Kashmiris detained hundreds of kilometres away from home in Agra » Kashmir Media Service

Agra (India), September 19 (KMS): Indian authorities have shifted thousands of detainees from occupied Kashmir to jails in India and that more than 80 of them are being held in Agra, officials told the BBC.

Before the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government announced its decision to scrap the special status of Kashmir, it put the region under lockdown – mobile phone networks, landlines and the internet were cut off; and local political leaders were placed under house arrest.

BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare visited one such prison in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

It was a hot Friday morning in Agra, a crowded and dusty city in Uttar Pradesh. The occasional breeze made the weather bearable – but not for the dozen men and women from the Kashmir valley, where the temperature is around 18C in September and in Agra, it touches 35C

The Kashmiris sat in a large waiting hall outside the gate of the Agra Central Jail and patiently waited their turn for a brief meeting with jailed family members.

“It’s too hot. I would die here,” says one of the waiting family members, smiling grimly as he wipes his sweaty face with his shirt. “Do not ask my name. We may get in trouble.”

He is from Pulwama, a town that is 30km from Srinagar. He was waiting to meet his brother, who he says was picked up by Indian forces on the night of 4th August. “We were not told where he was taken,” he says. “I don’t know why he was picked up. He was a driver.”

He says he followed up with officials who told him that his brother had been taken to Srinagar. “After a lot of effort, we found out that he was brought here,” he adds.

He arrived in Agra on 28th August only to find out that he needed a “verification letter” from local police in Kashmir, confirming his story. So he went back to Pulwama and returned to Agra with the letter.

“My brother is 28,” he adds. “He’s educated – he even has a Masters, but now all of that is useless because he is in jail.”

Abdul Ghani’s plight is similar. The daily wage worker made the journey by train and bus from Kulgam town to Agra to meet his son and nephew – he had been told that both of them were being held here.

“They were picked up at 2:00am as they were sleeping,” he says. “No one told us why they were picked up,” he adds.

Ghani was also worried as he was not carrying a verification letter. “I didn’t know I had to carry the letter,” he says. He adds that he had already spent 10,000 rupees travelling to Agra, and cannot afford another trip.

A few grueling hours later, it was time for them to go through the gate. Almost all of them had brought fresh apples, the region’s most famous produce.

Ghani’s pleading paid off and he was allowed to go in. An hour later, he emerged smiling. “He [my son] was worried. But I told him everything was fine at home,” he says. “Thanks to Allah, I met him here. I will come back in a fortnight.”

The waiting hall was nearly empty by the evening, when I noticed a woman and a man walking briskly to the prison gate. They had flown from Srinagar to Delhi, and had hired a taxi to drive them to Agra.

They were allowed to meet their brother for 20 minutes after submitting a request to officials. “They told us had we come earlier, we could have met him for 40 minutes,” says Tariq Ahmed Dar, whose imprisoned brother has three children.

Meetings are allowed only on Tuesdays and Fridays, so if Tariq Dar had missed this one, he would have had to wait another four days.

“I spoke to him. His wife, his three children and our parents miss him,” Dar adds. “It’s tough for them. Now that I have seen him, I will tell them he is fine.”

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