It was an eerie morning of August 5, 2019. All communication links had been severed, casting Kashmir into an information black hole. This made it exceedingly difficult to discern what was going on. I switched on my TV but even the local cable TV was off air. I, then looked for my late Dad's old radio which must have rested for decades, turned it on, and put it on the AIR station ( All India Radio ). Parliamentary proceedings were being transmitted live. I sat in my garden wondering what was happening. Something told me that it was about 35A and that the BJP would seize on the argument of gender bias and use it surreptitiously to abrogate the article. A cacophony of thoughts and contemplations were ringing when suddenly India's Home Minister, Amit Shah. stood up against raucous cheering.
Declaring Article 370 to be a reason for militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, on flimsy or even false grounds, Shah moved the resolution to revoke Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, in the Lok Sabha and also Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, for the state's bifurcation was passed in the Rajya Sabha which stripped Jammu and Kashmir's status of a state and converted it into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature and Ladakh without legislature.
In one stroke, the BJP government unilaterally wiped out the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir region – a historical status that served as the foundation for Jammu & Kashmir joining India more than 70 years ago.
(It's a different story that neither militancy has ended, nor have we seen any development since August 5). But I must continue with the saga of my detention.
Centaur Sub Jail (SKICC)
I did not expect police officers to come knocking at my door early morning the next day when I was still asleep. A piece of paper was handed over to me which said that I was to be detained under 107 CrPC. Flustered, I asked the police officer, how much time did I have to pack my clothes?"
"5 minutes", he answered gruffly.
I was bundled into a police vehicle. While turning left toward the famous Dal Lake I asked the officer where he was taking me.
"Centaur Hotel", he answered.
We reached the main gate of the Centaur Hotel which was now designated as a Sub jail. A dozen uniformed men stood around our armoured vehicle. My baggage was taken inside a small room next to the gate and screened.
"What's your name?" a cop asked me even though he had all my details.
"Tanvir Sadiq", I answered.
"Your shaver, chargers, phones and watch will not be allowed inside. Nothing that is electronic will be allowed" the policeman shouted at me. I looked at him quizzically "How do you think I can kill someone or commit suicide with a shaver"?!
He ignored me, and everything was kept in a packet and seized. My small luggage was returned and I headed towards the building which is around half a kilometre from the main gate. As we reached the second gate, I gave my luggage again to one of policemen and told him smilingly to do anything he desired to do with it.
I entered the main building and now we were officially the inmates of Centaur Sub Jail, we were allotted rooms and the days of detention started.
The first few days were tough as me and other detainees were trying to acclimatise to the conditions of the sub jail. We weren't allowed to leave our rooms. Days went by and we started getting more inmates. We were finally around 33-34. We now had Sajad Lone, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Hakeem Yaseen, Mubarak Gul, Nayeem Akhter, Sartaj Madni, Khursheed Alam, Altaf Kaloo, Dr Bashir Veeri, Irfan Shah, Ali M Dar, Ashraf Mir, Ishfaq Jabbar, Zahoor Mir, Syed Akhoon, Nizamuddin Bhat, Noor Mohammad, M Yousuf Bhat, Dr Gh Nabi, Showkat Ganie, Waheed Para, Ajaz Mir, Ab Majeed Larmi, Peerzada Mansoor, Yasir Reshi, Salman Sagar, Hilal Lone, Sheikh Imran, Bashir Mir, Mukhtar Band.
Ab Majeed Larmi, Late Dr M Shafi, Gh. Nabi Adgami and Bilal Sultan were not in the initial arrests. Shah Feasal was bought a little later. He was arrested from Delhi Airport and flown back to Srinagar.
Molvi Imran Ansari, Hilal Shah and Dr Raja Muzaffar, were there for a short period and released thereafter on medical condition. Rayees Matto, Shahnawaz and Gh Mohammed, all political activists were shifted to central jail in the first week.
Two buildings of Centaur Sub Jail were connected by a small cemented bridge, and we all were housed around that. This cement bridge later became a venue where all of us would sit and chat. We would discuss the 'Gupkar declaration' and many would agree that it would determine the future course of politics in Kashmir. Not once did any of us have a heated argument on politics or ideology. Whoever planned our Jail and put all of us together must have thought that we would fight amongst ourselves, but we actually became good friends.
Rumour mills were rife inside. We would occasionally hear about Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. Once we even heard that Omar and Mehbooba had a very ugly fight and that some national newspaper had also carried it. It was later that we came to know it was a fake news, and that we were actually being fed with a lot of nonsensical news to sow discord amongst us. Thankfully, that never happened.
It was not only selected information fed to us that we had to be worry about, but there were certain things that were beyond objective reasoning-the fear of rodents and ghosts.
Rodents and Ghosts
I have seen a lot of horror movies, but I never thought that I would live one. It was an early morning of September. When I entered the small hall of the Sub Jail which was meant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I saw a bunch of our people discussing the presence of rats in the Jail.
An inmate shot a question, 'Do you know?
I asked, "What?"
"We have had rats' attack on many of our colleagues". I was astonished. This was a serious issue. While many of the inmates complained of rats in their rooms but what was more serious was some complaining of being bitten by them.
There were theories going around that rodents were deliberately released on us. While I don't believe that story, but I knew that it was possible for rats to transmit diseases to humans. We had 5 inmates bitten and some of them more than once. They were injected with tetanus shots.
Days went by and things started to settle down, but just as we somehow had little respite from rodent attacks, a new wave of fear gripped the entire Centaur sub-Jail with many saying fearfully that the place was haunted.
Some of our senior colleagues had heard whispers or were being woken up in the middle of the night because of the feeling that some apparition was standing and watching them. One of the senior inmates said that something pushed and slapped him so hard that he could not hide that fear the next morning.
I heard accounts of many inmates who swore of seeing apparitions. I personally didn't see any, but I know that during that stressing time I felt like I was being watched by someone. I felt that intense feeling that causes you to look around to see who had you in their sights.
As it became a matter of concern, a few of us, the younger jail mates, one day asked a waiter about this unusual feeling. He initially ignored us but on being pushed for an answer, reluctantly and on a promise of not telling anyone, showed us from the window a place where he said some people were buried. He went on to say that one room in the facility is never given to anyone because they believe it is haunted.
Under those daunting circumstances – this was the creepiest and the last thing you would want to hear when you are jailed, alone and stressed.
The incarceration in Centaur Jail did not last long and the rumour started that we were being shifted to either Jammu, or somewhere in Delhi.
MLA Hostel Sub Jail
It was on November 17th, 2019, we were asked to pack our stuff. The MLA hostel was to be the new detention centre for us. We were taken in two batches and our luggage arrived separately. As we reached the hostel, we were subjected to thorough frisking.
We were bought to this facility under heavy police escort, from a place which is under heavy surveillance. What did they expect us to have that they so desperately wanted. Everyone wondered.
The ordeal and the humiliation unfolded every day we stood incarcerated. It started from the first night which was cold, dark and tough.
My mother, in recounting a story and the outrageousness of it, explained how she was made to walk a kilometre even though she suffers from Rheumatoid arthritis, and could not walk properly; she somehow dragged herself and managed to walk with a small bag of fruits which was not allowed, and instead thrown away. Such sordid stories we would hear each time when our family members would try to visit us. My wife was humiliated when my 3 year old son was frisked. But when she resisted, she was threatened that she would not be allowed to meet me. There was no consideration whether one was old or young, healthy or suffering from any ailments.
Food & Health
Health and hygiene remained a subject of major concern for everyone. I remember a senior colleague had to wait for hours when he complained of chest pain. When he eventually was taken to the hospital, the doctors said that he had had a minor heart attack. One of the other colleagues underwent an angiography, and as soon as he was taken out of the theatre he was bundled into the vehicle and brought back to the sub-jail.
Inmates who were not keeping well could not tell their families about themselves except on the days of the weekly meetings. There was an information blackout and possession of a phone was a crime. The seriousness in keeping us isolated from any outside influence can be gauged from the fact that we had huge signal jammer machines installed on either side of every floor and in addition to that we had 4 Tata Safari jammers parked inside the premises.
Phones and raids
It was late in the afternoon that we heard loud voices in the corridor. As soon as I opened the door I saw dozens of police officials in civvies standing with huge gadgets and hand held machines in their hands. A few rushed to my room and started frisking me.
"What are you doing", I asked?
"Do you have a phone?" a frenzied police officer asked me.
"This whole facility is guarded heavily, how can I manage to get one inside?" I retorted.
By now his tone betrayed such anger and contempt toward me. He said to the other officers with him in Urdu, "Go and check each and everything in his room"!
Six cops entered into what was a 10/10 room, ransacked each and every part of that room but could not find a phone. This was the case with everyone and became a routine towards the fag end of our incarceration.
I was finally released in February this year but many of my colleagues remain under house arrest. It's time for everyone to be set free.
I must thank all the staff and employees of both Centaur Sub Jail and MLA Hostel who, under so much pressure, still ensured our well being. Our gratitude.
The events of August 5 have left me in a very awkward position of defending my political views. But I am still hopeful. History bears witness to the fact that the most complicated conflicts in the world have been resolved through innovation. Dealing with the Kashmir Issue militarily or administratively are bound to be counterproductive. The time has come to engage with the political sentiment in Kashmir and emulate various successful political initiatives from around the world, where such conflicts were resolved. This, among other things, can mean some kind of a role for the United States. This may jar with some but given that India shares very good relationship with America and doesn't see eye to eye with Pakistan, and has a new front opened with China, the role of the United states assumes significance.
Tanvir Sadiq was detained in August 2019 and released in Feb 2020. Ideas expressed are his own