Anand K Sahay/ The Asian Age
There are times in history when facts call attention to themselves; they assert their independence in all its amplitude and are in no need of the crutch of interpretation. Such a moment is visible in Kashmir now. Merely by being on the table, the facts there taunt the regime’s proclamations.
At such a time it ceases to matter that the Supreme Court should be unseeing and should conduct itself in unhurried, complacent fashion, mindful only of the technical routine, superficialities, and of the urge to be seen on the same page as the government, as though nothing exceptional occurred on August 5 and imagining that nothing came apart in Kashmir on that fateful day.
Thus, it is of little consequence to the top court that around 250 habeas corpus writs, many of them in respect of children, should lie with the J&K high court, practically unattended. A habeas corpus writ denotes urgency. However, at the current rate, their disposal could easily take a year or more.
By then the world for the people of Kashmir would have altered forever, with Kashmiris becoming indifferent not just to India but to the idea of India, to the foundational values of our republic in which they had placed their trust 70 years ago, instead of simply stepping over the line and joining the Islamic republic next door.
The ugly truth our citizens in Kashmir have been confronted with since the first week of August continues to grow hideously in size. The message they receive, subliminally, is that in their case the very idea of justice is no longer in the landscape of the possible.
This impression is reinforced by the fact that the country’s top court has not just waffled on habeas corpus, it has postponed hearing the constitutional petitions that challenge the Narendra Modi government’s jettisoning of the core of Article 370 and creating two Union territories out of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a decision which takes effect on October 31, to mid-November, in order to be overly-solicitous of the government and give it one more month to frame its reply.
By then the decision to dissolve the state of J&K would, in effect, have become irreversible, making the constitutional challenge mounted against it pointless and irrelevant. This Supreme Court would be remembered in judicial annals for abetting the current goings-on, and overlooking the constitutional view that a state of the Indian Union cannot be dissolved.
An ordinary recitation of the facts should shake the government out of its slumber, but this seems too much to expect in the present case. This is because the government’s propaganda has prevailed, and that fills the government with hubris.
But the facts won’t go away — namely, that around 4,000 people in Kashmir — professionals, businessmen and politicians of every shade, and not just the separatist Hurriyat Conference — have been locked up. The Valley’s Juvenile Justice Committee has informed the Supreme Court that as many as 144 children were booked under the draconian Public Safety Act.
After weeks of shutdown, schools have been ordered open because the government is keen to advance the new surrealism that life is back to being normal. But children do not attend, partly out of fear of the men in uniform who are now thought to number a few hundred thousand in the Valley, and partly because, for Kashmir, quiet disobedience has emerged as the new paradigm of protest.
The matrices of defiance are changing when gun-toting men in uniform populate every street of every town in the Valley. At the present juncture, Kashmiris are unlikely to present themselves as objects for target practice.
In the eyes of sympathetic and unsympathetic observers alike, the Kashmir arena is apt to resemble a vast military encampment rather than a platform that instils amongst the populace greater security awareness and raises hopes of economic development in conditions of peace, the big promise made by New Delhi and touted internationally.
Mobile phones and the Internet still do not work 60 days on, and people are unaware of events taking place only metres from their homes. Landline phones have indeed been restored, but not many people have these outdated instruments. Severe restrictions in Kashmir, some of which will draw human rights concerns, are not Opposition propaganda, as some high political executives have maintained. They are frighteningly real.
But in the rest of the country, people are ignorant of the history and the current reality. With high-pitched, violent, religion-based nationalism being presented by the highest in the land, a whole new vocabulary is purveyed through the pliant sections of the media which reminds us of Orwell’s 1984.
Thus, Article 370 of the Constitution, which has been scrapped for all practical purposes, has been falsely converted into a “temporary” provision in public perception (and this is being canvassed abroad) by those at the highest levels of government, and is thus presented as a fit case for abrogation. Two judgments of the Supreme Court — the first by a constitution bench in 1968, and the second by a two-judge bench in 2016 — which have emphatically pointed out the opposite, are being suppressed. The Apex Court too is silent on this.
In order to kowtow to the political bosses, the media refuses to make a critical analysis because the people of Kashmir, doubtless on account of their religion (which is bad-mouthed by adherents of today’s dominant ideology), are practically been seen as “the enemies of the people” of India, and are therefore deserving of no consideration, let alone the protections available to all as a matter of right in a democracy.
A little-known fact is that the official doublespeak, dutifully reproduced especially in the television media, was being beamed to the people in the Valley day in and day out, right through the communications clampdown. In Kashmir, the people saw themselves being demonised everyday by high-pitched television anchors who assumed the mantle of religious warriors, not journalists discharging their professional responsibility with scrupulousness.
It seemed as if shades of the normative ethos of the Third Reich — which targeted people of a particular faith — and the Russian gulag — when Big Brother decided that being locked up, beaten, and denied basic rights — was best for the people, had been resurrected.
A perceptive Kashmiri fruit-grower said to this writer recently, “Over the years, the Valley has protested many actions of the government in New Delhi. But it is for the first time that the people of Kashmir have been depicted as antagonists of the people of the rest of the country. The story has been converted into people against people.”
In 1947, the dominant Hindu political elements in J&K did not urge Maharaja Hari Singh to merge his kingdom with India. Instead, they acquiesced in his ambition to try and remain independent. When that gambit failed after the attack by Pakistani raiders, the monarchy was ended, and political power passed to the people via Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference, the Hindutva outfits violently agitated for Kashmir to be dissolved into India.
Seventy years on, that communal goal has been realised, riding roughshod over the Constitution. The so-called rationale of security and economic development being trotted out is for the birds. Political Hinduism has notched its most significant victory in independent India, surpassing the Ayodhya demolition.
Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.