Freedom Of Speech And New India

by Akash Kakade*

Akh zabaan chhu na zanh kaefi- One Language is never enough-

Kashmir is not a place it’s a language of peace.

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve

most of the world’s problem.”

said the father of our exquisite mother nation Mahatma Gandhi


One must be wondering what does a saying of Mahatma has to do with anything that goes on today in India. Albert Einstein put it, “blind faith in authority is the greatest enemy of truth” now even the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India opined in the issue of dissent. “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst.” These words by Hon’ble Justice D Y Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by then Hon’ble Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which last week ordered that five human rights activists arrested by Pune police on charges of involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, be kept under house arrest, have gained big importance at a time when protests and voices against the establishment are heard in increased decibels across the country. Dissent is today being labelled as anti-national. The essence of freedom and democracy is dissent. In countries that say there is no dissent, there is no freedom. In a democratic society, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. Dissent as a right has been accepted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court under right of the freedom of speech. In 1950, the People of India gave themselves a Constitution that promised to secure to all citizens, inter alia, “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” This was given a concrete shape by the specific rights guaranteed by Articles 19 and 25 and the associated framework ensuring their implementation. The past six-and-a-half decades have witnessed the manner, and the extent, of their actualisation. The quest for correctives often found expression through assertions relating to freedom of expression and its concomitant, the concept of dissent. It is concept that contains within it the democratic right to object, oppose, protest and even resist. Cumulatively it can be defined as the unwillingness in an individual or group to cooperate with an established authority, social, cultural or governmental. A young journalist Aasif Sultan was arrested “for one of his stories”. “This obviously is not the first time Kashmiri journalists or activists have been targeted for their work. This reality in Jammu and Kashmir has been largely ignored or endorsed by the vast sections of opinion makers in India,” Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) said. “It is observed that increasingly these brutal tactics are becoming a reality for the people of India as well. Anyone questioning the ruling class is met with state violence. Human rights activists, journalists, RTI activists, environmental rights activists and simply dissenters are hounded through arrests, fake cases, mob violence, online trolling, media trials and travel restrictions. The state successfully uses media to criminalize any kind of dissent, thus creating an atmosphere of fear for activists, journalists, poets, or artists,” the statement added. Where is this leading us? I find asking myself, are we even serious about the meaning of the term healthy dissent? “Emboldened by the lack of accountability of its conduct against voices of dissent in Jammu and Kashmir and also across India, the state apparatus has begun its crackdown even against the most prominent activists in India,” it said. In the globalising world of today and in most countries having a democratic fabric, the role of civil society in the articulation of dissent has been and continues to be comprehensively recognized. Nothing is more fatal for disagreements and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden external agendas. The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you of taking their ideas seriously. May be like most of my fellow Indians I had visited the pristine valley of Kashmir several times. Only difference being I had been forging bonds with my dear friends like family members which are not only cemented with time but also with mutual love and affection for each other. I believe I am the closest of one’s fortunate enough to be living and surviving with the fellow Kashmiris. I say surviving because I recently was amidst a procession gathered to mourn the death of a 26 year old man. I was evident that the young gun of the young India had been killed by the government forces while they had been attempting to disperse another crowd. Everybody knew that opening fire at a crowd in order to disperse, is against the “Standard Operating Procedure.” But it happened there that day. It happens every other day. Or as people say, “It is Kashmir.” The first funeral procession that I had ever witnessed in Kashmir was that of journalist known to my local friend with whom I stay for my duration in Kashmir on most of the occasion. The journalist was assassinated by unknown assailants, on my way to the procession I was shown the spot where the altercation took place, the blood was still raw on the street and a little child was playing in the vicinity with his elder sister, both toddlers and on seeing me they asked “tohy ch’ivaa vaarai ?” (English- How are you?) the very scene and her darting words and soul searching stare ran a cold shiver down my spine. This incidence happened when I was only beginning to understand what being a Kashmiri means and how the life of a Kashmiri changes just like the weather at Mount Everest, which never seems to clear enough these days. However what I saw in the funeral was unlike any other funeral I had ever attended in my life. However I realised that what I saw in that funeral has been the same in every other funeral – the fierce eyes, the slogans that seemed to issue from dry but untiring lips. I felt my stomach twirl, I felt as if I had never been to any funerals before, and the bare fact of death was potent enough to startle me. But here I was, a daily visitor at the funerals. Yes this is not a hyperbole, but I made friends at funerals and met those new friends again at the very next funeral. Funerals became social gatherings; edged by anger, dissent, tears and convictions. Death, no longer the same startling reality, became strangely familiar. Strangely enough the majority of the funerals were of the young blood of Kashmir who were pursuing higher education or were holding amazing family background and enviable educational qualifications. All of them were being killed over the simple exercising of their right of dissent. At one of these funerals of a young engineering graduate, I saw women kneeling before the body, I realised that she was the mother of the young lad who had been awarded scholarship to study engineering. The body itself was perched like a tall building; like one of those in which all Kashmiris aspire to live. The body stood as it was a mansion which would hold those living in it with dignity, and offer them comfort and ease. The lament of mourning gave way to the rhythm of a familiar chant – “Are hum kya chahte? Aazadi!” (What do we want, Freedom!). Sadness turned to rage, again. When asked, a young man in his late 20s who happened to be one amongst many friends I made during funerals told me, “Where in Kashmir is there any space for dissent?” He replied to his own question in the same breath. “It is only here at the funerals that we can hear ourselves cry out for justice. Anywhere else, we would be shot dead for doing this. It’s Kashmir, people fight cases and win for right to protest at Jantar Mantar, media covers that, however, who would invest time to correct the obvious peril of suffocating democracy by murdering the right to dissent.” I unknowingly nodded my head in agreement, and moved forward to witness the women in the crowd of rebel, in a way I had dreamt of. They beat up their chests and cried out for Aazadi. A woman standing right at the head of the crowd, leading a chorus of women to ring the rhyme of ‘freedom’. A few steps ahead was a throng of children, Aazadi on their tongues, with a fierce knot of voices. For a moment, it felt that the Aazadi, that they were dreaming of, was not a distant dream – such was the conviction that I saw ablaze in them. Every other day I woke up to the news of yet another university educated youth joining the ranks of the militants had become staple. What was further alarming that the news of Doctoral research scholars of Kashmir did not surprise anyone when this happened although killing a part of me watching this dissent being crushed to the extent of militancy. My ancestors have been the witness of the oppression met out to the Adiwasi at the hands of the Government turning them in into Anti Government Heroes of People there let us hope we don’t end up creating another breed of Anti Government Heroes in our motherland. In the regular Kashmiri life, deaths had become an inevitable part. Injuries were regarded as inevitable. And yet their hearts sang in unison after the Friday prayers in Jamia Masjid – “We want Justice. We want Freedom.” Gandhi ji said Whenever You Are Confronted With an Opponent, Conquer It With Love. This love is lost and simple dissent is crushed. Which only leads to the inevitable conclusion in the words of British Historian Lord Acton that- Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. To further up the ante every Friday there would be stone throwing after the prayers at the Jamia Masjid. First, a small group of boys would pick up stones to throw, followed by more, and by more, taking the count to a few hundreds. A tear gas canister would be lobbed. But the crowd would melt and then come together again. Alongwith others accompanying me, I learnt the art of not letting the tear gas affect me, now I ask myself if a regular civilian like me can do this, do we really expect it to affect people who are subjected to it on a daily basis. The war has marked both the sides, but in different forms. The conflict could feature – armed, unarmed and the unarmed on the brink of becoming armed. Gautam Navlakha the activist who was put under house arrest for the Bhima Koregaon has had a very long history with people of Kashmir and with Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). He has been visiting Kashmir consistently from 1990 and has been part of several reports and campaigns, which highlighted the “ugly truth about the State violence in Jammu and Kashmir”. Gautam was one of the first to visit Kashmir in 1990 as a part of a fact-finding team. In a zone of extensive surveillance, Gautam’s work has been public and widely known to civil society and the State. The statement added “Gautam is one of the most respected Indians in Kashmir, for being truthful and courageous. Gautam never minced his words to even criticize the role of non-state actors when they were involved in human rights violations.” Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in its statement issued through its Spokesperson condemned his arrest and applauded his release by Hon’ble Delhi High Court and hoped that people in India and institutions would rise to this occasion and express unconditional solidarity with these activists and all those who in a similar manner are being targeted by the ruling class for the work which is produced by them. This sustained stifling of the dissent has made India an absolute majoritarian and authoritarian regime. Reality of Kashmir being that every day, somewhere, a member of the government forces, or a militant, was killed. Every other day news of death of educated and innocent youth would make the headline. At least once a month a picture of a youth teasing an army man would go viral on social media. Political parties, even after knowing that they have failed, would talk of dialogue, would condemn the killings as they do by default, and would try to play the farce that democracy had become in Kashmir. Yesterday there was a news where an esteemed Member of Legislative Assembly complained about the critical treatment meted out to him in the name of dissent. Mahatma said- “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result” its high time all of India, Kashmir Inclusive should act towards peace as an eye for an eye would only end up making the whole world blind. Crumbled between the falling walls of nations, Kashmiris stand tall, challenging every new reason given to them. “We no longer fear death. We can’t just act as mute spectators. We just want justice,” said a woman, full of anger sitting right next to the body of her dead son, killed by unknown assailants accused to have been shot dead by the Governmental agencies for having raised his voice. Only words that ring in my ears are the words of a toddler who in his broken language was saying in one breath “Hum Kya Chahte Aazadi, Nara-E-Takbir, Allah Hu Akbar”.

*Author is an Advocate having completed his L.L.M. from University of London, practicing law at the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, New Delhi. ** Relationship Details- +91 959 922 3122 # Views expressed in this article are entirely personal views of the Author and do not impose or imply on asserting any of it attracting no public opinions for circulation as deemed appropriate only.

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