Independence Day: Assaults on Freedom
INDEPENDENCE Day this year is being observed under the shadow of the dismemberment of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and a massive clampdown on the people of the valley.
When Narendra Modi hoists the tricolor on the Red Fort on August 15, millions of Kashmiris for the eleventh day running would have been deprived of their liberties and fundamental rights. They have been stripped off their right to movement, to communicate, to earn a livelihood, to go to school, to avail healthcare and medicines – all fundamental rights as citizens in free India.
Hundreds of Kashmiri political leaders and activists are in jail or detained at secret places. Many have been flown out and kept in jails outside like Agra, Bareilly or Lucknow. Nobody knows their actual whereabouts and their family and relatives are unable to meet them.
While the Modi government will tom-tom the “integration of Jammu & Kashmir” with India as their great achievement, there will be a sharp contrast as to what independence means to the people of Kashmir as compared to the people of the rest of India.
The humiliation heaped on the Kashmiris is manifest in the way they are being politically disenfranchised. After Jammu & Kashmir being relegated to union territory status, the new legislative assembly will be on the model of Puducherry with a Lt Governor calling the shots. Even this truncated assembly’s composition is going to change. The reorganisation bill provides for delimitation of constituencies, an exercise to be conducted by the Election Commission. The strength of the erstwhile assembly from the Jammu & Kashmir part was 83 seats. This is to be increased to 90. The delimitation exercise will ensure that the number of seats in Jammu will go up from the strength of 37 in the erstwhile assembly. With the carving out of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe seats, the result will be to reduce the number of seats in the valley (which was 46) so that the BJP can be assured of a majority in the assembly. Nomination of two women members by the Lt Governor is an additional surety.
The other diabolical move will be to bring about a demographic change in the valley. In the name of economic development and investment, people from outside Jammu & Kashmir will be encouraged to buy land and settle down in the valley. Already in 2016, during the PDP-BJP coalition government there was a proposal to settle ex-servicemen in housing colonies in the valley for which land was to be allotted. The aim is to demographically change or dilute the core identity of the Kashmiri people.
For the rest of the country, long inured to the suppression of civil liberties and the State repression of the Kashmiri people, the situation in Jammu & Kashmir may seem to be just another chapter of a worsening situation being dealt with firmly by the central government.
However, this would be a serious mistake. They would be ignoring this brutal attack on democracy and federalism at their own peril. The authoritarian regime will not spare anyone – those who dissent, those in the opposition, and anyone who exercises their democratic rights and freedom of expression.
The liberties which came with independence and a republican constitution are in danger. This is the message of the Kashmir atrocity perpetuated by the Modi-Shah duo.
On independence day, it is also pertinent to observe that the past five years of authoritarian rule have led to the undermining of all institutions under the constitution. A small instance of this was brought out by the fact that a three member bench of the Supreme Court refused to intervene to stop the large scale violations of civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens in J&K.
In such a situation, the defence of democracy, secularism and the fundamental rights of citizens including the right to livelihood have to be accomplished more and more by popular mobilisations and united people’s movements. August 15 is the day to resolve to take up this vital endeavor by uniting all the Left and democratic forces.
(August 14, 2019)