By Amritananda Chakravorty
It has 10 days that the Central Government has unilaterally and arbitrarily abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution in the name of that elusive phrase ‘Vikas’ or ‘development’, which the rest of India has been dying to witness for the last 5 years. Instead of ‘ache din’ for other States, the Modi 2.0 Government was bringing ‘achhe din’ for Kashmir. So to bring ‘achhe din’, it has completely shut down all communications, including mobile network, internet services, and even landline (which did not even happen in the heights of militancy in the 1990s), while Section 144, CrPC is imposed in most areas of Jammu & Kashmir, and even in some parts of Ladakh.
There are reports that restrictions have been relaxed in Jammu, but not in Kashmir. Of course, communications have to be clamped down so that Kashmiris cannot convey the onset of ‘achhe din’ to mainland Indians, who would be upset that why they were not deemed to be granted this privilege of witnessing ‘achhe din’. Even on Eid, the restrictions were not eased, in order to allow families to talk to each other. Such is the terror of ‘vikas’ or ‘achhe din’.
The farce of the above situation is so evident that it is worse than ‘Leila’, the dystopian drama aired on Netflix few weeks back, which our famed liberal media touted as ‘exaggeration’ or ‘cannot happen here in India, since we are ‘still a democracy’. But the apprehensions were very much there, in the mayhem of mob lynchings everyday in different parts of India. But now that mask of democracy is brutally off. Even after partition in 1947, when hundreds of princely states were joining the Indian Dominion, each was signing an ‘instrument of accession’, i.e., an agreement between two parties, after considering all options. In reality, one may say that most of these agreements were a mere formality, and most had no option but to join India. Still, the formality was very important, and it lent huge legitimacy to the creation of the Indian State, as we know of it. That legitimacy is now gone.
In the age of ‘digital India’, when the Prime Minister talks of PUBG and is highly active on social media, the fact that thousands of Kashmiri citizens have to stand in line for 4-5 hours to make one call to their family members (maximum for 1-2 minutes) reveals the intent behind the government’s action. It is to humiliate and degrade an entire community based on their region and religion. It is not to ‘integrate’ Kashmiris with rest of India, but to subjugate them and render them second class citizens.
With regard to the legality of the actions, plethora of petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court of India, including one by the unscrupulous M.L. Sharma, who is known to be filing completely frivolous petitions in critical matters, in order to weaken the case, Tehseen Poonawalla, who asked for the release of Kashmiri political leaders, and the lifting of communication restrictions, one by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, challenging the severe restrictions placed on media and local journalists, in violation of Article 19(1) of the Constitution, one by National Conference leaders questioning the vires of the Presidential Order dated 05.08.2019 to abrogate Article 370, and one by a student from Jamia Milia Islamia University to seek information about his parents, stating that he has been unable to communicate with them due to the information blackout in the city. All these petitions are at various stages of being listed in the Court.
On 13th August, 2019, the petition filed by Tehseen Poonawalla came up seeking release of political leaders like Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and many others, who have arbitrarily detained by the Government, as well as to lift the communication blockade before the bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice M.R. Shah. Belying all hopes of relief, the Supreme Court agreed with the Government’s actions of a complete clampdown on the communication systems in Kashmir on the basis that ‘it’s a serious situation there’. In the face of ‘serious situation’, without any specific details, an entire State can be locked down, its political leaders detained, severe restrictions on mobility, as per the Supreme Court. Though the matter was kept pending and would be taken up after 2 weeks, it is very clear that the Supreme Court has indicated where it stands on the issue, which is highly disappointing.
It is even more disappointing that when 7 million people in Kashmir are facing a complete lock down, the highest Constitutional Court of the world’s largest democracy is busy in the Ayodhya hearings, which is essentially a title dispute between two religious groups. A Constitution Bench of 5 Supreme Court Judges is hearing the matter everyday for five days, i.e., for the whole week. What is the urgency to devote so much resources for this one matter? No one knows. May be the Government knows. But this clearly reflects the priorities of the Supreme Court, i.e., to ignore the blatant violation of the constitutional rights of 8 million people in J&K, ignore the brutal assault on the federal structure of the Indian State in converting a State into Union Territory, etc. Instead, the Supreme Court wants to know if the descendants of ‘Lord Ram’ are alive. India is a theatre of absurd now, and we are all mute spectators, not knowing when the next episode of horror would unfold. (IPA Service)
The writer is a Delhi-based human rights and constitutional lawyer.