Representational image. | Image Courtesy: aljazeera
Hajin: In a small hamlet in North Kashmir, Baharabad, around 40 km away from Srinagar, inside a low-rise house clasped by willow and poplar trees and fenced with tin-sheets, women are grieving. One of them is crying loudly, lamenting as if someone has died in the family. However, there has been no death in the household.
The house belongs to Abdul Ahad Bahar, a father of five, four sons and a daughter. His four sons were arrested by police a week ago. Since then, the family has been inconsolable.
Sitting on the porch, mother of the detained sons, Khatija recalls her ordeal as she struggles with words and the tears in her eyes. “We are devastated… they took my sons. We live on their earning,” she says.
Last week, on Thursday (August 29), around 12 in the night, personnel from the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police and security forces gathered in their courtyard as they cordoned off the locality. The police asked for one of the family members but eventually arrested all four brothers, they say.
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“They came in the dark and they were everywhere, in our courtyard and around the house. We were very scared. We are still scared,” Fahmeeda says standing next to Khatija.
Fahmeeda is married to 35-year-old Sajad, the eldest son who works as a government school teacher. They don’t have any kids yet. Sajad was picked up along with his younger brothers Mehraj, Tariq and Waseem.
Mehraj is also married and has two children. He works with his younger brother Tariq as a farmer and Waseem, the youngest is an undergraduate student at a local government college.
The woman humming dirges inside the house is Khatija’s sister. Her daughter is also next to her crying without saying a word, just wiping her tears with her headscarf. Abdul Ahad is not home and there only women inside the house, deeply agonised by the arrests.
“When the police came, they told me they wanted my husband to accompany them while raiding another house, but they took all of them along,” Fahmeeda says.
Adding to their woes, the women have not been allowed to meet the brothers since they were arrested except their father Ahad, who has been able to meet his sons only twice.
“We don’t know how they are. He told us they are fine, but we don’t believe, we have not seen them. They always beat them inside jails,” Khatija says.
According to the family, however, three brothers have been shifted to Bandipora while Tariq is still lodged in the Hajin police station.
The brothers are not the only ones arrested from the village. Two more villagers – Mohammad Yousuf Dar and Ghulam Rasool Dar were also arrested around the same time.
In another village Maarkondal, around a kilometre away from Baharabad, almost a dozen boys were detained at the Sumbal police station. Five of them have been released so far, while the others are still awaiting their turn.
“Nocturnal raids have become a norm around here. They arrest people even when there have been no protests in this area,” a local says.
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Dozens of arrests have taken place in this area stretching a little over a 3 km radius. Similar arrests have been reported from across the Kashmir Valley and the number is expected to be in thousands. The arrests began after the government launched a massive crackdown in Kashmir around the same time when it unilaterally abrogated Article 370, a contentious decision that forced the government to launch, what it terms as, ‘preventive detentions to maintain public order.’ Many believe that the reason behind the communication blackout and the arrest spree is the deep fear of reprisal from the local population.
The government disputes that the number of arrests across the region is ‘high’.
“There are no centralised arrests and no centralised arrest figures. It is a dynamic situation and the decision are reviewed by local authorities,” government spokesperson Rohit Kansal said in a media briefing.
For the Bahar family in Baharabad, however, the number of loved ones missing from their home is certainly ‘high’.