Mocking Democracy

Over the years, successive governments and administrations have found it convenient to suppress freedom of expression, thereby limiting whatever freedom and democracy people in Kashmir could avail. Since the beginning of the armed struggle in Kashmir in 1990, the commemoration of martyr’s day on July 13 by the separatists has always been marked by either a complete curfew, or restricted movements and house arrest of separatist political leadership. This year has been no different. July 13 is an important and historic day in the history of Kashmir. On this day in 1931, 22 Kashmiris were killed by the Dogra forces outside Srinagar’s central jail.

This July 13, the Govt decided to impose restrictions in areas falling under six police stations of the old Srinagar city. All top separatist leadership were put under house arrest.  Even scores of pro freedom activists were detained by the police. Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik had earlier announced plans about a joint rally in the Martyr’s Graveyard in Srinagar.

“We have decided to impose restrictions in areas falling under six police stations of Srinagar tomorrow,” Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Syed Javid Gillani told the media. Additional police force was also deployed in Srinagar city and other towns of the valley to thwart any attempts of taking out protests. The separatist leaders had come together on Saturday, to plan a joint strategy about observing this day. But the police and the administration put paid to any such efforts as they were in mood to allow any protests on this day.

Over the years, the Govt in J and K has used high handed tactics to deal with any form of dissent or protest. Be it the NC-Cong coalition or the PDP-BJP coalition, the roadmap for dealing with political protests has been one of using strong arm tactics. In that sense, Kashmir has not changed one bit since the early 90s, even though since 1996, the State has been apparently run by an elected Govt. One could understand the Govts concerns in not allowing such rallies and protests in the early 90s, given the vulnerable and fluid security situation in the valley. But that excuse can’t hold for eternity. It must be mentioned here that the Govt hasn’t even allowed taking out the Muharram procession since 1990, which is an infringement on the freedom of religion in Kashmir.

The political situation in the valley seemed to stabilized during the period 2003-2007. But since 2008, after the States’ brutal use of force against protesters which repeated in the years 2009 and 2010, people in Kashmir have almost given up any hopes of their genuine and peaceful protests being allowed. The state comes down heavily on any protest, notwithstanding the changing reality and an improvement in the security situation in the valley. The Govt needs to think out of the box and allow peaceful protests and let the people feel that their voices are heard and not muzzled. As long as the State uses strong arm tactics, it can’t expect to win the confidence of a common Kashmiri. Such tactics are nothing short of mocking democracy. For a commoner in Kashmir, true democracy still remains a mirage. 

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