By AIJAZ HUSSAIN, SRINAGAR, India (AP): Thousands of people, mostly young male protesters, have been arrested and detained in Indian-administered Kashmir during an ongoing communications blackout and security lockdown imposed more than two weeks ago in an attempt to curtail unrest after a change to Kashmir’s decades-old special status, according to high-ranking Kashmir police officials and police arrest statistics reviewed by The Associated Press.
At least 2,300 people have been detained in the Himalayan valley, the statistics show. Those arrested include anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders who have been held in jails and other makeshift holding facilities, according to the police officials, who have access to all police records but spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to reporters and feared reprisals from their superiors.
The latest crackdown began just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and its statehood, creating two federal territories. Thousands of additional troops have flooded into the Kashmir Valley, already one of the world’s most militarized regions, to man steel- and barbed-wire checkpoints. Telephone communications, cellphone coverage, broadband internet and cable TV were cut, but have been gradually restored in some places.
Despite the clampdown, Kashmiris have staged near-daily protests since the Aug. 5 order revoking Kashmir’s special status, which was instituted shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. The three police officials said about 300 protests and clashes against India’s tighter control over Kashmir have taken place in recent weeks.
One of the officers said most of the arrests have been in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city and the urban heart of a 30-year-old movement to oust Hindu-majority India from Muslim-majority Kashmir so that it can exist independently or be merged with Pakistan.
The official spokesman, Rohit Kansal, has repeatedly refused to divulge any details about arrests and detentions, saying only that they have been made to prevent anti-India protests and clashes in the region.
Nearly 100 people have been arrested under the Public Safety Act, the arrest statistics showed. The law permits detaining people for up to two years without trial.
At least 70 civilians and 20 police and soldiers have been treated for injuries sustained in the clashes at three hospitals in Srinagar, the officers said.
Moses Dhinakaran, a spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force which now holds jurisdiction in Kashmir, said he didn’t know how many people had been detained because his agency has “no direct role in detention.”
Families crowded outside police stations waiting for a turn to appeal for the release of their sons, husbands and other relatives on Tuesday.
At least three dozen men and women along with their children sat on the street outside a police station in Srinagar waiting to hear about some 22 young men and teenage boys who they said had been detained by police and paramilitary soldiers in a nocturnal raid in one neighborhood.
Ali Mohammed Rah said police and soldiers burst into his home and dragged his two teenage sons, age 14 and 16, from their beds.
“They forced their entry, trained their guns at us while ordering us not to raise any alarm,” Rah said.
“My heart patient wife pleaded with them to let our boys go but they whisked them away. My wife collapsed and is now in a hospital,” he said.
A young woman, Ulfat, still recovering from her first childbirth, said her husband was arrested at their home around 2 a.m. “Who will provide our family with food and medicine? Where should I go with my baby?” she said with her newborn daughter in her lap.
Raj Begum said her 24-year-old son was taken away barefoot and in shorts.
“Soldiers hit me with a wooden plank as I tried to resist my son’s arrest,” she said.
Her husband, Abdul Aziz, opened a bag containing shoes and clothes for their son.
“Can they at least take these clothes?” he said.
Kansal declined questions about specific cases of arrest and detention.
Local residents say police and soldiers carry out nocturnal raids in neighborhoods to suppress dissent.
In the Soura area of Srinagar, residents have barricaded the neighborhood by digging trenches, laying barbed wire, and erecting steel poles and corrugated tin sheets to stop raids by police and soldiers. The residents, carrying axes and sticks, take turns on night patrol. They have also distributed stones at street corners for residents to use to defend against raids.
The neighborhood has seen some of the biggest protests and clashes in the last two weeks.
Ali Mohammed, 52, said troops had made two unsuccessful attempts to raid the neighborhood.
“They’ll definitely try to come again, but we’re ready,” he said.
Kashmir has been under lockdown and seen mass arrests before.
The problems in the region stem from its partition, which left India in control of most of Kashmir, and Pakistan and China in charge of other parts of the territory. The Indian government has often tried to suppress uprisings, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.
Associated Press writer Emily Schmall in New Delhi contributed to this report.
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