Chocking of Public Spaces

The sweet words like 'freedom of expression' have lost their meaning for the people of this state. It is sad that the much trumpeted "Digital India" slogan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi cherished guarantees of the freedom of speech contained in the Constitution of India has failed on the touchstone of Kashmir. Through their policies of throttling public space in the state, the centre and state governments have been denying the rights as guaranteed to the citizens of the state in the Constitution of India, and the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, they also are mocking at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For quite sometime contrary to the idea of digital idea banning the internet or reducing its speed intermittently has been adopted by the administration as a matter of state policy. Some weeks earlier the state administration, in line with directions from the Government of India, but in contravention to the constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, banned all the social media websites. In doing so, the administration also forgot a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Maneka Gandhi vs the Union of India Case. The apex court of the country had held that 'the freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also.' In this context, the banning of social media networks violates the Supreme Court ruling. Close on the heels of this came the ban on 32 satellite television channels, out of which fifteen are religious channels belonging to different schools of thought, eight are entrainment and food channels, and ten connected with the news. The order sounds absurd as most of the channels are completely apolitical. Such an order is reminiscent of Ranjeet Singh's governor, in 1819, banning Azan in Kashmir. Equally, such an order is reminiscent of the times immediately after the end of the autocratic rule when even radio sets were put in lock-ups for being tuned to radio stations other than radio Kashmir. Such ludicrous orders have not worked in the past, and they are not going to work in future. The government needs to come out of this weird mindset and allow space for the voices of dissent. 

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