My Way, My Highway

With every passing day, the ban on the use of the highway in Kashmir is getting more and more attention in media and it continues to outrage and anger people. The resentment rises to a crescendo on Sundays and Wednesdays, the days of ban when people are put to every conceivable inconvenience to facilitate the movement of the security personnel. On Wednesday, in a reflection of the degrading treatment meted out out to people a man was granted permission to travel by a duty magistrate by stamping and writing on the palm of his hand.  A picture of his hand later  went viral on the social media.

Government  has deployed magistrates at the strategic spots on the road to issue on the spot permissions to the people in an emergency,  but it makes little difference to the situation on the ground. The highway is used by thousands everyday and all of them  do it for diverse social, medical and economic reasons. And it is not possible to issue many such permissions when the issue at play is the security of the convoys.  So the  crisis is likely to linger on. 

So far the state and central governments are in no mood to heed the protests in Kashmir. In fact, the union home minister Rajnath Singh has said that the centre “won’t succumb to any pressure and will not roll back the decision,” keeping in view the security of the forces and the nation. In fact, the ministry of home affairs has removed any hope of revocation of the ban by displaying statistics stating the total duration of prohibition is for 24 hours out of 168 hours in a week, which amounts to only 15 per cent of the time.

This is such a callous way to dismiss the grievances of millions of people in a democracy. In fact, this approach makes the people subservient to security forces. Not that it should be vice versa but in a democracy the people have to be paramount and the security agencies as an instrument of the state are there to secure people. But in Kashmir, this understanding has been turned upside down. It is the security forces which have to be now protected from the people. It is the convenience of the security forces which is paramount rather than that of the people. And the sad part is that the government has become immune to the growing public and political chorus for shift in this approach. 

A group of twenty-six academics, analysts and former government servants including former Kashmir interlocutor Radha Kumar have now written a letter to home minister Singh to express their “deep distress at the continuing and indeed intensifying alienation of Kashmiris from the rest of India”. They have said that the moves like highway ban and the proscription of the parties like Jamaat-i-Islami and the JKLF undercut India’s “democratic credentials” and add to “disaffection” in Kashmir. One hopes that the home minister listens to cry of anguish from the civil society outside the state. As the past five years have proved, a militaristic policy towards J&K has only added to the turmoil in Kashmir rather than helping reduce it.

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