Kashmir Valley asks us: Do we all want to give up our constitutional freedoms eventually?

Admit it is the Muslim-ness of Kashmir which is a problem in a nation that increasingly defines itself as Hindu. But this won't stop at Kashmir. We could all lose our rights like this.

 |  4-minute read |   21-08-2019
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When the 1924 Soviet Constitution was adopted, it guaranteed for all Russians freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

But it also gave the ‘freedom’ to have any or all of these rights revoked, should they be “utilised to the detriment of the socialist revolution”.

That’s probably the fantasy of several Amit Shah fan boy and fan girl TV anchors.

That is after all the psychological zone in which many Indians now operate.

They shout out loud for taking away the right to dissent, disagree or critique when it comes to issues involving what some bombastically call a 'nation that wants to know'. The recent moves in Kashmir come into that category. What we are left with is indeed a disturbing but undeniable reality — many people in India, particularly supporters of the BJP, vociferously back this action of removing a constitutional status without any attempt to consult the people it would impact.

Forget consult, people in the Valley have been locked up — while the nation thumps its chest.

lock_082019051611.jpgCan you spot the cheering crowds? Even as the country is celebrating, people in Kashmir have been locked up. (Photo: Reuters)

Sitting back and applauding the fact that some people who are citizens of India have had most of their rights taken away creates a dangerous precedent for all Indians.

How can I demand my rights and freedoms if I do not expect another Indian to have them? How can one citizen be less free than another? What kind of constitutional and political morality are we embracing? After Kashmir, at different points, can “the nation” not be invoked to take away some of our cherished freedoms? It creeps up slowly, through laws such as the newly amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), birthed by the Congress, dangerously expanded in scope by the BJP in the recent monsoon session of Parliament.   

Our Constitution is one of the greatest in the worlds. Jawaharlal Nehru is significant not because he did not make multiple mistakes — including in his handling of Kashmir. He is important for one big reason: If we examine the post-colonial history of the world, when empires receded from Asia and Africa, many former colonies lapsed from an attempt at democracy to dictatorships.

India endured as a democracy because its first Prime Minister, who helmed the nation at its birth from 1947 to 1964, was a democrat in instinct and inclination.

He oversaw India becoming a genuine constitutional democracy, unlike other nations in our neighbourhood that lapsed and still do not have durable democracies.

(Nehru’s own daughter, Indira Gandhi, famously tried to subvert democracy — but the foundations were strong enough to survive).

nehru_060219120624.jpgIndia's true democrat: For all the vilification he receives, Nehru was why India became a democracy, unlike other Asian nations. (Photo: India Today)

We have a highly functional electoral democracy — but we no longer live by the values of equality and freedom for all our people. We are happy to sacrifice democratic values that should include compassion and empathy at the altar of ancient prejudice. In a first past the post system, it has turned out we do not have to be rooted in any particular larger philosophy: The winner takes all and just needs to cater to enough of the population to defeat others.

At the end of the day, let’s not be hypocrites and let us say what has always been in many hearts and minds.

Let’s not beat around the bush and please do admit that it is the Muslim part of Kashmir that is the problem in a nation increasingly defined as Hindu in spirit — if not law.

Kashmir is, at its core, India’s longest running Hindu-Muslim problem.

Now that the pretence of symbolic secularism is no longer necessary to win majorities in elections, Kashmir has been demoted from being the country’s only Muslim majority state to a non-state, the local police (not to be trusted) apparently disarmed, citizens made to live in curfew with a continuing communications blockage.

kashmir-690_082019051655.jpgIn ruins: Now even the facade of secularism is no longer needed. And Kashmir feels the edge. (Photo: Reuters)

The restoration of land lines or lifting of curfew and opening of schools are all projected as ‘normalcy’ and television shrieks about the great economic and tourism bonanza awaiting the people of Kashmir.

Wow, really?

Are there people who really believe that will happen any time soon?

And, by the way, the argument that any criticism only plays into Pakistan's hands is intellectually specious: it’s like saying you must give up the right to speak openly, criticise and disagree with what is happening in your own country because enemy powers would overhear.

So, shush!

The health of the Opposition in Parliament has shrunk as we witnessed in the recent session. I now believe it is the national patriotic duty of independent voices to speak out and express their opinions, whatever they may be. It takes no courage to pander to a regime and ruling dispensation. It takes real character and conviction to speak truth to power.

The right to dissent is our fundamental right and we should use it.

To speak in the language of television, that would be our patriotic and national duty.

Also read: You can't be the new TMC, BJP: A line of Trinamool leaders joining the saffron party is not good news

Writer

Saba Naqvi Saba Naqvi @_sabanaqvi

Eminent political journalist and writer. Author, most recently of Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee To Modi

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