Space for Voices Of Dissent Denying dissent is abusing the much cherished democracy

Minus some flutter in the “ruling elites”, an eerie silence descended on Kashmir after the change of guard in New Delhi. Suspense over future   policies of the new government about the State reigned supreme in the public mind. Amidst this uncertainty, faces of some politicians yearning for power brightened after they had bagged “thirteen percent votes in the Parliament election- four percent more than the rival party. Their sparkling eyes automatically refocused on six storied monolith- symbol of power politics in the state.  Faces of some ‘cleaned bowled politicians’, in wing chair drooped like weeping willows. In their struggle for retaining power, this class of politicians rushed with populist decisions. That they had slipped under carpet for five years.  Some “leaders”,   started waiting for a “promised” phone call-the less said about them better.’ 

 

 Nevertheless, the BJP government on very first day in office succeeded in causing some rustle in the eerie silence by throwing up some salvos like abrogation of Article 370 and granting permanent residence to “four lakh” refugees from West Pakistan. These refugees have right to vote for Parliament and not for the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. The BJP’s victory on both the seats in Jammu province became possible after these refugees voted the party en bloc.   

Whatever the intention of the government, the debate sparked on  Article 370 has helped many a political commentators and analysts within and outside the state to further bolster the Kashmir narrative.  Drawing Strength to their point of view from the debates in the Constituent Assembly of India, at the time of introduction of this Article as a temporary provision they have been strongly advocating that this article in fact provides a mechanism to India for governing Jammu and Kashmir till a plebiscite is held in the state in accordance with the UN resolution. A. G. Noorani, leading constitution lawyer in India and author of book, ‘Article 370, A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir’ two days back in an article quoting the speech, of the Union minister N. Gopalaswamy Iyanger in India’s constituent assembly on Oct 17, 1949,   which has been referred to earlier also in this newspaper by a couple of columnists adds yet another dimension to it by stating: 

“Article 370 was not designed to rule out a plebiscite. A letter by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, secretary general of the external affairs ministry, dated Nov 21 1949 said that participation of Kashmiris in India’s constituent assembly was “not intended to, and does not, in fact, alter the government of India’s determination to abide, in the matter of accession, by the freely declared will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Should that will be against [Jammu and Kashmir] continuing to be part of India, if and when it comes to be expressed in a constitutional way under conditions of peace and impartiality, the representation of [Jammu and Kashmir] in the Indian parliament would automatically cease and the provisions of the constitution of India that govern the relations of … Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India will also cease to operate.” (Dawn 14-6-2014). Equally question of granting “permanent residence” in Jammu to refugees has brought the 1929, State Subject laws under focus once again and made people conscious about importance of safeguarding this law against any kind of infringements. 

In this bizarre scenario of pronouncing thirteen percent votes as ‘peoples mandate’ and ‘triumph of democracy’ the US State Department in its sixty eight page ‘Executive Summary’ of ‘India 2013 Human Report’ has demystified and demythologized the status of democracy, freedom of expression and right to travel in Jammu and Kashmir.  Deconstructing the myth of democracy in the State, the report very subtly suggested the state in denying space to the voices of dissent has been arbitrarily violating its own laws. It is also caustic about different norms being applied in Kashmir in not allowing people to articulate their voices of disagreement with the power centres. Highlighting this aspect the report say that   ‘The law provides for freedom of assembly.  Authorities normally required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully, except in Jammu and Kashmir.  In this state the local government sometimes denied permits to ‘separatist’ parties for public gatherings, and security forces sometimes detained and assaulted separatists engaged in peaceful protest. 

During periods of civil tension, authorities used the criminal procedure code to ban public assemblies or impose a curfew.’ ‘The report also points out how Public Safety Act (PSA) is harsher than National Security Act (NSA). Public Safety Act, which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for as long as two years. And as against the NSA allows only detention without trial for one year only.’ The denial of travel documents to citizens for their forefathers and distant relation not being in agreement with political views of the power centres is viewed as ridiculing the much trumpeted citizens’ rights.

The denial of space to voices to voice of dissent is abusing the much cherished democracy. The government’s cannot be selective in giving democratic rights to parties that at best can garner support of ten to fifteen percent voters in the electoral battles and deny it to those that in  democratic spirit make overwhelming majority  to abstain from polls.  Mentioning of denial of space to voices of dissent and freedom of speech in Jammu and Kashmir prominently in the State Department report is indicative, that it has potential of becoming an international debate. To cap it all it would be ideal to quote Noam Chomsky on freedom of speech,   “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Stalin and Hitler, for example, were dictators in favour of freedom of speech for views they liked only. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.