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Kashmir: Curbing The Academics

By Burhan Majid

29 December, 2011
Countercurrents.org

Has the State of J and K become a police State? The answer seems no
difficult. The part the Police in the State of J and K plays suggests
a reckoning of a police State. Since last year there have been, in
fact, a series of attempts when we saw the academics being interfered
with by the State police. So besides the usual high handedness and
meddling, the State’s police force has jumped into action in yet
another field. In a way the Police in the State have become too
ubiquitous marked by its arbitrary interferences which are more often
uncalled for.

Chronologically, the first such interference was witnessed in the last
month of year 2010 when a College lecturer was arrested by the J and K
police for setting a paper at undergraduate level. In the paper
students were asked to translate a paragraph from Urdu to English. The
paragraph spoke of the unrest the valley witnessed since June 2010.
The Question paper also carried a question “Are the stone pelters of
Kashmir real heroes?” The paper setter/lecturer was subsequently
charged under the archaic and harsh sedition law, written and used by
the British colonists, by a local lower court.

Then shortly after this incident, an FIR was filed against another
Professor teaching Kashmiri at the University of Kashmir for asking
questions which the police termed obscene. The Professor had asked the
students to translate a paragraph discussing female body parts. The
professor claimed the paragraph to have been taken from a famous Unani
medicine text book.

And the latest one is the charging of the State Board of School
Education(BOSE) with a number of charges including the so called
sedition. The fault of the BOSE has been the drawing of a sketch in a
First Grade book with respect to an Urdu alphabet Zoi which means
Zalim.

So it is clear from these three instances that the academics in the
state of J and K is being trampled with by the State Government
through its mightier and often allegedly irrational Police force. If
we crush the free flow of information and ideas which is an essence in
a democratic setup, we no longer deserve to be called a democracy.
What is wrong in putting a question or two about the current
happenings of a society in an examination paper like what happened in
the first case I mentioned above, I fail to understand? Even in a
dictatorial setup I don’t think the paper setter would have been
arrested and charged. But the world’s largest democracy, as it calls
itself, did it, without feeling any kind of embarrassment, under the
justification of a law which is too primitive, in fact, framed and
frequently used by its colonizer.

The second instance of filing an FIR against a University Professor
for putting some obscene content in the Question Paper also can’t be
justified. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, the content had
been obscene, then it should have been left to the concerned
institution itself than to file an FIR against the Professor. If the
reasons, the Police gave in this case, are said to have logic and
rationality, then you have to put an embargo on half of the medical
sciences.

Then the recent Zoi controversy in which the Police disputed why Zoi
meant Zalim and a sketch of a person with a stick in his hand
vis-à-vis the alphabet. The Police claimed that the sketch of the
person resembles a policeman. Though the Board claimed the picture as
of an hooligan, it gave directions for the deletion of the sketch. The
Police went further in filing the charge of sedition inter alia
against the Board authorities. The controversy was met with severe
criticism in the media and on the social networking sites. It stirred
a satirical discussion among the netizens to the extent that some
posts attributed a decision to the State Government of removing the
word Zoi itself from the Urdu alphabets. Even some photographs
appeared on the social networking sites which read Zoi means Aam(
Mango in English).

Save the second instance of interference in the academics in the
state, the dominating and driving reason for the Police action(
interference) has been “sedition” which finds no place in modern
democracies. Irony is that despite the hollow claims by India of being
democratic and tolerant, it still possesses the legacy of so called
sedition law from its colonists in its statute books.

If the State continued to suppress the flow of information in the
educational institutions with the iron fist, it will erode the
integrity of these institutions. When in other parts of the world the
academics is doing wonders and has reached heights with the newest
areas of research evolving, even drawing a sketch that has the
remotest reference of a cruel policeman is seditious in this part of
the world. Asking a question in an examination paper about the
happenings in the society is also met with same treatment. Now what
would you expect from our educational institutions. In the light of
globalization and new challenges, there is need for a public debate on
the issue of how academic freedom can be balanced with an equally
important value of ensuring accountability.

However there is a well laid judicial principle of the Supreme Court
about the sedition law. In Kedarnath Singh Vs State of Bihar, 1962,
the Supreme Court has held that the provision of sedition in the
Indian Penal Code must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the
fundamental freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian
Constitution. In this regard the Supreme Court held that the offence
of sedition, which is defined as spreading disaffection against the
state, should be considered as having been committed only if the said
disaffection is a direct incitement to violence or will lead to
serious public disorder.

While the legal and institutional framework for protecting the freedom
of speech and expression in India is sound along with an independent
judiciary, academic freedom still appears a distant dream in this part
of India. However, at the same time, we should also ensure that other
actors, including the media, and the citizenry do not by their actions
undermine academic freedom.

Author is a researcher at Faculty of Law, University of Kashmir, can
be reached at burhan.mjd@gmail.com

 

 



 


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