Tandoori chicken, scuffle, ATM: Life of Kashmir leaders in detention at hotel-jail | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Tandoori chicken, scuffle, ATM: Life of Kashmir leaders in detention at hotel-jail

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Sep 02, 2019 01:58 PM IST

Kashmiri’s mainstream politicians and separatists are detained at the plush Centaur hotel overlooking the Dal Lake or in their houses since the state lost its special status and was divided into two on August 5.

To say there is curiosity about the political detainees in Kashmir is an understatement. There is an unabashed interest in knowing what the leaders—the mainstream politicians and the separatists—are up to in their heavily-sequestered residences or at the plush Centaur hotel overlooking the Dal Lake where they are being held since the state lost its special status and was divided into two.

Vehicles ply after restrictions were eased in Srinagar on Saturday.(ANI photo)
Vehicles ply after restrictions were eased in Srinagar on Saturday.(ANI photo)

In the wake of a communication blockade and filtered news flow, most Kashmiris are having to make do with whatever nuggets of information come their way. While the common man’s sentiment for the political detainees ranges from sympathy to absolute apathy, the appetite to know how they are being treated as “sarkari mehamaan”(government guests) is insatiable.

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During a visit last week to the Centaur jail, as it is now colloquially called; my colleague Rezaul Laskar and I had an encounter with a man who claimed to be an employee of the hotel and who was bursting with inside information.

While we could not independently verify his claims, the employee knew by heart the room numbers of as many as 37 detainees holed up in the hotel-jail since August 5, when the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir was announced; their food preferences, exercise routines and even their little quibbles.

“Sajjad Lone (chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference) likes to order Tandoori Chicken… he really likes his food. He spends Rs. 1000 a day, because here you have to foot the bill in cash for the extra food you order,” he rattled off details.

In case you were wondering where a political detainee gets money from, the hotel-jail has an ATM.

Apart from Lone, National Conference leader Ali Mohammed Sagar, and former minister Imran Reza Ansari have been allotted separate rooms along with their personal help, we were duly informed.

Eid lunch was not as elaborate as is traditionally, but inmates had to remain content with Daniya-korma, a meat dish ordered for the rest by one of the detainees.

Our friendly informer also gave details about how the prisoners have been forbidden from meeting each other, except at meal times, which are fixed. No lazy brunch or delayed dinner for these detainees; its breakfast at 8.15 am; lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 9 p.m.

There is enough security to keep them apart; which comes in handy when tempers flare as they often do.

“One day there was jhadap (scuffle), there was blood too, so now the security is more alert,” was his parting shot before he rushed off to buy provisions or perhaps to brief anyone willing to lend an ear.

Earlier, news of how former Chief Ministers and political adversaries, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah had to be moved to separate locations for detention following a spat over politics was lapped up.

Mehbooba is now in cosy cottage in the picturesque Chashme Shahi and Abdullah finds himself detained in the grander Hari Palace, which earned notoriety for being a torture centre during peak terrorism in the Valley.

These tidbits of information have gained more currency ever since the court stepped in to allow detainees to meet their friends and family as per the jail norms.

Since Centaur has been converted into a prison, the deputy superintendent of police in charge of security in the Valley has been designated as superintendent of the subsidiary jail. It is outside this ‘magnificent jail’ with plush amenities and a view, where people queue up to meet leaders that stories about the detainees are exchanged and sometimes spun.

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