The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘Our children are in jail’: How India is keeping Kashmir isolated and in fear

A security guard stands at a roadblock in Kashmir on Aug. 7. (Rakesh Bakshi/AFP/Getty)
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Rana Ayyub is an Indian journalist and author of “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up."

On Aug. 6, days after the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status, Mohammed Ashiq, 13, had gone to sleep on the carpet of his family’s modest home after playing with the lamb his father had brought home to sacrifice on Eid al-Adha, which was a week away. Late that night, he heard a loud scream followed by some noises on the roof of his house.

His mother rushed to his side before a group of men in uniform barged in. His father, Yunus Mohammed, told me in an interview during my recent visit to Kashmir that a man with a red mask on his face entered, followed by close to 30 officers from the Jammu and Kashmir police. Six or seven police vans stood outside the house. “They snatched my young boy from my wife’s arms and started beating him,” Mohammed said. “They asked him to give the whereabouts of stone pelters.”

Ashiq was dragged out of the house and thrown into a police van, which disappeared into the darkness. The next morning, when his father went to the police station, Ashiq had red eyes from crying through the night. He told his father that the officers had tied his hands to a pole and beat him with a stick all night.

When I reached Ashiq’s house, his parents were reluctant to talk. After much persuasion, they called Ashiq, who had been playing cricket with his friends outside. He removed his T-shirt, drenched in sweat, to show the cuts and bruises covering his back. He screams in pain when his father tries to touch one of the wound marks. “The SP saheb (superintendent of police) beat me the night I was dragged to the police station," he told me. "There were other boys in the van. When I told them I studied in class eight in school and knew nothing about the protests, they would start beating me again.”

Ashiq’s father, who runs a fruit shop, said he wanted to file a complaint against the police — but he knows there cannot be justice from this government that claims to be liberating the valley but is attempting to crush the spirit of every Kashmiri. After 18 days of detention, Ashiq was released with physical and psychological scars that he will carry the rest of his life. The lamb that was brought to be sacrificed is still tied in the veranda.

The Indian government has said Kashmir is calm after revoking the area's autonomous status. But video and eyewitness accounts show a different story. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

Outside the Rajbagh Police station in Srinagar, hundreds of anxious parents waited to get a glimpse of their children, who have been rounded up and detained. Officers surrounded mothers as they wept, carrying food for their children.

“At least tell me if he is alive,” asked Rukhsana. His 18-year-old son was also picked up from Mehju Nagar. Close to 3,000 people have been detained in Kashmir — many of them children — since Aug. 4, when a curfew and communication blackout were imposed in the valley. It has now been a month, and many locals have no reliable information about their future. Fear and uncertainty permeate the atmosphere.

As we drove to Parigaam on the way to Pulwama, we were stopped at various checkpoints by the Central Paramilitary forces who have covered every inch of Jammu and Kashmir with their guns and concertina wire. Civilian movement is restricted to emergency services, and long stretches of silence followed as we drove on deserted roads. In Parigaam, we asked a local about Muzaffar Ahmed, a young man we were told was recently released from detention. The man in front of his closed cellphone store asked: “Are you from the media?”

We answered yes, and he began screaming at our driver, asking us to leave. “Do you guys have any shame?” he yelled. “You journalists dance on television that everything is normal here while we are being killed and silenced. Our children are in jail and have been disappeared and you tell the world that all is good, that we are rejoicing!”

The Indian media is viewed with suspicion and anger in Kashmir. There is growing resentment over the skewed coverage — most journalists have resorted to simply reproducing official government lies. Gulfam Wani, a local baker, asked me, “How does the Indian media sleep at night with this propaganda against us Kashmiris every day?”

A few miles ahead, I met Muzaffar Ahmed. He is 20 and works with his father and brother in a local bakery in Parigaam. His father, Shabbir, told us that on Aug. 6 members of the Rashtriya Rifles, a security unit deployed in the valley, knocked on the door. They came in a mine-resistant vehicle used by the Indian army. They started breaking the windows of his house. Muzaffar told me the officers were drunk. Close to 30 officers ransacked the house. They showered expletives on the family. One of them held Muzaffar by the neck and asked, "Where are your accomplices?” He dragged Muzaffar to the local mosque and asked him to throw stones at it. When Muzaffar refused, they beat him again. “Throw stones at the mosque, like you throw stones at us,” he said they told him.

The Ahmed brothers were beaten for two hours before they were taken to the central jail. Muzaffar told me that once there, they were beaten for hours with a bamboo stick. When they went unconscious, they were woken up with electric shocks. He shows me his burnt skin. The two brothers were held for 20 days. After they were released, Shabbir put them in a tempo and hurried them to a hospital in Srinagar. The doctor told him that his son barely survived with his spine. Muzaffar, who prayed five times a day in the local mosque, broke down: “They have broken my bones; I cannot prostrate myself before Allah.”

He is still looking for answers. Why was he arrested? He said he has never taken part in a single protest. His father wanted to know how the family will survive with his two working sons severely disabled.

Muzaffar’s mother invited me inside the house. She asked whether I can protect her daughter-in-law. “They were drunk, and they kept asking for my daughter-in-law,” she said of the officers. “I fear they will come again.”

I spent four days in Kashmir before I had to leave for Delhi to file this. I have been visiting the valley for the past 15 years, but I had never seen these levels of resentment and anger toward the Indian state. I asked Kashmiris whether they would like to send their children away from the valley to protect them. They laughed.

“Look at the hatred on display for Indian Muslims in the rest of the country. You think they will let Kashmiris live?” Ashiq’s father told me. “Our children are being thrown out of colleges, from their homes in your India.” (This month, a 24-year-old Kashmiri doctor was denied accommodation by a hotel in New Delhi, which cited an alleged WhatsApp message from the government that asked to refuse space to Kashmiris.)

Right after my return, I sent out a tweet about the current injustices in Kashmir. It sparked outrage. Imtiyaz Hussain of the Jammu and Kashmir police called my tweet baseless and alarming. In the past three weeks, Hussain has been discrediting reports by international news organizations — including the the Wall Street Journal and the BBC — as propaganda.

India, like Hussain, has decided to overlook the suffering of a besieged population of 8 million. While Kashmiris remain trapped and isolated, facing persecution and torture, Indians relax in their living rooms to watch the news and congratulate themselves for another “victory” in the name of “stability and prosperity.”

Read more:

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Barkha Dutt: Pakistan’s response to Kashmir is only helping Modi. It should stay out of this.

Asad Majeed Khan: India is precipitating a crisis in Kashmir. It’s time for the U.S. to step in.

Mili Mitra: This is the Modi government’s darkest moment