The banning of civilian movement on J&K highway for two days is illogical, dictatorial and ridiculous
The banning of civilian vehicular movement on the 270-kilometre stretch from Udhampur to Baramulla districts of National Highway for two days a week till May 31 is a senseless, ill-conceived, impractical and a draconian move that imposes restrictions on movement of people, ironically in the name of securely carrying out a democratic exercise. The plan to ban the highway for civilian movement from 4 A.M. to 5 P.M. on Sundays and Wednesdays for the next 7-8 weeks has been justified officially on grounds of ‘facilitating the movement of the security forces´ for election duty.
An additional deployment of 20,000 para-military forces have been sent to Jammu and Kashmir to ensure the safe conduct of polls in the highly volatile Valley. While the movement of convoys is a major security concern, specially after the Pulwama attack of February 14, and needs to be addressed with utmost care, it is unpragmatic to punish an entire population with such massive restrictions that tend to bring to halt all routine activity including commerce, education, health and those related to social needs. While taking such a decision, the obvious thing is that the obsession with security has completely skirted out of vision the very basic need for which the troops are to be kept on move till May 31. Ironically for ensuring the smooth and secure conduct of a democratic exercise, the very democratic rights and civil liberties of the people who are seen to be empowered with this exercise are being snatched. The elections are meant to provide a government for protecting and ensuring their rights. Already the people of the Valley caught in an endless trap of barbed wires have to face restrictions on their movement on a daily basis due to the ongoing armed conflict.
Fair-weather conditions and frequent occurrence of landslides have also made the highway vulnerable to frequent closures partially, fully or one-way traffic. This fresh move puts a blanket ban on movement all along the highway in just one go and is thus likely to impact the lives of the people of Kashmir immensely as the highway is the major life-line of the Valley which connects it to the outside world. The ban does not only impact the supplies from outside but also imposes restrictions on day to day activities of the people, atleast for two days in a week,
pertaining to education, health, business, agriculture and social rituals like marriages and mourning ceremonies. The very idea of getting formal permits issued for purposes like health-care needs, marriages and deaths is ridiculous besides being humiliating to the core. While curfewed weddings rob such occasions of their festive spirit, deaths, funerals and illness are emergency affairs. It is a matter of shame if ordinary citizens have to get written permissions for a wedding ceremony, visit to the hospital or attend the funerals and mournings of near and dear ones.
The ban is dictatorial and inhuman. That people within the administration are admitting, though on conditions of anonymity, that the ban is ill-conceived, shows the huge practical difficulties in imposing it without inflicting massive hardships on the general public and humiliating them beyond their daily dose of repression in a militarized atmosphere. That the first day of the execution of this ban on Sunday last was marked by chaos on the roads, protests and distress complaints specially those from patients and their families is an indication of the greater chaos that lies ahead. All political parties have strongly condemned the move and threatened to start agitation or move the court and many have rightly likened the repressive order to Israel type restrictions and Nazi German diktats. Such measures that impede democracy have no place in this country. While transportation of troops safely to Kashmir is important, this cannot be done by causing immense hardships to people and disrupting and destroying the economy of Kashmir. It is reasonable to then question whether there was application of mind in coming out with this draconian order and whether some other suitable alternatives like airlifting and night-time transportation of troops could have been thought of instead of imposing this utter madness in a region that is already beset with its complexity and conflict related chaos.