Shehla Rashids shouldn’t be silenced by sedition law
More than a month after communication restrictions were put in place, people continue to live without internet in the Kashmir Valley, mobile phone service is scarce, and there are many complaints even about landlines not working. Government position is that this is about restoring normalcy and protecting the people from becoming “victims of Pakistan’s machinations”. In this view there is no question of atrocities by the armed forces, which are only there to protect the people. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has acknowledged that the communication restrictions have caused hardship but added that, “People were not born with internet. For us, it is more important to protect the right of life of the people and keep them safe.”
Starkly contradicting this view, there have been reports of the high human cost of communication restrictions as well as reports of outright human rights abuses. Such reports have come from many citizens and many reporters including international ones. For example, a BBC reporter documents people from different villages speaking of “night raids, beatings and torture”. On social media, among others, Jammu & Kashmir People’s Movement party functionary Shehla Rashid has also made similar claims. Delhi police’s anti-terror unit has booked her under several sections, including Sections 124A. Sedition. First off, this is extremely discriminatory. Among the many fault-finding/truth-telling/courageous/misguided/mischievous voices – the adjectives differ depending on POV – why single her out?
Second, if her claims are false, this will become clear when the communication restrictions are lifted. Even if this happens, there would be many citizens who would continue to believe Rashid’s claims and make similar ones themselves. Fake news originates in all sections of society including governments, and it is spread by all sections as well. Countering it with hard facts is a tiresomely endless exercise, but arbitrary and draconian chainsaws like sedition charges can hardly be the solution. Because such tools only perpetuate injustice. Let’s not forget how Gandhiji described this colonial era law: “Prince among political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”
Finally, keeping aside the question of human rights abuses, consider a plain human fact. Surely we can all imagine the great hardships caused by restrictions on internet and mobile services. For example, Shalini Langer’s recent column asks us to consider the tragedy of Aieman, who went into hospital for delivery, her baby developed breathing trouble, the senior doctor couldn’t be reached, and her baby died.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.