Mohammad Aleem Syed, a law graduate from Kashmir who is now based in Delhi, last communicated with his family on 4 August. Six days later, 24-year-old Syed filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking information about his family and the court’s permission to visit them. He tried travelling to Kashmir on 14 August, but the flight to Srinagar was cancelled. Syed had to wait two more weeks before the apex court heard his petition. On 28 August, the Supreme Court allowed Syed to travel to Kashmir to meet his parents, and directed him to “report back to the court” with an affidavit about the visit immediately upon his return.
Without any concrete information about his family’s well-being, Syed had filed his writ petition because he feared his family had been detained. On 5 August, the home minister Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha that the government had read down Article 370 of the Indian constitution to nullify the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir. The announcement came with a heavy security clampdown, a communications blackout and large-scale detentions. The internet was shutdown, mobile phone networks suspended, and cable television services cut off. Political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, such as the former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were detained and later arrested. A curfew was also imposed, restricting the movement of residents, and putting Jammu and Kashmir in a state of lockdown.
Syed’s family—his parents and two elder brothers—live in the Anantnag district of south Kashmir. After his flight was cancelled, the airline had offered to book him on another flight, but he had declined because of the uncertainties created by the lockdown. “Anantnag is a more volatile area compared to Srinagar,” he explained. “From Srinagar, it is a journey of almost two hours. It would have been almost impossible for me to travel from the airport to Anantnag because the whole valley is under lockdown. Had I been able to communicate with my family I would have told them to get a curfew pass and receive me at the airport. Since they had no idea when I would be coming or how I would be coming, it was practically impossible for me to go there.”
Along with Syed’s petition, the Supreme Court bench comprising the chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, SA Bobde and Abdul Nazeer also heard 13 other petitions concerning Jammu and Kashmir. These included cases that ranged from challenging the reading down of Article 370, seeking access to people who were untraceable and easing the restrictions imposed in the Kashmir Valley.
Two petitions were filed regarding the inability to trace people. In addition to Syed, Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had also filed a writ petition stating that Mohamad Yusuf Tarigami, the party’s Jammu and Kashmir state secretary, had been wrongfully detained. Yechury said that there was a lack of information about Tarigami’s whereabouts. On 9 August, Yechury and D Raja, the Communist Party of India general secretary, attempted to visit Kashmir. They were briefly detained at the airport, denied entry into the city and sent back to Delhi.