Among the 3,000 detained by Indian authorities in Kashmir: Children

By Niha Masih and Joanna Slater


 Dusk was falling as the three boys walked home from the neighborhood mosque.

Farhan Farooq, a skinny 13-year-old with a tuft of black hair, was the youngest. Suddenly, a police vehicle came to a stop next to them and armed officers jumped out in the August twilight. They bundled the three friends into the car, one of the other boys recalled later. Farhan began to cry.

For the next week, Farhan’s family said,  he was held in a jail cell at the local police station in this Kashmiri town 10 miles outside of Srinagar, part of a sweeping crackdown by Indian authorities in the wake of the government’s decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomy and statehood.

Farhan is among some 3,000 people detained in Kashmir since Aug. 5, according to an estimate from a senior local government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. It is unclear how many of the detainees were minors, but The Washington Post has confirmed that at least five Kashmiris younger than 18 have been taken into detention since the start of the crackdown.

“There is an atmosphere of fear in every house,” said Farhan’s mother, Nazia, adding that she did not know why her son was detained. “If they can pick up children, they can do anything.”

India’s Home Affairs Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the detention of children. The supervising officer at the Kashmir police station where Farhan’s family claims he was held declined to speak with The Post. A senior police official for the district denied that any minors had been picked up or detained.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised that removing Kashmir’s special status will usher in a “new dawn” for the Muslim-majority region. But Kashmiris have instead experienced more than three weeks of silence and anger, marked by a communications blackout and widespread detentions.

4MRJDXWJYAI6TFQVR4NDFFROAQ.jpgGraffiti at the park outside Srinagar’s central jail. (Niha Masih/The Washington Post)

Heavy-handed security tactics are not new in Kashmir, which has been home to an anti-India insurgency since 1989. But experts say the scale and intensity of the current crackdown — targeting everyone from teenagers to relatives of militants to senior politicians — appears to be without parallel.

Human rights observers at the United Nations have expressed their concern over the situation. “It’s very worrisome,” said Bernard Duhaime, the U.N. chair-rapporteur for the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. He urged India to ensure that detentions are properly registered, relatives are informed of detainees’ whereabouts and judicial authorities verify the legality of the detentions.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Thursday that the agency urges “respect for human rights, compliance with legal procedures, and an inclusive dialogue with those affected” in Kashmir.

“We continue to be very concerned by reports of detentions and the continued restrictions on the residents of the region,” the spokesperson said.

Satya Pal Malik, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir who was appointed last year by New Delhi, said the government’s strategy had succeeded in saving lives. “We will restore normalcy in the region,” Malik said Wednesday. “We will deepen democracy, make it vibrant and truly representative.”

Residents said that over several months in 2016, large numbers of young men were detained by authorities after violent protests broke out in the Kashmir Valley. This time, however, the trigger was not widespread protests, nor violence by militants, but rather fear of how the population would react to the radical policy shift by New Delhi. A senior police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the authorities are detaining people they think are likely to throw stones at security forces during protests.

Farhan and his friend Junaid Shafi Mir, 17, picked up on Aug. 5, were held in a cell with four others, with new detainees arriving and leaving each day, Junaid said. On the second day of their detention, he said, the two boys were asked to tell the police the whereabouts of another boy. When Junaid said he didn’t know the boy, an officer hit him with a wooden baton five times on his knuckles and palms, he recalled.

Nazia, Farhan’s mother, said that she came to see her son every day and that officers sometimes let her speak to him. “He would cry and ask me to take him home,” she said. “It was very difficult to see him like that.”

Raids and detentions were still underway in recent days. About 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, Nisar Ahmad Mir, who is not related to Junaid, was awakened by a voice claiming to be a local cleric, asking him to open the gate to his home. Half a dozen armed policemen jumped over the wall and said they were looking for his youngest son, 17-year-old Danish, he said. They whisked the boy away. Two days later Danish had still not returned.

The Post confirmed two more cases in Srinagar in which police detained minors.

Nowsheena Sheikh, 17, said her husband, Aquib, also 17, was detained on Aug. 22 when he left home to buy milk. The following day police told her he was being held at Srinagar’s central jail but did not give details of any charges against him.

“I’m scared that they may transfer him out of the state,” said Sheikh, one of dozens of people who gathered at the city’s main prison complex on a recent morning searching for information about their relatives. “How will I ever find him then?”

44COJFWJYAI6TFQVR4NDFFROAQ.jpgEvery morning, people line up outside Srinagar’s central jail to visit detained relatives. (Niha Masih/The Washington Post)

Her fears are not unfounded. One woman began sobbing after a guard handed her a note indicating that her relative had been moved to a jail in Uttar Pradesh, more than 600 miles away. She left immediately, clutching her 4-year-old daughter.

Some of the detentions are taking place under Kashmir’s controversial Public Safety Act, a state law that allows local officials to order that people be held for up to two years without charges or judicial review for reasons of national security.

Mainstream politicians belonging to the pro-India camp in Kashmiri politics have been detained under the act. The Post reviewed one such order for a party official of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference that accused the official of having the ability to “use his network to influence the general masses to rise against the state.” It also said his party had demonstrated “unwanted dissent” toward the Indian Parliament.

Lawyers have also been targeted for detention. Abdus Salam Rather, the president of the lawyer’s association in the district of Baramulla, close to Srinagar, was detained Aug. 5. Because of the communications shutdown, his daughter — who lives in the same city — did not find out about her father’s arrest until six days later.

Rather’s daughter, grandchildren and nephew stood outside the Srinagar jail hoping to see him. Abid Salam, his nephew, expressed shock that his uncle had been arrested. “All of Kashmir is a jail now,” Salam said. “Some of them are inside, and some, like us, are outside.”

4ISNS7GJYAI6TFQVR4NDFFROAQ.jpgSeventeen-year-old Junaid Shafi Mir was among the thousands detained by Indian authorities in Kashmir. (Niha Masih/The Washington Post)

Slater reported from Delhi. Ishfaq Naseem and Shams Irfan in Srinagar contributed to this report.

Imran Khan: The World Can’t Ignore Kashmir. We Are All in Danger.

By Imran Khan
Mr. Khan is the prime minister of Pakistan.


If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, two nuclear-armed states will get ever closer to a direct military confrontation.


Credit Atul Loke for The New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After I was elected prime minister of Pakistan last August, one of my foremost priorities was to work for lasting and just peace in South Asia. India and Pakistan, despite our difficult history, confront similar challenges of poverty, unemployment and climate change, especially the threat of melting glaciers and scarcity of water for hundreds of millions of our citizens.

I wanted to normalize relations with India through trade and by settling the Kashmir dispute, the foremost impediment to the normalization of relations between us.

On July 26, 2018, in my first televised address to Pakistan after winning the elections, I stated we wanted peace with India and if it took one step forward, we would take two steps. After that, a meeting between our two foreign ministers was arranged on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in September 2018, but India canceled the meeting. That September I also wrote my first of three letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for dialogue and peace.

Unfortunately, all my efforts to start a dialogue for peace were rebuffed by India. Initially, we assumed that Mr. Modi’s increasingly hard-line positions and his rhetoric against Pakistan were aimed to whip up a nationalist frenzy among the Indian voters with an eye on the Indian elections in May.

On Feb. 14, a few months before those elections, a young Kashmiri man carried out a suicide attack against Indian troops in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The Indian government promptly blamed Pakistan.

We asked for evidence, but Mr. Modi sent Indian Air Force fighter planes across the border to Pakistan. Our Air Force brought down an Indian plane and captured the pilot. We struck back to signal we could defend ourselves but chose not to strike a target that would cause loss of life. I made a conscious decision to show that Pakistan had no intent of aggravating the conflict between two nuclear-armed states. We returned the captured Indian pilot, with no preconditions.

On May 23, after Mr. Modi’s re-election, I congratulated him and hoped we could work for “peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.” In June, I sent another letter to Mr. Modi offering dialogue to work toward peace. Again, India chose not to respond. And we found out that while I was making peace overtures, India had been lobbying to get Pakistan placed on the “blacklist” at the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force, which could lead to severe economic sanctions and push us toward bankruptcy.

Evidently Mr. Modi had mistaken our desire for peace in a nuclear neighborhood as appeasement. We were not simply up against a hostile government. We were up against a “New India,” which is governed by leaders and a party that are the products of the Hindu supremacist mother ship, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the R.S.S.

The Indian prime minister and several ministers of his government continue to be members of the R.S.S., whose founding fathers expressed their admiration for Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Mr. Modi has written with great love and reverence about M.S. Golwalkar, the second supreme leader of the R.S.S., and has referred to Mr. Golwakar as “Pujiniya Shri Guruji (Guru Worthy of Worship).”

Mr. Modi’s guru wrote admiringly about the Final Solution in “We, Our Nationhood Defined,” his 1939 book: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan for us to learn and profit by.”

I had hoped that being elected prime minister might lead Mr. Modi to cast aside his old ways as the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, when he gained global notoriety for the 2002 pogrom against local Muslims on his watch and was denied a visa to travelto the United States under its International Religious Freedom Act — a list of visa denials that included associates of Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr. Modi’s first term as prime minister had been marked by lynching of Muslims, Christians and Dalits by extremist Hindu mobs. In Indian-occupied Kashmir, we have witnessed increased state violence against defiant Kashmiris. Pellet-firing shotguns were introduced and aimed at the eyes of young Kashmiri protesters, blinding hundreds.

On Aug. 5, in its most brazen and egregious move, Mr. Modi’s government altered the status of Indian-occupied Kashmir through the revocation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. The move is illegal under the Constitution of India, but more important, it is a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and the Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan.

And Mr. Modi’s “New India” chose to do this by imposing a military curfew in Kashmir, imprisoning its population in their homes and cutting off their phone, internet and television connections, rendering them without news of the world or their loved ones. The siege was followed by a purge: Thousands of Kashmiris have been arrested and thrown into prisons across India. A blood bath is feared in Kashmir when the curfew is lifted. Already, Kashmiris coming out in defiance of the curfew are being shot and killed.

If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation. India’s defense minister has issued a not-so-veiled nuclear threat to Pakistan by saying that the future of India’s “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons will “depend on circumstances.” Similar statements have been made by Indian leaders periodically. Pakistan has long viewed India’s “no first use” claims with skepticism.

With the nuclear shadow hovering over South Asia, we realize that Pakistan and India have to move out of a zero-sum mind-set to begin dialogue on Kashmir, various strategic matters and trade. On Kashmir, the dialogue must include all stakeholders, especially the Kashmiris. We have already prepared multiple options that can be worked on while honoring the right to self-determination the Kashmiris were promised by the Security Council resolutions and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Through dialogue and negotiations, the stakeholders can arrive at a viable solution to end the decades of suffering of the Kashmiri people and move toward a stable and just peace in the region. But dialogue can start only when India reverses its illegal annexation of Kashmir, ends the curfew and lockdown, and withdraws its troops to the barracks.

It is imperative that the international community think beyond trade and business advantages. World War II happened because of appeasement at Munich. A similar threat looms over the world again, but this time under the nuclear shadow.

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