Only months ago, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, had burst out in self-righteous anger on the social media against his Uttar Pradesh counterpart. He had complained against the unacceptably harsh use of India’s sedition law against some students from the state who, while watching an India-Pakistan cricket match in their college hostel in UP, had chosen to support Pakistan. What must have bolstered Mr Abdullah’s defence of the students was their inalienable right to an opinion and to express it — both guaranteed to all citizens of India by its Constitution. Inexplicably, the Jammu and Kashmir government believes that it cannot be held guilty of the same crime — misuse of the law — it accused the UP government of when it decides to cite Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code to disallow a lecture in memory of the celebrated Kashmiri lawyer, Rughonath Vaishnavi, by Mridu Rai, a noted scholar on Kashmir. Perhaps misdemeanours of this kind have become so routine for the state government that it hardly realizes its indiscretions. For years now, residents of the valley have been denied what mainstream society in the rest of India considers a part of life — the internet and social media, for example, which are subjected to the government’s control in the valley. Difficult to enforce in other parts of India, this control is an indisputable fact of life in the state. Yet, the chief minister of the state thinks nothing of being more visible on the social media than anywhere else.
Mr Abdullah is, however, not alone in clamping down on any thought, idea or action that is presumed to threaten an established order or an order that is intentionally being established. Every government, be it at the Centre or the state, and irrespective of political colour, stands guilty of this. There have been too many instances of summary pulping of books, vandalizing of works of art, revisions of school syllabi and silencing of scholars to dismiss the fear that Indians are fast losing the space and liberty to debate and disagree that a democracy entitles them to. The worst part is that the State, constitutionally mandated to act as an impartial body, has capitulated to becoming a convenient tool to push the agenda of any fringe group that threatens to use violence to get its way, or its own agenda of censoring uncomfortable voices. Ms Rai’s is obviously one such voice.