Mehbooba Mufti, 60, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, is being held at a bungalow used to house police officials.
Farooq Abdullah, 82, is under a stringent form of house arrest in which his home has been officially designated a jail. His son, Omar Abdullah, 49, is detained at a former palace that was once a police facility notorious for torture. All three are former chief ministers of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Their prolonged detentions are a sign of how things remain far from normal in Kashmir, despite the Indian government’s claims. India has said that such measures were necessary to prevent violent protests in response to the change in Kashmir’s status. But while other restrictions on communication have been eased and several politicians released, these three key figures in Kashmiri politics are still detained. Elections for the local legislature remain indefinitely suspended.
For nearly three decades, India has battled a violent insurgency in the region that seeks freedom for Kashmir or merger with Pakistan. The parties led by the Abdullahs and Mufti forged a pro-India path in politics and advocated for remaining inside India under certain conditions. Omar and Farooq Abdullah met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi days before the Aug. 5 announcement as tensions grew in the region.
But their political stance did not prevent their detentions alongside those accused of sympathizing with separatists. Amit Shah, India’s home minister, said in January that authorities detained the former chief ministers because they had made statements that could incite unrest.
In one of his last tweets, on Aug. 4, Omar Abdullah asked the people of Kashmir to stay calm and avoid violence. Mufti said that changing Kashmir’s status would make India an occupying force in the region.
Only immediate family members are allowed to visit the three politicians. They spend their days watching news on television and reading books, including the Koran. Home-cooked food is sent daily.
The United States has expressed its concern. A senior State Department official told reporters in January that Washington had urged India “to move swiftly to release those political leaders detained without charge.”
Amitabh Mattoo, a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the major decision to change Kashmir’s status required measures to minimize adverse effects. But now, he said, that period is over and it is important for the leaders to be released “to begin a fresh chapter.”
The government has charged Farooq Abdullah, also a member of Parliament, under the Public Safety Act, a law that critics have called “draconian.” It allows authorities to detain people for up to two years without trial. Omar Abdullah and Mufti have been detained under a provision in the Indian penal code that allows preventive arrests to maintain peace. Two local administration officials did not respond to requests for comment on the detentions. A senior police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters with reporters, said that the detentions were “completely legal.”
“Kashmir today is a police state,” said Aaliya Mubarak, Omar’s cousin and Farooq’s niece. She said the government has acted as if her cousin and uncle were “terrorists.”
Hasnain Masoodi, a member of Parliament from Omar Abdullah’s party, petitioned the court to visit him and was surprised to find the normally clean-shaven Omar with a rough beard in October. Indian authorities want “to leave his psyche bruised and battered,” Masoodi said.
A recent photograph of Omar Abdullah with a ragged, gray beard startled many in the country. Mubarak, Omar’s cousin, said he was keeping a beard as a “mark of protest.”
Masoodi and Mubarak term India’s unilateral decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy a “betrayal,” a sentiment shared by Mufti, the third former chief minister in detention, according to her daughter, Iltija Mufti.
For nearly a week after her mother was detained, Iltija Mufti said, she had no information or contact with her until she found a crumpled note in a lunchbox that had been sent for her. The note said her mother “loved and missed us dearly,” said Iltija Mufti, 32. “Over the next few days, this was our only form of communication.
“My world has been torn apart,” said Iltija Mufti, who also had to petition the court to see her mother. “It’s been so long now that sometimes I refer to her in the past tense.”
Joanna Slater in New Delhi and Shams Irfan in Srinagar contributed to this report.