LAST FRIDAY, Pulwama resident Ghulam reached Agra to meet his son, a 35-year-old preacher who has been lodged in the Central Jail since the first week of August. But the long journey via Srinagar and New Delhi ended in disappointment for Ghulam, who says he did not have a verification letter from J&K Police that the jail officials wanted.
Ghulam’s son is among 285 persons who have been arrested from the Kashmir Valley and detained in UP — 85 in Agra alone — after the central government scrapped J&K’s special status under Article 370 on August 5. The latest batch of 29 persons was shifted to the Agra jail Friday.
According to jail officials, most of the prisoners are aged between 18 and 45, while a few are over 50. Sources said they hail from diverse backgrounds, and include NC and PDP politicians, college students, PhD aspirants, preachers, teachers, top businessmen and even a Supreme Court lawyer known for representing Kashmiri youth.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sanjeev Tripathi, DIG (Prisons), Agra Zone, said: “Prisoners have been brought to various jails from Kashmir. Currently, 85 prisoners are lodged in the Agra Central Jail. They were transferred under high-security observation, and traffic route diversions were made. It is possible that more prisoners could be brought in. Their families, after due verification, will be allowed to meet them in the coming weeks. No other changes have been made in the prison to accommodate them.”
Jail officials said the Kashmiri prisoners are lodged in barracks that are separate from other sections. They said meetings with their families might also be set up at a different time and place from those for other prisoners.
A common demand, officials said, is for English newspapers. “They are being offered the same food and they eat alongside other prisoners. They are also let out in the fields within jail premises,” said Tripathi.
All of that, however, is of little consolation for those like Ghulam.
“We made such a long journey, spending almost Rs 20,000 on travel, but no one told us about this (the verification letter). Since phones and Internet are down, we cannot call and ask for the letter to be faxed. We have to spend thousands of rupees to go back and return for that piece of paper,” Raees, a relative who accompanied Ghulam, told The Indian Express.
According to Raees, Ghulam’s son was politically active but “not involved in any unlawful activity”. “He was picked up by men in two police vehicles on the evening of August 5. They told us he was being arrested under the Public Safety Act. We haven’t seen him since. He has a two-month-old daughter who is waiting for him,” he said.
Also at the Agra jail last Friday was Hussain, the relative of a detained student, who claimed the family would soon run into debt to keep up the visits. “He is a student and his track record is clean. He doesn’t have any case against him. We are waiting for jail authorities to allow us to meet him. We are poor people and cannot afford to keep returning. We have our Aadhaar cards, but we hear that’s not enough,” said Hussain.
Both Raees and Hussain declined to provide their full names or identify their detained relatives.
Officials said the Agra Central Jail currently houses a total of 1,933 prisoners, although the sanctioned capacity is only 1,350. Apart from jail staff, 92 policemen guard the facility.