The ‘Differently’ Abled Writers In An Ecosystem Of Stenographers

Dec 7, 2023 | Communication Blockade

Kashmir Times
Who are the differently-abled writers, who sign up recruitment letters for militants? Perhaps, the new Director General of Police, Rashmi Ranjan Swain, is privy to some secret that is not public knowledge.

Swain recently told media-persons at a briefing that: “There would be a sustained action against people, who motivate and recruit (youngsters into militancy in J&K). Even people who write very differently, they are also liable for encouraging recruitment. We will take action against those, who hide behind the freedom of speech and expression to provoke people. We will not tolerate it.”

He did not cite a single example of how words of some writers have enabled or encouraged recruitments into militancy. Nor did he offer a shred of evidence to this end.

Interestingly, the comments came close on the heels of two significant judgements by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court while quashing the detention of journalist Sajjad Gul and granting bail to Fahad Shah.

The court clearly rejected the claims of the investigating agencies that Sajjad Gul’s tweets or reports were used to provoke the people against the government and significantly observed that this cannot be grounds to claim that a “true and factual media report can provoke people.”

In the Fahad Shah case, the court unequivocally stated that the act of writing could not be deemed as an act of terror. The verdict states, “If this argument (of construing an opinion article as an act of terrorism) was accepted, it would turn criminal law on its head. It would mean any criticism of the central government can be described as a terrorist act because the honour of India is its incorporeal property. Such a proposition would collide headlong with the fundamental right to freedom.”

Clearly in both the cases, the court has stated that criticism of the government does not amount to terrorism. It upheld that freedom of expression is an inalienable right.

Regardless of the court’s observations, J&K’s top cop believes that writing ‘differently’ is a crime and falls in the category of ‘terrorism’. His contention is that there are differently-abled writers, who write so that young men read them and promptly start making a beeline for the recruitment queues where they can pick up the guns and join militancy.

The High Court in its verdict on Fahad Shah bail has made the important distinction between batting for secessionist views in writings and the act of criminality. The court said that while the opinion piece called for the secession of Jammu and Kashmir, it didn’t incite violence or an armed insurrection against the state. The court has thus laid down the important distinction between writing about secessionism and terrorism. It has clarified that even if there is an opinion batting for secessionism, as long as there is no evidence to show there is an incitement to violence or armed insurrection against the state, it cannot be treated as an act of criminality.

The police chief’s utterances are far more dangerous than the ludicrous contentions made in Fahad Shah’s case by the investigators on the basis of one opinion article that is deemed to advocate secessionism. The DGP has not even spoken about writers promoting secessionist ideology. He has spoken about every writer or journalist writing differently.

How does one define ‘writing differently’? What is it different from? Swain does not elaborate but the actions of his department resulting in repeated harassment of journalists, subjecting them to unlawful interrogations, summoning them to police stations and detaining them for doing their professional work reveal that anything that strictly falls outside the ambit of the dictated narratives will be deemed as an act of writing ‘differently’, and thus be construed as a criminal act, rather a terrorist act. Is writing differently a euphemism for criticism and asking questions? Criticism and seeking accountability are legitimate rights, not acts of criminality.

By stating that action will be taken against those “who hide behind freedom of speech and expression,” the DGP has provided some clarity of what he intends to do. There is a clear intention to criminalise the very act of being able to think, write and express. In his eyes, such acts should not be sanctioned under the fundamental right of speech and expression.

The DGP’s remarks are not just ridiculous, they are also out of sync with an understanding of law and constitutional essence. He may not be the first one to make such sweeping generalizations and tread this dangerous course. Earlier, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, in response to a report (based on the evidence of a letter by an IAS officer), highlighting an alleged scam in the Pradhan Mantri-Jan Arogya Yojna (PM-JAY) insurance scheme, had proclaimed that the “writer of the article was himself a part of the separatist ecosystem.”

Both remarks may need to be juxtaposed with each other. They reveal not just an abject intolerance to criticism, they reveal a contempt for the very act of writing by equating the ability to write with running a terror recruitment office or a separatist ecosystem. They, thus, reveal scant disregard of law and constitutional propriety.

Their message is clear: No act of writing critically would be accepted in this ecosystem where the only writers considered as bonafide and legitimate would be those, who agree to become stenographers and those, who would be certified and stamped by the State.