Srinagar, 22 June, 2011: While hundreds of Kashmiri parents are still longing to meet their loved ones who have been jailed far away from their homes by the government for participating in pro-freedom and anti-India processions during last year’s summer unrest in Indian administered Kashmir (IAK). I was lucky to get a few minutes to talk with some these young college going boys who are now the jail inmates without having to visit the jail and stand in queue for security checks. I was travelling from Jammu (winter capital of IAK) to Srinagar (summer capital of IAK), a 300 KM long and cumbersome highway, it is a norm on this highway to stop over a few places for refreshment, and lunch till you reach Srinagar. Samroli also known as Sormul is one such refreshment points where almost all the Kashmir bound vehicles stop for a noon chai (the salted pink tea of Kashmir). I along with my Kashmiri friend and driver also decided to stop there for tea yesterday, June 21. It was a bit unusual scene in Samroli yesterday as not only the normal passengers had stopped there but a Srinagar bound police bus carried jail inmates who were being transferred to Srinagar from Kathua.
It was the unique scene; the policemen in civvies wielding AK 47 rifles guarded the prisoners who were having noon chai. I guess the Kashmiri prisoners must have been having the noon chai after more than 8 months. The prisoners were handcuffed in doubles while the policemen held the chain of the handcuffs. The patience was evident as the two young boys handcuffed had tea, while one had right hand free finished the tea first, the other boy took time as he had right hand handcuffed with the left hand of his co-prisoner. Answering my query whether they were also among the hundreds of youth arrested last year, the soft spoken and smiling guy struggling to finish his tea replied that all of them were arrested under the infamous PSA except the one elderly guy who has been arrested in case falling under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances (NDPS) Act. The policeman asked the guy with handcuffs on right hand to be quick, the guy smiling at me said, “I am unable to empty this cup of tea.” I passed back a smile to him. I don’t think that I understood his feelings but I could at least understand his feeling of longingness for Kashmiri noon chai as it was almost after 2 months that I tasted the noon chai again.
The PSA or Public Safety Act is an infamous law which has its roots in British imperialistic legal system and was known as Rowlett Act. Under this law any person living in the Indian Administered Kashmir can be arrested by the police and kept behind bars for 2 years without any trial. This law has been extensively used in Kashmir to curb the dissent. While there are many people raising their voice against this law and organizations like Amnesty International have called for repealing this law but all the appeals seem to be falling to deaf ears. The charges under this law are not proved so it does not require normal judicial discourse to deliver justice instead a decree from an official to convict the person.
I could see the sense of defeat in the eyes of these young boys who instead of holding a pen in their hands had handcuffs crippling them. As they were finished with the tea, the policemen took them to board the vehicle. I wanted to ask them many things being a press reporter but watching them for 10 minutes had left me puzzled and instead of asking anything I just wished them good bye with a prayer that, “Khudai karinav zulmea nish aazad”, which means “May God free you from the tyranny” as a policeman looking at me herded them all into the bus. I kept my eye on them as all of them boarded the bus while they showed no expressions. A few women fully veiled probably belonging to the pro-Islamic political party Dukhtaran-e-Millat were also a part of this batch of prisoners who were lucky to be back into Kashmir at least to get relief from scorching heat of Jammu which must have been unbearable for them as they remain under veil most of the time.