‘Peace redefined in democracy’


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A man paints to hide anti-India graffiti written on the shutters of a closed shop during a curfew in Srinagar.

Freedom of expression and speech is the most fundamental of all rights. This right lays the very foundation of a democratic society. It is often being said that without free political discussions and free flow of communication in the society, no public education is possible. The Indian Constitution, for a gentle reminder, also guarantees this right to its citizens.

Communication – as defined by various theories and models – is the free exchange of thoughts, messages, opinions, views, or information, as by speech, writing, signals or behaviour. This too, we are made to believe, is allowed in India.

In Kashmir, everything changes. Even the meanings and definitions of peace and communication do change for ‘democratic’ reasons. Under the garb of reasonable instructions and protecting ‘national security interest’, the Short Message Service [SMS] stands banned in the restive Kashmir Valley. This communication protocol, allowing the interchange of short text messages through mobile phones, was banned soon after the eruption of massive anti-India protest demonstrations during three consecutive summers beginning 2008. These protests had unnerved the administration and made the repressive regime in Jammu and Kashmir restless.

There was a time when it was being alleged that all the “uneducated, unemployed, disgruntled and even drug addicts” — on the payrolls of the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba [LeT] — were fanning trouble in the Valley by resorting to stone pelting with an aim to disrupt the ‘peaceful and tranquil atmosphere’. And now the time has arrived when it is being alleged that a handful of “burger-fed pseudo Facebook revolutionaries” – educated and elite, expatriates and rich – are hell bent upon instigating violence by lecturing the “poor and illiterate” to offer sacrifices for a cause while enjoying luxurious and comfortable lifestyles for themselves in foreign lands.

Initially, the State authorities had problems with the popular armed rebellion. Post 2007-08, they had had problems with stone pelting. They had problems with peaceful protest demonstrations. And now, they have problems with status updates on the social networking site Facebook too.

It seems that the state machinery – no matter how much crafty and manipulative – has been struggling to find saner arguments to counter sanity. But then, expecting State to be saner is a form of insanity. A friend on the Facebook had argued that a State which is scared of status updates is already a “failed state”.

Teenagers are being “counselled” at various police stations where they are informed about the risks involved in updating their status on the social networking and micro-blogging sites. Native English speakers should be grateful to the men in uniform in Kashmir for discovering three more synonyms for the word counsel: ‘intimidate, threaten and warn’. That is peace at the social networking site.

Only chicken hearts are scared of status updates. On one hand, the State’s boss claims he is tolerant and that he will run out of prison spaces if he reacted to this. But, on the other hand, the men in uniform intimidate kids; warn and threaten teenaged boys of dire consequences if they did not “behave well”.

By cordoning off the entire Valley with more than half a million troops, the trumpet of peace is being blown at a speed, which could possibly beat the likes of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel in the Formula One race. That is peace at the gun point.

Kashmiri leaders espousing the cause of “right to self-determination” are either languishing in jails or put under house arrest. And those who are not in prisons aren’t allowed free movement to propagate their viewpoints. The rest of the population is kept under constant vigil and strict surveillance. Troops continue patrolling the streets of Kashmir. That is peace at the battleground of ideas.

A place where a lecturer is put behind the bars for setting a question paper, asking: “Are stone pelters the real heroes?”, teenagers arrested for status updates, leaders prohibited from entering mosques and offering mandatory prayers, opponents not allowed free movement and the local populace controlled by the gun; must be the most peaceful place on this planet.

They have had problems with the poor and illiterate Kashmiris. They have had problems with the rich and educated Kashmiris. And now, they have problems with the elite and outspoken Kashmiris. In short, they have problems with the people of Kashmir.

Ironically, a team of interlocutors appointed by India comprising of two gentlemen and a nice lady have pronounced their verdict, recommending how Kashmiris should be tamed and disciplined.

Gowhar Geelani is a professional journalist, writer with a decade long international and national experience. Previously, he has worked for the BBC, ETV, Kashmir Images; etc. Author’s blogs and opinion pieces regularly appear in Greater Kashmir,Kashmir Uzma, Kashmir Times, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Life, Aalmi Sahara, CNN-IBN, and Kafila.org; etc. Feedback at [email protected]

Photo: AP

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