Thousands Arrested In Kashmir Under Controversial Public Safety Act

Thousands have been arrested and flown out of Kashmir under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), as jails run out of capacity. The PSA is controversial as it gives authorities the ability to imprison an individual for up to two years without a charge or trial, often described as draconian, it was introduced under the government of Sheikh Abdullah in 1978 and has been widely misused for political purposes since then. At least 4000 people have been detained over fears of unrest since the Indian government removed limited autonomy from the region two weeks ago, revoking Article 370 of its constitution, which allowed Kashmir to have its own constitution and allowed the state the capacity to make its own laws, exempting issues related to defense, foreign affairs, and communications.

Authorities in Kashmir had previously declined to provide an exact number of those taken into custody, however, they have confirmed that more than 100 local politicians, activists, and academics were detained immediately after the special status was removed, including three former chief ministers of the Muslim-majority state. These were described as a “few preventive detentions” that were made to avoid a “breach of the peace.”  A magistrate speaking to the AFP news agency on the condition of anonymity said at least 4,000 people had been arrested, “Most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity.” A police official, who also asked to remain anonymous told AFP “around 6,000 people were medically examined at a couple of places in Srinagar after they were detained… They are first sent to the central jail in Srinagar and later flown out of here in military aircraft”. The arrests are one component of India’s campaign to quell any unrest, though I would argue that its actions are counterintuitive. Additionally, as part of this supposed pre-emptive campaign of “peace,” India sent thousands of troops to the disputed region, imposed a crippling curfew, and shut down telecommunications and internet. The Indian government had put forward the idea of easing these restrictions, however, the lockdown was reimposed after there were clashes in a dozen locations around Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, on Saturday where dozens were injured according to officials and witnesses. Prior to these events, India had downplayed any reports of violence, stressing that the vast majority of the population on the Kashmir Valley had been peaceful.

While the solutions are different, the rationale behind the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir and the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang are quite similar, both wish to exert power over territories in which people that subscribe to Islam outnumber the state’s dominant culture. In the case of India, as Greg Jennett of the ABC puts it, they seek to make the Muslim majority of Kashmir a minority with the stroke of a pen, “10 million Muslims are suddenly now counted as a tiny minority within greater India’s massive population of 1.3 billion people.” The impact of this is already being felt in the aforementioned arrests, the Muslim population is now completely at the mercy of Indian forces. This attempt by Modi to exercise Indian sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir is unlikely to lead to the peaceful integration hoped for, it is more than likely going to produce the opposite effect, especially considering the manner in which it has been attempted. Anti-New Delhi sentiment will only fester among Kashmiri Muslims and there will be a worsening of diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan that increases the propensity of a border conflict.

Zac Williams