An article “Liberty and responsibility” by Aishwarya Bhati, a senior advocate practising in the Supreme Court and former secretary, Supreme Court Bar Association in The Indian Express (July 9, 2020) was the latest in the series of articles published by the national dailies since August last year justifying the internet ban in Kashmir. Just a soundbite here and there, Kashmir has lately fallen through the cracks of contemporary fickle memory–finally, and as usual. The last year’s “August” sensation has been rendered lull. The plot is back onto the encounters and the number of dead. But what about Kashmiris? Well, no one seems to care.
I sincerely commend Aishwarya Bhati for underlining the need for “balanced constitutionalism” which, she argues, the Supreme Court has resorted to in its verdicts related to restoration of internet in the Kashmir. She is right in highlighting the “vexed background” of Kashmir imbroglio, affording no snapshot solution. Her article attempts to allude that, as the citizens of this country, we should repose our faith in the magnanimity and farsightedness of the honourable Court (which we do). Yet, what I observed in her writing was the classical paradox of seeing less in an attempt to see more, betraying the age old colour blindness of New Delhi towards perceiving Kashmir.
A noteworthy aspect of the genre of writers to which Aishwarya Bhati seems to belong to is intellectual elitism. It smacks of what Ramachandra Guha calls “Delhi’s absorption with itself”. It is easy to sit in ivory towers and dole out groovy theories about what should be done in a conflict situation, a thousand kilometres away. Ask us, the “under-30” Kashmiris, what uncertainty has done to our aspirational aspect of life. It is inhumane to regard Kashmir as a soulless machine which can blindly process the commands fed into it from New Delhi. Pertinently, the legal jargon may be currently in vogue, but it doesn’t address the moot point. It is just another form of hermeneutic violence inflicted upon Kashmiris.
It is true, as the author opines, that the Court cannot be understood to be the sole protector of rights and that the executive and legislature have an equal responsibility. But what if the executive and legislature resort to “Article 370 type” sabotage of constitutional propriety (especially in the wake of brute majority)? Over-reliance on the Court today is not a coincidence, if only we bothered to observe things keenly and in an impartial manner. Remember the buck has to rest somewhere, the juggling has to stop. Someone will have to bell the cat.
Aishwarya Bhati laments the “missing of hard facts” in Kashmir by some academicians and members of legal fraternity. Let’s say they are idealists. But the oblivion towards facts in Kashmir is as much a “realistic-militaristic-mainstream” phenomenon as it is a “romantic-idealistic” phenomenon in India. Moreover, facts may matter sometimes, but obfuscation of facts vis-a-vis Kashmir has often concealed the malice. It is no surprise then that very few people seem to evince the interest to grapple with the ground realities in Kashmir.
The author also brings up the menace of fake news and cyber terrorism, and brandishes them as viable excuses for denying internet to Kashmiris. But is fake news restricted to Kashmir only? Can’t enemies launch a digital onslaught outside the Kashmir’s digital firmament? Truth be told, it is a price paid for no purpose as internet shutdowns are overrated as a strategy to check digital notoriety. What did we gain out of these so far? Nothing. In fact it is an example of throwing away the baby with the bathwater. If we assume that the disturbance in Kashmir continues, can everyone afford to wait till eternity for the high speed internet to be restored? No.
New Delhi may have to depart from its conventional Kashmir playbook. Aishwarya Bhati quotes the legendary N.A. Palkhivala to stress upon the need to balance liberty and responsibility. My submission would be this: trust the youth of Kashmir with liberty as well as responsibility, for they have been denied both. Also, try to fix militancy through proactive statesmanship strategies. That would be far more meaningful than “fixing” internet episodically.
Finally, to all the strategists, writers and commentators on Kashmir. If you have no new value propositions to offer then it’s useless to keep on scratching the surface and allowing dominant narratives on Kashmir to hamstring alternative viewpoints. The discourse on Kashmir needs a compassionate touch. We need to dejargonize and depoliticise it. Humanise it.
Mohammad Muqaddas Hussain is currently enrolled at Centre for Coaching and Career Planning, Jamia Millia Islamia. He is B Tech from National Institute of Technology, Srinagar.