By Basharat Ali:
Short Messaging Service (SMS) continues to remain banned in Jammu and Kashmir. The SMS service on prepaid mobile phones was banned on June 29, 2010. More than three years have passed, the issue has slowly died down and has been systematically kept away from the public glare in India. In Kashmir, like other things, people have accepted it.
The logic behind this ban at best is immature, at worst dictatorial. The state government, headed by chief minister Omar Abdullah, has time and again launched crackdown on democratic rights of the people. In 2008, during the Amarnath Land Row, the SMS service was withdrawn for the first time. It was said that the ‘sms service is being used by anti-social elements to spread rumors’. Since then, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has barred internet facilities at its will and has also banned local cable television channels from reporting local, day to day news.
This issue, however, has never made for a ‘breaking story’. India’s jingoistic, ‘nation-wants-to-know’ media has maintained a silence over it, as if speaking about the ban is supporting Pakistan. It is criminal on part of the people who fight for the freedom of expression and speech to maintain such deafening silence. Majority of the population in India has no clue about what is happening in Kashmir. Their perceptions are manufactured by the media which is propagandist, exclusivist and prejudiced. The opinionated public is therefore hard to convince about the harsh realities of life in Kashmir.
In Kashmir, people have been silenced. Every voice that speaks against growing injustices is dealt with severity, with force. People are forced into co option, into collaboration. Those who refuse to say ‘yes’, those who continue to fight for justice, are muzzled and most of the times eliminated. In his classic defence of free speech, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill laid down what is known as the ‘harm principle’. It postulates that the only justification for silencing a person against his will is to prevent him from causing harm to others. So how do SMSes harm a country that takes pride in being the world’s largest democracy? The idea that SMS’s, in the era of facebook, Whatsapp etc. can be a threat to ‘national security’ is absolute stupidity. That logic is irrational and unacceptable.
Indian writers, very few in number, who speak for the rights of people of Kashmir, have been threatened, abused and also heckled. It is astonishing that free opinion in India can be termed ‘seditious’. The response that a free political opinion about Kashmir evokes from zealous hyper-patriotic individuals is appalling and for a country like India, disgraceful. Probably the best description lies in the words of Arundhati Roy who writes “Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free”.
In Kashmir, perpetual peace is a Kantian dream which is hard to materialize. Justice, which is denied to people in Kashmir, can be the first step to end the decades’ long misery. Restoration of the democratic rights, including the freedom of speech and expression may be seen as a sincere political approach toward a possible resolution for eons. Today, Kashmir continues to live under the threat of being curfewed any time. India is afraid of SMS’s that a Kashmiri teenager types and sends to his girlfriend. In between all this, people are denied their right to live. SMS’s or no SMS’s, Kashmir will continue to be ‘unhappy’ and not ‘normal’, for happiness and normalcy go beyond communication access.
Author is studying Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.facebook.com/Basharat786