Kashmir: The Shades of Freedom

The mere act of arrest for an opinion, a demonstration, a cartoon, makes the democratic structure appear weak. For a house made of cards, even the breeze is a threat.

Kashmir
Courtesy: Basit Zargar, Photojournalist

Today, India celebrates its 74th independence day. There is a remarkable show of felicities. It appears that democracy in India is utopian, worthy of an occasion. 

But only on the surface. Countless numbers of social workers, activists, professors, students, and ‘’citizens of India’’ have been languishing in jails for being mere receptacles of opinions. It seems as if one can get away from owning illegal firearms but not incendiary ideas.

Democracy in a fascist regime seems like a perfect cathedral worthy of worship. Yet no one can truly live in it. One can sing carols of its perfection, but it can provide a home to none but the pompous priests, the stalwarts of the regime. Like a cathedral, the call for a witch hunt is on the cards of its stakeholders. 

One is made to respect the freedom struggle for the ethos of courage, resilience, and servitude to the idea of emancipation. But the freedom struggle today is a textbook fable and its emulation capable of leaving one a political prisoner. 

The Independence Day celebration today will be a remarkable achievement for the BJP regime, which has overwritten the Nehruvian narrative of Kashmir. By disinclining Kashmir from an autonomous state to a union territory, the BJP has created its own mark in history. 

Kashmir ricochets from one political party to another without any reassuring future of its own. While one independence day to another fosters Kashmir territory as indelible to the Indian map, the people of the valley… not so much. Lakhs of people have been made to disappear, killed, made prisoners. They do not have access to Habeas corpus or the legal remedies of the constitution. Yet they are governed by this same constitution, or to put something incendiary into words, made prisoners of it. For, if rules and maxims only provide to imprison you and not liberate you, they are a textual dungeon. Yet prisoners of Kashmir differ from other prisoners of the “textual dungeon” of India because unlike Indian prisoners, they disappear from all paper and record. Thousands of dissenting Kashmiris picked up at night, “their history is only a memory”

One can be an unprivileged youth imprisoned for mere sloganeering. Or one can “debate’’ on primetime TV to reiterate how liberal democracy truly is. It is quite possible to be the wrong person at the perfectly right place. One can heckle a politician at a primetime studio about military excesses in a village in Kashmir, but one must never raise an opinion at ground zero itself. For, words can be levelled off as weapons, at the right place. Let me explain myself more. A political prisoner can spend as much time in jail as a gun yielding militant. But is it possible to imprison a suicide bomber with his vest past explosion? Or to imprison a person for a thought that departed? For something that crossed my mind yesterday? Could that lead me to prison today? Tomorrow? Or in the future? To arrest someone in the retrograde past making their future a fugitive? 

The mere act of arrest for an opinion, a demonstration, a cartoon, makes the democratic structure appear weak. For a house made of cards, even the breeze is a threat.

The mere act of arrest for an opinion, a demonstration, a cartoon, makes the democratic structure appear weak. For a house made of cards, even the breeze is a threat. Political dissent threatens to reveal a festering rot within the political structure. And for majoritarian political regimes which express the rot of communalism, casteist politics as their garlanding image of edification, dissent translates as a danger. A danger that threatens to strip naked the emperor’s new clothes. Any person that threatens the government to address its shortcomings appears as a paramount enemy.

A soothsaying prophecy of a future where people are arrested and made prisoners for having ideas is our horrible truth.

While one may grow up reading about legal remedies for those arrested, one super exceptional law after another, not mentioned in textbooks, overwrites it. While Article 22 may prevent arbitrary detention, POTA, AFSPA and other acts may allow so. Yet elementary textbooks do not mention them in the same paragraphs as legal aides that provide emancipation to political prisoners. Isn’t it essential to let youth know, that freedom comes with fetters?

While the CAA/NRC law may provide relief to “persecuted minorities’’ it does the exact opposite to those bereft of its scheme. On entering India, a Muslim becomes an immediate minority much subject to communal profiling. The persecution that the beneficiary was subject to in his homeland is now meted out to those bereft of the protection of CAA/NRC,  i.e, the Muslim. By being subject to detention camps, racial profiling, degrading subjective treatment, the message of NRC seems insidious. To protect one minority while derailing another. To bolster the political extempore and narrative of the majoritarian political party. 

While the surface may suggest an empathic plea to protect a community, the deeper strata reveal shallow vote bank politics. But to voice, an opinion against it may lead one to prison. So, one must merely stay silent or worse. Celebrate the show. Or become the rot that threatens to imbue decay in the entire structure. One must then celebrate the Indian Independence Day and the spirit of the freedom fighters who fought against unlawful detention. While closing eyes on our own freedom fighters today.

On March 23, my close friends Devangana and Natasha were detained for peacefully protesting against riots in northeast Delhi that left 51 dead. They are still detained with no closure of release.

Mehreen Shah is a student at Delhi University. She is from Kashmir but living in Delhi currently.

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