Kashmir - Muharram - Detentions
People waiting outside Zadibal police station in Srinagar to meet their family members, who were detained on the day of Ashura on 30 August 2020. Photograph by Asif Hamid for The Kashmir Walla

A road leading to Srinagar’s Zadibal is yet to come back to life. People walk on tense sideways under the scorching sun. About half a dozen families sat under the shade of the police station’s high walls. They were waiting for a glance of their relatives, who were detained by the police on Ashura — the tenth day of Muharram, 30 August — when they were supposedly returning home at night, the families told The Kashmir Walla.

Sabiya Ibrahim, 27, was visiting the police station for the third time since the night of Ashura, but is yet to see her younger brother, 24-year-old Amjad Hussain. Mr. Amjad had left home for the dawn prayers with his two cousins, Ishfaq Hussain, 24, and Faizan Ali, 19, on the morning of the Ashura and joined the Muharram procession from there, Ms. Ibrahim said. 

“He had gone out for juloos (procession),” she said, angrily, “not to throw stones.” It was only after a call from the police station at about 8:30 pm that day when the family got to know that Mr. Amjad was detained along with his two cousins, said Ms. Ibrahim, “on the way back home” in the Alamgiri Bazaar area of the city.

A few hours back, in the afternoon, the area had resembled a battleground as the mourners had clashed with the government forces; varying versions of the events have come out since: the local residents had told The Kashmir Walla on 30 August that the mourners only clashed with the police after the government forces opened pellet firing and teargas shelling “on a peaceful procession”. However, the police have filed a first information report (FIR), number 58/2020, and “investigation [has been] taken up”, a police statement said later that night. 

The police statement claimed that “at few places, [people] started pushing Police deployments and even resorted to stone pelting” and that: “During intense stone pelting more than 15 police personnel were grievously injured.”

Mr. Amjad’s uncle, Mushtaq Ahmed Mir, is frustrated at the police for disallowing the families a meeting with their relatives. “On the first night [on 30 August], we were waiting till 3 am. Female family members were also here. The next morning, we kept waiting under the rain, but they didn’t allow anyone inside,” said 59-year-old Mr. Mir. 

He felt humiliated by the police’s behaviour. “It feels like we are knocking on a devil’s door, and not a human’s door,” he added, staring at the iron gate of the police station. A sentry stares back from the lookout post. “They tell us either go from here or get beaten up. Jisse sifarish lagwani hai lagwa lo (seek help from whoever you want to).”

Meanwhile, the large red and blue painted gate finally opened — the Station House Officer (SHO), Javaid Ahmed, was leaving in his white Rakshak. He stopped and the families surrounded his vehicle to plead with him. “Please let us meet once,” an old woman said. Another pleaded the same. Mr. Ahmed ordered the police personnel guarding the gate, middle-aged and frustrated, to allow the relatives inside, two at a time. 

It was a hard time for the families, they will have to choose among themselves; among the brothers, mothers, and fathers, on who will get a glance of their detained relatives. Ms. Ibrahim, the elder sister of Mr. Amjad, was allowed inside with her mother. Others were told to wait.

While family members of other detainees lined up hoping to be the next to enter the police station, the guard lost his calm — again. “Who are you? Don’t act like the DC [District Magistrate] here,” the guard shouted at a detainee’s relative. “Don’t you have manners?”

A middle-aged man was sitting on a rock outside the station as he watched the commotion from a distance. His elder brother, a 59-year-old man, was detained too. “He was just watching the procession from a distance,” he said, requesting anonymity out of fear of the police. “He only had a phone in his hands, nothing else.” 

The man was tired after waiting outside the police station since the morning and didn’t have much to speak. However, he was worried about his brother’s health, who has a wife and two daughters at home. “He is diabetic and [suffers from] low blood pressure,” he said and added that the COVID-19 pandemic is worrying him more. 

After he had seen his elder brother in the 10×12 area of lockup, when he was allowed in, he was told to go back to bring two photographs and the date of the birth certificate of his brother. “At least thirteen people were kept [in the lockup],” he said. Another relative of a detainee, his nephew, corroborated the same. “How are they even supposed to [practice] social distancing,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 protocol to reduce the spread of the virus.

A senior police officer, associated with the case, told The Kashmir Walla on the condition of anonymity: “The investigation is going on and we will detain about 40-50 boys in total. I can’t discuss more than that.” The official also said that the police had allowed the people to take out processions in the interior areas of Khushal Sar, in Zadibal; however, the boys didn’t agree and tried to get out on the main road, “prompting the police to take action”. 

Another police officer told The Kashmir Walla, also on the condition of anonymity, that “the boys have been detained under the law [and] the court will look into it [if there is an issue].” He, too, refused to share further details of the case(s) and the charges pressed against the detainees.

The police have also refused to share the FIR filed in the case with the families, claimed 25-year-old Rameez Khan, whose younger brother is also detained at the police station.

A resident of Shaheed Gunj, in the city, Mr. Khan’s younger brother, 19-year-old Babar Ali was also returning home at night when the police detained him. “Till 11:30 pm, we didn’t know where he [Mr. Ali] was,” said Mr. Khan. Then a local resident told Mr. Khan that he saw the police detaining his younger brother. Later, Mr. Ali called home from the police station.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Khan reached the police station along with an advocate but was denied a meeting with Mr. Ali. “The police didn’t even allow him [the advocate],” claimed Mr. Khan. “The police are not giving us the FIR copy. If they give us [a copy], I’ll secure him a bail. It has been more than 48 hours.”

However, upon encountering a police official, Mr. Khan doesn’t behave angrily. Instead, he pleads “in the name of humanity”. “Only if they would let me meet my brother,” he wondered, with a sigh. “But they don’t listen to us. They are wearing uniforms — it is all about that.”

After half an hour, Ms. Ibrahim was out of the police station after meeting her brother. Even a sight of her brother didn’t soothe her, her anger had only intensified. “It feels bad to see your brother in a lockup,” she said outside the police station. “He was crying in front of me, telling me: ‘Please, get us out of here.’”

She had given him hope. But she would have to wait for more time before she could go back home. The families of Mr. Amjad’s cousins are yet to meet them. And the sun was only getting harsher.

Additional reporting by Asif Hamid

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