Rehearsed in Kashmir, played out in rest of India

Are Indian citizens paying the price for remaining silent when the Modi regime removed the special Constitutional provisions for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)? The script now playing out in the rest of the country, to suppress protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), was not too long ago, rehearsed in Kashmir.

The rest of India appeared complicit with the Modi government when through subterfuge, presidential ordinances and a brute majority in parliament, it transformed the constitutional status and map of the state of J&K. The rest of India also remained deceitfully silent when Section 144 and curfew was imposed in the Kashmir valley, mobile and internet communications were shut down, and political and civil society leaders who opposed the regime were delegitimised and arrested.

The then Governor of J&K lied through his teeth even on the eve of destroying the state of J&K, while the higher judiciary genuflected before the regime refusing to hear even habeas corpus petitions. The complicit media ensured that reporting was not done in ways that violated ‘national interest’.

The silence of non-Kashmiris and constitutional institutions then, may be proving costly now.

When Kashmiris argued for preserving the sanctity of constitutional provisions they were owning up both to the Indian Constitution and Indian citizenship. Today the rest of India has launched protest movements to save the Constitution and efforts to change the definition of citizenship. Ironically, the same political parties who had not objected to the Kashmir decisions but only to the “process of decision-making”, today want people to gather around their banner to “Save the Constitution”!

A jailed Kashmiri leader who had come to Delhi for medical treatment, had predicted at the time to this writer, “Today the State repression is directed against us and the ordinary citizens of India are happily supporting it. But mark my words, if what the Modi government is doing succeeds in Kashmir, it could do the same thing to you tomorrow.”

Protestors take part in a demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Delhi Gate in New Delhi, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 | Photo: PTI
Four months down the line, the same script is playing out across cities and towns of rest of India as citizens protest against the ruling party using its brute parliamentary majority once again to push through the CAA “constitutionally”. The imposition of “smart gags” against the anti-CAA/NRC protests involving selective and targeted shutting down of the internet and mobile services was perfected in Kashmir. During the ongoing protests, the internet was shut down in 21 districts of Uttar Pradesh, parts of the national capital in Delhi, Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Dakshin Kannada in Karnataka and five districts of West Bengal, as well as Assam and Tripura. India finally got a taste of the medicine being administered to Kashmiris since August 5.

The arbitrary arrests of youngsters, including juveniles for participation in civil protest, and their detention irrespective of age, already infamous in Kashmir, and is now being applied outside it. It is routine in Kashmir for security personnel to enter the homes of residents and take 'revenge' on stone-throwers by wanton destruction of property. Houses where militants are found hiding are burnt down after the encounter as a matter of policy by the armed forces. 

Footwears of protestors demonstrating against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) after Friday prayers in Gorakhpur, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 | Photo: PTI
Today the nation witnesses the UP police forcibly entering the homes of citizens from the minority community and destroying household goods, private cars and two-wheelers.

Damages for property destroyed during the protests are being recovered by collective fines on entire neighbourhoods and communities while the police hooliganism goes scot-free. By December 27, a total of 28 people had died in the anti-government protests, some due to police firing. Of the dead, 19 were from UP alone where over 1100 protesters have been arrested and over 5,500 detained.

Kashmiris, who had opted to join secular India over Islamic Pakistan, have steadily been reduced to their Muslim identity and branded congenitally pro-Pakistan. The state machinery is also trying to give a communal colur to the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR. A telling example is of a viral video showing a Superintendent of Police in Meerut jeering at protestors to go to Pakistan.

In Kashmir the generals of the Indian army had perfected the art of making political statements and timing military actions to suit the ruling party, especially on the eve of elections. The outgoing Army Chief’s politically coloured comments on youth-led agitations against the CAA has continued this trend showing how far intolerance of political dissent has spread within the state machinery.

Why does the Modi government think it can ride roughshod over all forms of popular political dissent in the name of the national good? How does it even define the national good?

Whether in revoking the special status of J&K, or modifying the Citizenship Act, the Modi regime claims to be working from a high moral position, such as unifying India or offering sanctuary to persecuted non-Muslim religious minorities from the neighbourhood. Such a moral position cannot see any political opposition as legitimate. No one can question these policies or point to the damage they can inflict on India’s constitutional democracy. The Modi regime does not care much for debate in Parliament in any case given its absolute majority. It also sees no reason to debate contentious constitutional issues with dissenting citizens.

To its authoritarian and undemocratic mind-set all opposition is, therefore, the result of conspiracies -- an imaginary 'Tukde-Tukde' gang which wants the dismemberment of India and “Urban Naxalites”, imaginary public enemies conjured up to disparage popular protests.

The spontaneous and widespread protests of students and ordinary citizens, admittedly include a large section of Muslims who feel threatened by the Modi government’s move. This allows the regime to invoke fears of radical or ‘anti-national’ Muslim conspiracies and crack down on them.

However, the voices of protesters and their actions demonstrate for the world to see that the homogenous Hindu majority in whose name the Modi government claims to speak is in fact diverse, plural and celebrates religious diversity.

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