Information about the number of detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act is scarce. For the children of one man detained under the law, that means years of wondering when they will see their father again.
SRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR — It’s been two years since Asadullah Parray was called in to the local police station. He left his six children at home and never returned.
Maria Assad, Parray’s now-18-year-old daughter, was left to care for her five younger siblings and the family’s apple orchard. Their mother died four years ago, from kidney failure.
“The police told us that he used to create problems in the district and that’s why they arrested him,” Assad says. “Yes, he demands freedom for Kashmir, but demanding freedom is not a sin.”
Parray was arrested and jailed under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, a nearly 40-year-old law that gives the government broad authority to detain and imprison people found in prohibited or protected places or generally thought to be causing “mischief.” The law allows for people to be held, for extended periods of time, without charge or trial.
The law is most often used in the Kashmir region to quell unrest related to separatist movements that seek to overthrow the Indian government, says Khurram Parvez, a prominent human rights activist.
There are no publicly available records noting the total number of people who have been detained under the act, known as the PSA, but human rights groups say there is reason to believe that detentions are common and widespread. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report noted that more than 400 people, including children, were detained between July 9 and Oct. 6 of that year alone. The law prohibits the detention of anyone under the age of 18, but many human rights advocates say that minors have been held. A 2015 Amnesty International report, quoting local media stories, noted that 3,500 people were arrested and 120 people were detained under the PSA during the summer of 2010 and that more than 16,000 people had been detained between 1988 and 2014.
In January, local officials stated in a public government session that 77 people were detained under the PSA during the first six months of 2016, 20 of whom have been released.
The PSA has been in use for years, Parvez says, but it’s implemented differently now than it was in the 1990s. Then, he says, detentions were random. These days, the government targets anyone with a connection to separatist groups.
“Now, they know whom to catch and why,” Parvez says. “Now they arrest them and formally charge them [with the] PSA because they know the pressure the media and people can build now against the disappearances.”
Parray was arrested on Aug. 21, 2015. He is accused of inciting violence in the Hajin area in the Bandipora district, where he lived with his family.
Parray’s brother-in-law, Zahoor Ahmad Rather, says Parray was once a militant and even served a 10-year jail sentence before 2008.
“But he left that path a long time ago,” Ahmad Rather says.
Other local people agree with Ahmad Rather: Parray wasn’t engaged in any sort of violence to justify his arrest, they say.
“Shouting anti-national slogans is not such a crime that they take him into jail and don’t release him,” says neighbor Showkat Ahmad.
The children saw Parray during court hearings early in his detention, but he has had no court appearances in the past year, Ahmad Rather says. Parray is now being held in the Kotbhalwal jail in Jammu, a city about 259 kilometers (161 miles) from Srinagar.
Assad, Parray’s daughter, has been caring for her siblings, as well as her ailing grandmother, since her father’s detention. She attends high school and takes in sewing work to earn money. She’s holding out hope that her father will come home.
“We are hopeful that he will be released soon as he has not done anything wrong,” Assad says. “We miss him.”
Raihana Maqbool, GPJ, translated some interviews from Kashmiri and Urdu.