Mainstream, VOL LIV No 44 New Delhi October 22, 2016
Saffron Law in Congress-ruled Karnataka
Sunday 23 October 2016, by
The pseudo-nationalists have made Kashmir an issue of nationalism in Karnataka. If indivi-duals or groups meet together to discuss or debate on Kashmir or screen a documentary about Kashmir, it is termed an anti-national act. In the month of August at a meeting held at an important city college, I was requested to preside over a panel, consisting of two Professors—one from the University of Bangalore and another from a Centrally-funded university—a Kashmiri journalist working in Bangalore and a former Foreign Service bureaucrat, discussing the Kashmir issue. The objective of the college, of course, was noble. As a part of the curriculum they had sufficiently prepared for the panel through readings and classroom presentations. The panel was meant to further explore the subject so that students gain clarity on the issue of national concern. There were students and individuals from other institutions as well in the gathering. Of the many shades of opinions expressed there, the opinion of the journalist from Kashmir was very different. And that opinion was different because the journalist was speaking out of his own experience in the State of Kashmir and of the threat that the armed forces pose to human rights in the Valley. A section did not want to listen to him. They were sure of what he would say and once they heard him and came to realise that he was a Muslim and a journalist, there was nothing but intolerance at a wonderfully presented experience of life. The debate that followed was not on the people of Kashmir but the focus was on who should own Kashmir and to whom does it belong as a territory. There was hardly any sensitivity to the people of Kashmir and the blood that has flown on those streets since independence. Those who took to state-centric positions and made a case for “unity in uniformity” were applauded.
At the end of the panel discussion there were not many who had changed their mental positions. Many in the audience had internalised the version of the state on Kashmir and they were in the meeting to impose their world view than explore the issue further. Those who articulated outside the state position were looked upon with suspicion. And I was told that some of them even received threats after leaving the premises. The role of the people of Kashmir in a democracy was hardly discussed. Why is there such an intolerance even to discuss an issue like Kashmir and the people’s right over their lives? Have we become an insecure nation? Are Kashmiris enemies of the nation? If they do not occupy a respectful place in our minds how would they occupy a respectful place in the nation? That surely is the root cause of the alienation.
Screening of Documentaries
A few days later there was a screening of two documentaries on Kashmir for students from different colleges and people from civil society at St. Aloysius Degree College. The college had offered the space to “Friends of Kashmir” to screen the documentaries—“Khoon Diy Baarav”, a film by Iffat Fatima, and “Jashn-e-Azadi”, a film by Sanjay Kak—on August 27 and 28, 2016 from 3.00 pm to 6.00 pm. The Directors of the two documentaries had come down, one from Delhi and the other from Chennai. At 12.00 noon, just three hours before the screening, there was a first call from a friendly cop enquiring about the show. By 1.00 pm there were more than enough cops from different sectors—Intelligence, local Police Station and the Commissioner’s Office. We were made to feel that we had committed a crime by agreeing to have the documentaries screened. Not that the police were crude or cruel. They all looked friendly and did not find anything objectionable in screening the two documentaries one of which was approved by the Censor Board, it was conveyed to us when asked.
Our question was: why should the police come to an educational campus for a normal educational activity? We were asked to inform the local police station about the screening of the films for security reasons. We willingly did it and thought the police would prevent any problem if anybody creates disturbance. Of course, we did not think that anybody would come to make problems. It was not a public show and after college hours for students of city colleges and members of the civil society. The screening was in the college hall and there was no reason for anybody to object. Besides, one of these documentaries was approved by the Censor Board while the other of Sanjay Kak had received international applause. Since the Intelligence had warned us of the possibility of problems, as good citizens we did inform the local Police Station.
But we were taken aback when we were asked to cancel the show due to likely problems of law and order. We wondered what problems could be caused by the screening of the documentaries. After all, these documentaries were available in the public domain and they were not dubbed anti-national. And even if they were considered anti-national, the right of citizens to view them could not be denied by the state. We thought the police existed to protect citizens from anti-social forces and not to prevent colleges from performing their academic and national functions.
Is it Anti-national to Discuss Kashmir?
We were intrigued. There was nothing wrong that we had done by agreeing to screen the two documentaries. Screening the two documentaries and discussing them constituted a national act. Nobody has the right to impose one’s opinion on others in an educational institution of higher learning. Students come to learn by seeing, discussing, arguing and reflecting. But how are students to know if they are not exposed? Why shouldn’t the people and students know the various dimensions of the conflict before they make up their minds on the issue? In case any group acts against the norms of decency and violates the rights of citizens, it is the duty of the state to take action against the group. To tell an institution not to screen documentaries of relevance because of threats is to give in to threats rather than fight against them.
A secular state is expected to fight against those who seek to obstruct and control. Karna-taka is ruled by the Congress which claims it is secular and committed to freedom. We thought a professed secular government would back any discussion and debate on anything in the country so that students become aware in understanding the issues in depth. There are forces hostile to the documentaries. Instead of fighting those forces which are determined to control the spaces of the mind, the State Government gives into their threats.
Amnesty International with Broken Families
Two weeks prior to the planned screening of the documentaries, there were problems in the United Theological College caused by the ABVP; just a kilometre away from the College a meet was organised to discuss the problems of “broken families” from Kashmir. The role of the government in power was shameful. On August 13 to be exact, the United Theological College had offered its premises for the meeting with Kashmir’s “broken families” to Amnesty International. ‘Broken Families’ was a multi-city event where three families were invited to discuss their experiences of the tension in Kashmir. What the organisation aimed at was a peaceful discussion on the issue of Kashmir. There were three resource persons. The person who chaired the session was Ms Seema Mustafa, editor of www.thecitizen.in from Delhi. The ABVP had termed those who spoke there, some of the people deeply committed to secularism in the country, as anti-nationals and created law and order problems making a demand that the speakers and those who shouted “aazadi” be booked under the law of sedition. Much of the allegations there were manufactured.
The incident was widely debated with the BJP coming out on the streets, saying that a case of sedition be registered against Amnesty International and they be banned from India. Finally, bowing to pressure, on August 15, the State Police filed an FIR, under Section 124A of the IPC amounting to sedition, against the NGO. And the Congress Government refused to take stringent action and book the personnel of the ABVP and BJP for creating ruckus. The police charged Amnesty International India under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines sedition as that action which “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government of India”. Unnamed repre-sentatives of the non-government organisation were also booked under Sections 142, 143, 147, 149 (unlawful assembly and rioting) and Section 153A (promoting enmity between groups). A senior police official said the police were investigating the veracity of the complaint and would fix culpability based on videos of the event. The programme had ended with groups breaking into pro-India and pro-Kashmir independence sloganeering. Amnesty had responded to the allegation that they had no part in any sedition activities. After booking the group under sedition, the Karnataka Home Minister, Dr G. Parameshwara, literally gave a clean chit to Amnesty International in the anti-India sloganeering controversy. Speaking at a public event organised by the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) on the occasion of the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Chief Minister D. Devaraj Urs on August 19, Home Minister Parameshwara said: “I do not believe Amnesty International conducted any seditious activity.” “The programme by Amnesty Inter-national was organised to instil confidence among those Kashmiris who were facing heavy losses.” In his confrontational speech, Paramesh-wara called upon the Congress workers to resist the protests held by the ABVP.
Who has to resist the ABVP first? The State Government. Why does the government ask the people to fight these forces, without providing support to those in the struggles and by seting an example from the top? Besides, the way the government is treating the saffron forces one does not get the impression that the Congress is fighting the communal forces at all. The BJP had expanded its base in the State precisely because the Congress had failed to be secular. Does shouting “aazadi”, which Amnesty Inter-national said they were not involved in, amount to sedition? The Home Minister as a lawyer should have known about it. Was his public statement due to pressure from the party High Command or out of conviction? Amnesty did nothing wrong.
Other than a small group that was determined to draw mileage for politics from that “aazadi”, all the rest were clear that there was no case fit for sedition in the event. What was surprising was that the Minister once again backed out from absolving the Amnesty from any wrong-doing when attacked by the BJP and said that he would wait for the police report.
Why was Amnesty Booked?
The reason why the State booked Amnesty International is still difficult to comprehend to the citizens other than the fear of the BJP making the issue political. There was nothing wrong in bringing together the “broken families” of Kashmiris. Is it wrong to criticise the armed forces for their excesses at the meeting? Aren’t these excesses reported in newspapers and social media? Secondly, why is “aazadi” a bad word? How does shouting of “aazadi” amount to sedition? There cannot be only one meaning for the word “aazadi” though the fanatics and fundamentalists may reduce it to a single meaning. Instead of promoting and encouraging associations like Amnesty, who work for the promotion and protection of human rights, the organisation is threatened for anti-India activities. And what is surprising is that those who create public nuisance and law and order problems are called nationalists. And all those who created trouble at the premises of the college were from the ABVP.
There were breakages as a result of stone throwing. Instead of firm action against the culprits of violence for damaging property and their undemocratic behaviour, the government goes ahead booking Amnesty International under sedition charges. The Home Minister and his Council, most of whom are from the legal profession, are aware of the meaning of the term sedition. Why did they then book Amnesty International other than the fear of the BJP? A few days after the event, the ABVP group attacked the office of Amnesty in Bangalore. But for a mild lathi charge there was nothing much done against the culprits. Why is the Congress afraid of the BJP and why does it take its decisions on pressure from the BJP and its affiliates? Why is the government not acting firmly against the forces of the Sangh Parivar in the State? This is how the democratic space is handed over by the Congress to the BJP and its organisations. Instead of going by the book of the Indian Constitution and the laws of secular India, the Congress yields to pressure unable to live in faithfulness to the secular Constitution of India. The party of course has thus become a laughing stock.
Prevention of Screening in College
Why did the police ask the college not to have a show? As far as the police are concerned, the reason they gave to us was that the screening might lead to law and order problems. When the permission was denied by the local police (though we did not seek permission but were only informed), one of the organisers met the Commissioner and wanted to know the reasons. The Commissioner at first said that there should be no problem and called his subordinate. The subordinate informed the Commissioner that permission had been denied due to the likelihood of law and order problems. The Commissioner simply told the organisers that since it was his subordinates who worked at the field he had to listen to them. Why should the Police Commissioner listen to his subordinates on an issue of protecting free spaces and free speech? The police exist to protect individuals and institutions from those who act against freedom of thought and expression, especially in institutions of higher learning. If they are unable to perform their functions, then there is no reason for their existence.
And the fact is that a sizeable section (more than 40 per cent, it is estimated) in the police force is saffron. Some may have been recruited during the BJP regime. The government has acknowledged it but failed to act against them. Otherwise how does one explain the request of the police to remove posters from the notice-board about the two documentaries? The college space does not belong to the police. It is only when the college firmly told the police that they do not have any business about notices on the college notice-board that they were silent and stopped insisting on it. In the Congress party too there are individuals who are aligned to the BJP and surely would not mind joining the party if the latter acquires power. In the situation it is difficult for the Congress to uphold the tenets of secularism.
What we are witnessing in the State is a lack of commitment to secularism by the government in power. Instead of strong commitment to freedom of thought the government is made to act against free thought. Otherwise why should the government ask any institution to prevent any kind of academic activity, specially those that further the cause of peace and harmony? Democracy and secularism cannot be enhanced through prevention but by promotion. Colleges and universities exist to discuss, to debate and to agree or to disagree. A secular state cannot be premised on beliefs and dogmas. The role of higher education is to make students critical thinkers. Those who impose a belief system and tell the people what they must hold on to control the minds, seek to keep the young as adolescents.
A mature society can be evolved only through freedom of the mind. Kashmir is a case in point. Given the fact that the Chief Minister hails from a discriminated community of Kurubas and the Home Minister is from the SC community, citizens expected greater commitment from these leaders to the protection and promotion of secularism in the State.
Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal, St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.