(The constitutional provision of “Freedom of Expression” has been modified to“Suppression of freedom of expression by the State” in Kashmir!)
Article 19, in part III of the Constitution, about Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, states, (1) All citizens shall have the right :- (a) to freedom of speech and expression. (b) to assemble peaceably and without arms. This portion of the Constitution appears to have been modified in case of Kashmir. On the contrary, the State has authorized itself to suppress by all means every form of freedom of expression. For last two months, the entire Kashmir Valley is under total siege. It is the longest curfew and shut down seen by the people in recent times. The entire Valley has been converted into a huge prison. People have been forcibly confined to their homes by a continuous curfew probably longest in the recent history of Kashmir. It is a total siege. Everything is shut. Even the Central Government offices, banks, post offices, schools and colleges are all shut. There appears to be total absence of any administrative machinery. The situation has been compounded by total break in communications. Internet has been shut, so have been the mobile phones and, for some days, even the local newspapers were not allowed to appear. Even some news channels on Cable TV have been shut down. There is every day news about “clashes” between the people and the paramilitary and police.
However, the moot point is why are “clashes” taking place? A general impression is being created by top government functionaries and the corporate media that there are stone pelters all over Kashmir, targeting security forces to create a law and order problem. It has even been alleged that these stone pelters, according to some top government functionaries, numbering only 5% of the population, are being instigated and even paid by people from across the border. Even an amount of Rs 500 per stone pelter per day has been allegedly indicated by some.
The purported “clashes” started occurring after the killing of Burhan Wani, a popular militant leader who had inspired the new generation of youth for resisting the onslaught of security forces through Guerilla Warfare. The upheaval after his killing did not start a Guerilla War but as an anticlimax, it started an unprecedented peaceful mass upheaval, Over a quarter million people were in his funeral and the funeral prayers were offered 40 times to accommodate all the mourners. Then in absentia prayers were offered all over Kashmir. This killing had acted as a trigger to an unprecedented outburst of the pent up feelings which had been accumulating because of the continuous oppression of the youth since the turmoil of the nineties of the last century. Right from the time of the killing of the youth icon, there have been non-stop marches and protests continuously being suppressed and broken up with use of excessive force. Apart from arresting more than 2,000 youth, the forces have been vandalizing and attacking the residences of the people all over the Valley.
More than 10,000 people are reported to have been injured. 74 are dead and almost 500 suffering eye damage due to pellets. A large number of people with eye injuries are feared to lose the eye- sight permanently. Pellets in cartridges fired through shotguns are world over used for bird and wild life shooting. Kashmir is the only place in the world where these pellets have been used against unarmed human beings involved in peaceful demonstrations. In spite of Home Minister’s assurance and worldwide concern regarding the use of pellet guns, these continue to be used randomly. These and now the new stun grenades and PAVA chili grenades are supposed to be non-lethal weapons! However, these have done more damage than even the lethal weapons. In spite of all these brutal measures, there is no letup in marches and mass demonstrations. People seem to have become immune to all the brutal measures undertaken by the State to stop demonstrations and protests. They appear to be in no mood to back down in spite of heavy and brutal oppression. There is only one slogan, ‘Aazadi’ (Freedom)!
All over the world concern is being expressed for this unprecedented use of brutal and disproportionate use of force to suppress peaceful mass movement. United Nations Secretary General and the head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission have expressed concern about the happenings in Kashmir. The Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have called these violations of the basic human rights as abominable. India is not allowing any International human rights observers to visit Kashmir. Even John Kerry, US Secretary of State, said in Delhi that people should be allowed to express their views peacefully. However, this too did not make any difference. In addition, there has been lot of pinning all over the world but, so far, no productive action has been taken, or seems to be in the pipeline, to stop this mayhem.
Even within India, the Central Government seems clueless regarding containing this unprecedented upheaval. They are only thinking of more and more soldiers and newer weapons. The best they could do was to send an All Party Delegation to Kashmir to start a dialogue with the “Stakeholders”! The Delegation was sent without any ground work and a concrete agenda. The only so-called “Stakeholders” they met were the leaders of the mainstream parties who had been enjoying fruits of power for last 70 years. All others boycotted them. Even some did not open their doors! The joke of the whole exercise was the invitation letter written to some imprisoned leaders asking them for a meeting at a place and time of their choosing!
Dr. Karan Singh, the MP, in an interview on NDTV said that the Government in Kashmir has ceased to exist. He said everything, the offices, the banks, the schools and colleges; the universities and other government establishments are closed for last two months. He said that the Government of India should consider some other options for restoring normalcy. On being asked whether that includes direct Central rule, he said that could be an option. If the Government of India really wants restoration of normalcy they will have to first create an atmosphere for that by bringing Kashmir to a peaceful situation by restoring all the services and allowing peaceful marches and gatherings, even if for “Aazadi”! The use of brutal force to throttle free expression has to be ended. The Constitutional provision for freedom of expression has to be fully restored by abandoning the suppression mode. That alone can be followed by an unconditional dialogue. In the alternative, we are in for a long haul with disastrous results for all!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir