ran a small tent renting business and was the sole bread earner of the family.
According to his mother, the businessman was detained for three days at a local police station, then shifted to the Srinagar Central Jail until 21 August, after which he was moved to a jail in Agra in Uttar Pradesh. She showed me a piece of paper on which a local police officer had scribbled the address of the jail where her son is currently lodged. She said the officer had assured her that he will bear the expenses of her travel to Agra when she wants to meet her incarcerated son.