Democracy at stake, of Kashmiris & Dalits!

Who should be blamed for the manner in which people in Kashmir and in Gujarat have been aggressively hit by government forces? Surely, don’t the people in both places have a democratic right to express themselves, pursue their respective professions, protest if need be as legally permitted by the Indian Constitution? And if they do appear to be indulging in any act that appears to be illegal, are the forces expected to decide their punishment for them? Certainly, be it the case of armed forces in Jammu & Kashmir and police personnel elsewhere, their primary duty is to ensure security of the people. But, if this itself is endangered by their biased approach towards a section of the people, who should be blamed, if the latter, the aggrieved people, become agitated?

It is also noteworthy that greater political attention, in the interest of the aggrieved has been accorded to their recent abuse in Gujarat, - that is the Dalits, than has been to those being victimised in Kashmir. In both cases, though intensity and time period of this abuse (that is at the hands of certain authorities) varies, its prevalence in both cases cannot be ignored or even sidelined. The key question is not the extent to which, in both the cases, the victims can be held to be at fault. Even if they were at fault, in neither case were the government forces authorised to punish them so mercilessly for the same. Certainly, on ground of suspicion, they can be arrested. Even then, till they are pronounced guilty by a court of law, they are expected to be referred to ony as alleged criminals. Little attention, apparently, has been paid to the role of the judicial system in deciding as to whether the concerned persons are actually guilty or not. Without giving the judicial system a chance to take such a decision, the so-called keepers of law and order have chosen to themselves punish the alleged criminals.

What right does any recognised or unrecognised authority or any group has to decide punishment for alleged criminals? In the case of Gujarat, attention may be drawn to the brutal abuse of four Dalits in Una, near a local police station. They were beaten with steel pipes and rods by members of an illegal “Cow Protection Committee”. What authority does this committee have to brutally abuse theses Dalits? If they viewed any action of these Dalits as illegal and/or unacceptable in any manner, it was their duty to inform local authorities about the same. In other words, they could have filed a report in the police station against them. But rather than allow law to take its due course, they chose to pursue an action against them which seemed appropriate in their perspective.

From no angle, does the Indian legal system permit any self-acclaimed group to inflict punishment of any nature on any individual or group indulging in behaviour viewed as inappropriate by some groups. The Indian society is governed by legal dictates laid out in the Constitution and accompanying rules as well as procedures. There is the judicial process to decide whether the accused/alleged criminals should be pronounced guilty or not. This also implies that the group choosing to act as “judiciary,” out of its own choice and not in keeping with the judicial process, commits an illegal act by inflicting “punishment” of its choice on the aggrieved group. Sadly, though such instances keep recurring in India, little attention is being paid to pronounce such groups as guilty of abusing law and also inflicting punishment upon upon alleged criminals.

Nevertheless, it did not take long for interested politicians to speak in favour of Dalits. Besides, Dalits in Gujarat have risen in protest against the atrocities targeting them. Clearly, these Dalits have a democratic right to voice their protest which is being supported by interested politicians and also by media coverage accorded to the same.

The developments in Kashmir are of a far more serious nature. Killing of the young militant Burhan Wani by Army on 8 July triggered a series of massive protests in the Valley leading to more killings. The situation may not have boiled to this stage if Wani had not been killed. Irrespective of Wani’s militant activities, the Valley has apparently risen in protest against his, a Kashmiri Muslim, being killed. Sadly, the authorities have reacted by killing and injuring more Kashmiris. Even the media freedom of the Valley has been hit hard. Within two weeks more than 40 Kashmiris have been killed and around 1900 injured. The majority of these protestors cannot be labelled as militants. Innocent Kashmiri Muslims have fallen victim to bullets. Besides, numerous children have been injured, with some even maimed by government forces’ usage of pellet guns in Kashmir.

Sadly, be it the case of Dalits in Gujarat or of Kashmiris in the Valley, democratic rights of both seem to have been targeted. Democracy is at stake in both places!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2016 on page no. 11

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