Maknoon Wani | Clarion India
IN 2008, when the younger Kashmiri generation came face-to-face with the horrors of state repression, it seemed too unreal. Some perceived the happenings as absurd. They brought about a combination of shock and confusion. However, the older Kashmiris had seen something worse back in the 1990s when the insurgency was at its peak. We had heard and read about their stories of crackdowns, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, and arrests in complete disbelief. This disbelief died when Kashmiris, mostly teenagers, started falling to army bullets.
Meanwhile, the police prepared thousands of dossiers and slapped the infamous Public Safety Act (PSA) on many young Kashmiris. This Act allows detention of a person without trial and any sort of legal redressal. It was a perfect tool for the government to arrest large number of people without any intervention of the judiciary.
The PSA, which has been termed by the Amnesty International as a black law, is a classic example of executive overreach. It redefines what is illegal in a state; illegal is whatever state deems to be unlawful and not what is defined by the constitution. In Kashmir’s case, it was the protests.
After 2008, leave alone protests, even gatherings were effectively outlawed by the government by slapping charges under the PSA on everyone who was remotely associated with a protest. What remained after that were stone-pelting and militancy.
The PSA was introduced by the founder of National Conference, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, in 1978, apparently to curb timber smuggling. The Act was, however, used to curb dissent and settle political scores. Little did the senior Abdullah know that one day his son, as well as his grandson, will be detained under the same law.
The PSA, in terms of its arbitrariness, is similar to the Rowaltt Act of the British Raj, which was called a black act back then. Rowlatt Act prompted resignations from the imperial legislative council and eventually led to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
As it seems, the PSA coupled with other lawless laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) succeeded in crushing the peaceful protests in Kashmir. The recent anti-CAA protests and the subsequent police crackdown are a reminder of the ordeal we Kashmiris living in Delhi have gone through. The horrid scenes of students marching out of the Jamia Millia campus with their hands thrown up and guns pointing directly at them were a glimpse of Indian state’s enduring Kashmir policy.
Amidst all this, I noticed a familiar disbelief on my friend’s face who was finding it very hard to comprehend that peaceful protests were being attacked with such brute force. Police in Uttar Pradesh entered Muslim homes, alleging they had participated in protests. They ransacked homes and smashed whatever they found and broke whoever they came across in these godforsaken households. Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s most recognised historians, was dragged by a policeman while he was giving an interview. These scenes reflected a new form of governance, the one imported from Kashmir.
In August last year, the BJP government passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act. This law empowers the government to declare an individual a terrorist and, among other things, seal his/her properties. Back then, Amit Shah had assured Parliament that the Act will only be used against terrorists and no misuse of its provisions shall be allowed. However, on April 14, 2020, less than a year later, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde were taken into custody by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) under the same Act. This is for their alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon riots – a case fraught with inconsistencies and lack of evidence.
It is important to understand why this government or any other government for that matter feels the need to use such laws. A simple explanation is that it is more convenient to keep the judiciary as aloof from their business as possible. Moreover, such laws lay a precedent of arbitrariness and authoritarianism which is gradually imbibed by the judiciary as well as the public.
In an ideal democracy an elected government should only have the power to prosecute rather than imprison a person for indefinite periods of time. Black laws like the PSA and the UAPA circumvent the judiciary, and they make bail impossible. A person has to remain in jail for years while – and if at all – a case is being fought. The state becomes the judge, jury and executioner while justice dies a silent death.
The foundations of the liberal India, which forms a small part of the larger India, are being replaced and altered with one law at a time. Whatever remains on paper will be rendered useless and irrelevant within a few years.
The months-long lockdown in Kashmir didn’t just happen with the flick of a switch. It took years for the government to create a consensus and the necessary physical structure for what it orchestrated in Kashmir. For the last three years in which I have studied at the Delhi University, I have witnessed many protests, but it was only a couple of months back that I saw CRPF personnel armed with automatic rifles being deployed on our campus. Under this government, the timeless Kashmir policy is being gradually implemented in entire India. The only difference is that a large part of the Indian population is supportive of what this government is doing.
Freedoms have already started to shrink. Amidst large-scale anti-CAA protests held across the country, many small yet significant developments went unnoticed. The snapping of internet in the National Capital and shutting down of metro services should have alarmed the people. We have seen the perils of communication shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir where 4G internet remained shut since August last year. This has taken a heavy toll on education as well as various businesses.
Fascism does not declare itself at midnight. It creeps in slowly, and without notice, it takes over everything. A total breakdown of what remains of the constitutional machinery is very well possible. Elections, courts, activists, and NGOs will be ineffective if people don’t stay alert and keep protesting. This pandemic that has befallen on us is yet another opportunity for the people in power to further their agenda. The promptness with which Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde were incarcerated – on BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary – amidst this lockdown shows where the priorities of this government lie.
The Kashmir model of governance, as of now, is on the periphery. But eventually it will seep into the core of the Indian polity. Protests will be fired upon and banned, more UAPAs and NSAs will be slapped, and internet will be shut often to muzzle any sort of dissidence. The road from here looks like these things are bound to happen soon; India is inching closer to the Kashmir Model, and there is no one to steer it away.