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Valley bar on Presi teacher talk

Srinagar, July 9: A history professor from Calcutta’s Presidency University was today blocked from delivering a lecture organised by a pro-aazaadi group at a Srinagar hotel allegedly on the orders of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

Mridu Rai was scheduled to speak as part of an annual lecture series on Pandit Rughonath Vaishnavi, a pro-aazaadi Kashmiri Pandit lawyer of the 20th century. Her lecture was entitled “Languages of Violence, Languages of Justice: the State and Insurgent Kashmir”.

Sources alleged police last night went to the hotel and asked the authorities to scrap the event, organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and other groups. They even threatened to seal the hotel if the lecture was held, a JKCCS member claimed.

“The premises where the lecture was scheduled to be delivered was shut. We were politely informed by the management about the police threat of action if the event was held,” an organiser said.

“The police had even invoked Section 144 (which bans assembly of four or more) in the area.”

Not to be cowed, the organisers shifted the lecture to its own office, where Rai spoke before a small audience. A PhD from Columbia University, Rai is well known in Kashmir for her book, Hindu rulers, Muslim subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir.

“I will never be silent,” Rai told the audience. “An academic lecture does not fall under Section 144... this is appalling that my voice was silenced... it was to be a simple conversation with the people.”

Khurram Parvez, the co-ordinator of the JKCCS, claimed it had become “routine” with the government to stifle the voice of intellectuals.

“This ban is consistent with the government’s policy of disallowing academic, cultural and political activity in Jammu and Kashmir. The state has consistently sought to choke all political spaces of dissent,” he claimed.

“They did it earlier with another academic, Angana Chatterjee. Her husband (Richard Shapiro, an American) was not even allowed to enter India.”

The US-based Chatterjee, then associated with the California Institute of Integral Studies, was scheduled to lecture in Kashmir sometime after the 2010 agitation. The lecture was ultimately called off, Parvez said.

Switching to today’s lecture, Parvez said the JKCCS had booked the hotel 15 days ago and all arrangements had been finalised.

A police officer said the JKCCS did not have the required permission to hold the event. But he refused to divulge at whose behest the police had barred the hotel from hosting the lecture.

Parvez said permission was not required under law to host an event at a private venue. The Opposition People’s Democratic Party said: “It is outright insane, undemocratic and dictatorial (to ban the event). Unfortunately, the government has stamped out all channels of dissent and has blocked even spaces for intellectual and academic activity.”