Silencing dissenting voices

Akali Dal leader Simranjit Singh Mann’s forced deportation from Srinagar is yet another indication of how Kashmir valley is being turned into a prison, where any thought or speech that is considered against the official line is forbidden, in the name of restoring peace and normalcy. Mann was sent back from Srinagar on Sunday on grounds that he was considered a risk to the security of Kashmir, without even an explanatory note how one man could be a threat in a heavily militarised zone. At the same time, all separatist leaders were put under house arrest amidst tensions that had erupted in the wake of allegations of rape by army personnel in Kulgam. But Mann’s forced march from the Valley is not a case in isolation. Two months back, human rights activist Gautam Naulakha and his companion Sehba Hussain were detained over night soon after their arrival at Srinagar airport and sent back the next morning. The two were deported back under Section 144, which forbids assembly of more than four persons, even though the duo on their own could not have qualified for the same. Both were on holiday and there was no provocation for the action at that time, unlike the backdrop of Kulgam unrest now. The two incidents have set terrible precedents since they seek to impinge on the fundamental rights of the citizens which they must enjoy in any part of the country. The chief minister has repeatedly being saying that he would not allow the likes of Gautam Navlakha, Arundhati Roy and Ram Jethmalani in Kashmir during the tourist season. While politicians and activists, who do not agree with the state government, are being denied entry, people within the state rising in dissent are being victimised in various ways. They are arrested, kept under house arrest and their movements restricted with additional harassment of crackdowns and raids. Even critics taking recourse to social networking websites to air their views have been picked up and jailed. All this is being done in the name of restoring law and order, which is officially deemed as normalcy. Normalcy in a democratic country does not come with absence of violence on the streets and restoration of law and order. Normalcy does not come by silencing people. Infact, free speech and free movement without any restrictions lies at the core of normalcy in a democracy. Repression is the anti-thesis of both democracy and normalcy.

The government would be treading the wrong path if it believes that maintaining law and order at any cost would sum up as normalcy without any space for dissent and without any signs of governance and justice. The former does not come by holding periodical elections and the latter does not come from the barrel of the gun or through investigations that do not even sound convincing. Though there has been comparative lull in the Valley this time, there is an evident volcano seething within and waiting to erupt and this is only because repressive measures can only silence people temporarily, they never usher in normalcy. If government really means business when it talks about restoring normalcy,

it needs to first set its own house in order and stop acting as if it is at war with its own people; rather there is need to address their woes and sufferings, which go beyond the simple matter of economics and unemployment. However, there are no signs of sensitivity, even as the official statements have so far been saner with promise of investigating all allegations of ongoing human rights abuse. But while conflicting versions remain the hallmark of the much delayed probes that were started in last year’s killings, the fresh case of Kulgam rape seems to be yet another case botched up by rumour mongering and planted stories. These undemocratic tactics are familiar, the government just seems to be getting more authoritative by ensuring that dissent and criticism remains gagged. No normalcy can be achieved by that.