Many Kashmiris TRT World spoke to allege Indian police and paramilitary forces are picking up young men and teenagers in midnight raids and subjecting them to custodial torture.
At midnight on August 8, a sudden thud on the door woke Irfan Ahmed. He saw a group of policemen staring at him. They asked him to bring his younger brother Jamshed to the police station.
Ahmed accompanied Jamshed to the police station, where his brother was immediately detained.
"First, they told us the officer just wants to talk to him. Then we were told it's just for one night," said 27-year-old Ahmed, standing in the yard of his house at Samboora village in Pulwama district of South Kashmir.
Jamshed had suffered a bullet injury to his right leg in January 2017 during a protest in the area. The injury had caused severe nerve damage, making Jamshed crippled. According to his family, the youngest of the three siblings cannot walk on his own and was scheduled to undergo a crucial surgery in October.
The 24-year-old was kept at the Pampore police station for two nights. On August 10, he was moved to Srinagar Central jail from where he was subsequently sent 1,200 kilometres away to a sub-jail in Varanasi, a city in India's Uttar Pradesh state. The family say they were completely unaware that Jamshed was being transferred to an Uttar Pradesh jail. Days later, the police told the family that Jamshed was booked under a draconian law named the Public Safety Act (PSA). Under the PSA, a person can be held in detention for up to six months without any charges. The law has been used widely by past and present Indian dispensations in Kashmir to quell opposition.
"I told them he needs special care and the detention will affect his fragile health," said Jamshed's eldest brother Touseef Ahmed, who visited the police station soon after his brother was picked up from home.
"They [the police] assured me he'll be okay and released the next day. When I went to see him at the jail in Srinagar, they allowed me to only see him from a distance," said Touseef Ahmed.
Endless raids in neighbourhoods
Amid a communication blackout that has now continued for 24 days, reports of young men and teenagers being arrested constantly trickle out from the disputed region. According to the residents of Samboora, at least 12 people from the village have been detained in midnight raids since the Indian government unilaterally revoked the autonomy of conflict-torn Jammu and Kashmir region on August 5.
On the same night, Tanvir Ahmed, a 26-year-old car salesman, who lives just a few houses away from Jamshed, was dragged out of his home by Indian paramilitary forces. His mother Raja Begum has been in shock since. Raja doesn't want to visit her son in jail, although the police allowed her husband and son to meet Tanvir in the lockup.
"I don't want to see him in that condition," she said.
Prior to Tanvir's arrest, the family was preparing for two wedding ceremonies as Tanvir's brother and sister are getting married on August 29. Raja wants Tanvir to attend both the weddings.
"He has worked tirelessly to earn for the family. He was the one making all the arrangements," she said.
Several arrests have been made in the adjoining villages of Rajpora, Lehhar, and Konibal in Pulwama district. In Rajpora village, Ishfaq Ahmed Dar told TRT World that his brother, Umar, 24, was arrested in a midnight raid on August 18.
"They [the Indian army] came at around 2:45am in the night. They told us they need to speak to Umar. But instead, he was taken into custody," said Dar. Umar has since been transferred to a detention facility in Srinagar, the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir.
Umar says such arbitrary arrests is going to fuel more resentment towards India. "Many of the youngsters here have post-doctoral and masters degrees but what use is that of when we are locked up in jails all the time?" Dar said.
In Anantnag district, further into South Kashmir, Musaib, a 35-year-old businessman told TRT World his cousin, a salesman by profession, was taken into custody on August 6. On the first few days after the arrest, the family was allowed to meet him at the local Sadar police station. But last week, the family was told he has been shifted to a jail outside Kashmir. Musaib doesn't want to reveal his surname or his cousin's name fearing they both may be harmed by the Indian police.
Indian government officials have maintained that they have "no centralised figure" on the total number of arrests and detentions that have taken place since the Indian military lockdown began in Kashmir. The government seems to view the arrests as a legitimate way of mitigating any protests against its decision.
Responding to questions by this reporter at a press conference, Rohit Kansal, a top Indian bureaucrat overseeing the lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir government, said the government was dealing with "cross border terrorism" and simultaneously facing "situations of public order".
"The local law enforcing authorities have taken the decision on whatever is required to maintain the public order. These may include detentions, arrest but what is important to note that these are law enforcing decisions taken to maintain the order," Kansal said.
While he refused to give any specific number on the arrests, he said: "These are decisions that are subject to the process of dynamic evaluations and re-evaluations. And if there are arrests that have taken place, there are also releases taking place which comes to notice after finding those are not a threat to peace.”
On August 18, AFP reported that more than 4,000 people had been detained since August 5, the day India announced the scrapping of Article 370, which gave autonomy to the region. Earlier, an Indian media report said that the government had run out of space in prisons in the region to hold people. Those arrested include prominent politicians, businessmen, activists and lawyers.
Adnan Ashraf, spokesperson of the Peoples Conference, a pro-India political party based in North Kashmir said more than 150 members and workers of the party are currently in detention. Ashraf's party were coalition partners with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in the previous civilian government in the region before it was unceremoniously dismissed.
"From Mohalla leaders to senior party members, everyone has been put under detention. I don't think things have ever been so bad for parties in Kashmir who have supported India," said Ashraf, while adding Sajad Lone, the party president isn't being allowed to meet his family.
The police dragnet is also cast on children and teenagers.
Manzoor Ahmed, a resident of Srinagar's Umarhair neighbourhood says on August 18, the Indian paramilitary forces and police conducted a midnight raid and broke into their home. Without any explanation, they picked his two teenage sons, Omar, who is 16 years old and Moomin, who is 15. Both are high school students.
Manzoor tried to stop the police from making arrests, but he was hit by batons. "They locked the women in one room and then beat me up," he said.
According to local accounts, at least 10 teenage boys were detained in the neighbourhood on the same night. Three of them, including Moomin, were released a few days later. The signs of anxiety and depression are visible on the face of 15-year-old Moomin. He told TRT World that he was beaten up soon after the Indian paramilitary troops pushed him into the car. "They slapped and kicked me in the vehicle," he said.
Moomin said he and his brother Omar, who's still in detention, were kept in a small room with 35 other detainees.