The arrest of the noted human rights and peace activist and senior journalist, Gautam Navlakha, at Srinagar airport, debarring his entry into Kashmir is not only outrageous and attack on the people’s human rights but also a lawless act that needs to be condemned unequivocally by all those who cherish human rights. Gautam who landed at Srinagar airport along with his colleague, Sahiba Hussain, also a leading peace and human rights activist, was asked by the police to return as they were debarred from entering Kashmir. Later they were taken into custody and shifted to Humahama police station and detained for the night. Both of them were forcibly boarded in the plane on Sunday morning and sent back to New Delhi. Intriguingly, no written order by the competent authority to detain Gautam was served when he was taken into custody. It was only after the HR activist protested that the police after about an hour produced an order, rubber stamped by the District Magistrate Budgam, debarring him from entering Kashmir under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Act. This section prohibits the gathering of five or more persons at a public place, making Gautam’s detention as illegal. The police action, at the behest of their political masters, is as outrageous as it is senseless. In the first place Gautam and Sahiba had arrived in Srinagar as tourists for trekking. But even otherwise there was no justification for preventing their entry into Srinagar and arresting them in this lawless manner.
Nothing can be more absurd than the District Magistrate’s claim that Gautam’s visit will lead to law and order problem and could be a threat to peace and public order. In fact it is the provocative actions of the police like arbitrary arrests and detentions of political leaders and human rights activists which pose grave threat to peace in the State. Gautam is fully devoted to the cause of peace, justice and human rights and India-Pakistan friendship while supporting the democratic urges and aspirations of the people denied their basic rights. He was not only convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice, probing incidents of HR abuses in Kashmir but also one of the founders of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) besides being the political Consultant of the prestigious " Economic & Political Weekly ". It is ridiculous to say that his presence in Kashmir posed any threat to peace.
Gautam’s arrest is a part of the Omar-led government’s policy to silence every voice of reason, trample basic rights of the people and use strong-arm methods and even illegal means to pursue this objective. The present government has in fact reversed the policy of "healing touch" initiated by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led PDP-Congress coalition. That policy, even though pursued half-heartedly, contributed to some extent in relaxation of the atmosphere. Omar Abdullah government, contrary to its claims, has been pursuing a policy of repression and coercion to silence the voice of the people demonstrating its total lack of faith in democratic norms. The repeated arrests of the political leaders like Syed Ali Gelani, Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Shabir Shah and others, or putting them under house arrests in a bid to prevent them from addressing public meetings, unabated arrests of innocent youths, refusal to release a large number of prisoners languishing in jails, failure to probe the incidents of the killing of over 128 youth in Kashmir, curbs on the freedom of the press, preventing human rights activists from entering Kashmir all speak of a return to the policy of repression, coercion and intimidation. These are unmistakable signs of a ruthless police state. Such a policy can only lead to further alienation of the people, rather than winning over their hearts and minds.