SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

Police in India-administered Kashmir are questioning Kashmiris who recently traveled to Turkey, several individuals who were subjected to inquires have told Anadolu Agency.

The Turkish news agency reported July 22 the grand niece of the second prime minister of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, Shazia Bakshi, wrote on Twitter that she, her 72-year-old mother and nine-year-old niece were asked to visit a police station to answer questions. The trio had traveled to Turkey for five days in 2017.

Shazia wrote that according to an officer from the Crime Investigation Department (CID) who visited her home, it was a “routine check” on all travelers who visited Turkey as “relations are now bad between India and Turkey.”

Journalist Aakash Hassan told Anadolu Agency that police from the CID visited his home Wednesday in a village in Anantnag district and asked his parents about his whereabouts.

“My mother told him I work in Srinagar. I then received a call. The caller said he was from the CID. He asked me about a lot of things like travel details, why I had been to Turkey, whether there has been a militant in my family, whether I have been detained for stone pelting. In fact, they had inquired about me from the village head also,” he said.

“What struck me in this questioning was that they asked whether I was a Hanafi or a Salafi. I jestingly told them ‘I don’t know myself what I am’ but he said ‘No, you must be one of the two,’” said Hassan.

In January, Hassan enrolled in the Master’s program in political science at Istanbul Zaim University but returned after regular classes were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Kashmiri man working in Ankara, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said police visited his home in Srinagar and inquired about him.

“What I have been doing in Turkey, my educational background, whether I was affiliated with any pro-freedom organization and other staple questions Kashmiris are routinely asked by Indian agencies,” he said.

On Wednesday, Sobia Bhat, a Kashmiri student, wrote on Facebook: “Why are they calling everyone who has visited Turkey in the last few years for enquiry to the local police stations? Some of my friends got a call last week and today it was me. Are they scared of Ertugrul Ghazis title song?”

When Anadolu Agency contacted Sobia, she said her father had gone to the local police station to answer on her behalf.

“They have asked him to submit a copy of invitation letter that I had received from the organization which had invited me for a workshop. Also, a photocopy of my passport. They even inquired about my college bank account details. My dad had to sit there for more than an hour,” said Sobia, who is pursuing a PhD at South Asian University, New Delhi.

Several Facebook users wrote about receiving similar calls.

One said: “My Dad got a call regarding the same.”

Another: “Other friends have been already called. Meri baari aane wali hai (my turn will come, too).”

A senior intelligence officer with Jammu and Kashmir police told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity that authorities were creating a database of Kashmiris who have travelled to foreign countries.

“It is a benign exercise. People are being called to police stations only to cross check information,” he said, adding at present, visitors to Turkey are being questioned. Director General of Police Dilbag Singh and Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Range) Vijay Kumar did not answer Anadolu Agency’s request for comment.

Turkey criticized India’s decision to scrap the nominal political autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian government was riled in February when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the struggle of Kashmiris with the Ottoman Empire’s fight during World War I.

Erodgan said there was “no difference between Gallipoli and Kashmir.” The battle of Gallipoli was fought between the allied powers and the Ottoman Empire.

“Turkey will continue to raise its voice against the oppression,” Erdogan said. “Tthe troubles our Kashmiri brothers have suffered for decades have been exacerbated by the latest unilateral steps,” he said, triggering a sharp response from New Delhi.

“These remarks reflect neither an understanding of history nor of the conduct of diplomacy,” said India’s external affairs ministry.

More than 7,300 Kashmiris were arrested and jailed in various Indian states since August. Most have been released. Three journalists have been booked under an anti-terror law for social media comments and reporting police went against rules. Two other have been questioned for their reporting.

– Disputed region

Jammu and Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts, and claimed by both in full. A small sliver is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought four wars – in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 – three of them over Kashmir.

Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights groups, thousands have been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.

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