A judiciary that flinches when consatitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights are denied; an Indian Medical Association (IMA) that glosses over the plight of tens of thousands like the Kashmiri man who was forced to fly to Delhi to buy medicines for his grand mother; a Press Council of India, though legally bound to fight for media freedoms at a critical time when that freedom is in danger, throwing its weight behind media curbs. All the three examples go to prove that not Kashmir alone, but the entire India is on the brink of a grave disaster. The country has been shuddering on hearing this over the last few days.
If the very institutions that have a binding to stand for the life, security and welfare of the people, forget that sacred goal, it will give the impression that the foundations of democracy are going topsy-turvey as if under a land slide. The judiciary’s position in two cases related to fundamental rights have caused concerns among patriots. The government’s clamping of total lockdown on the means of communication in Jammu-Kashmir is an unjust encroachment on civil rights. It is a few weeks since a people have been put in hardship with their eyes, ears and mouth all shut. Not only have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and media freedom been suspended, but several other related services have been made unavailable all amounting to disrupting daily life. Not only that, as UN Human Rights Comission pointed out, this is an illegal mass punishment.
A petition came up before the Supreme Court that questioned this total blockage of communication services. Instead of considering the constitutional validity of the government action, the court without even issuing a notice to the government, granted ‘more time’ to the government and adjourned the case for two weeks. When the judiciary - which should be a source of relief in times when the daily life of the people is strangulated - takes such a stance, what message does it send? When Shah Faesal, who resigned from IAS and entered politics, was put under detention, a habeas corpus petition was filed in Delhi High Court. This petition which had urgent relevance in relation to civil rights, was also kept aside to be taken up after ten days. During the Emergency days, the Supreme Court had invited much criticism for having adopted such a stand. But the apex court itself did acknowledge in 2017 that the position it took then was wrong.
The response of IMA to ‘Lancet’ the respected international health magazine, will bring no honour to that organization or the country. IMA got apparently irked by ‘Lancet’ writing an editorial flagging the health and mental issues faced by Kashmiri people and rebutting the claims of the government. It is not for the first time that the magazine wrote about the hardships faced by the people living in zones of conflict. In the matter of Kashmir, it does criticise the policies of India and Pakistan. IMA which now sees it all as an interference in the internal affairs of India, should at least recognize that it is when those like themselves fail to speak as they should, that 'outsiders' interfere. Those who did not feel any anxiety when Dr Binayak Sen was in illegal detention, or when Dr Payal Tadvi committed suicide following caste-based torture, may not be disturbed by the ordinary Indian citizens in Kashmir. But then it should realize that it only becomes a laughing stock by writing that "Indian Medical Association on behalf of the medical fraternity of India withdraws the esteem we had for The Lancet".
Another body that set out to justify the government’s actions, even disregarding its own mission, is the Press Council of India. They were the body that should have come out in the open against the news black out in Kashmir. For, the very objective of forming the Press Council which came into being under a parliamentary mandate, is to remove the obstacles likely to come from the authorities and to ensure media freedom. Even when members raised the issue of news ban to its chairman Justice CK Prasad, not only did he decline to intervene, but the body has gone to the extent of impleading itself in the case filed by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor ‘Kashmir Times’ with arguments meant to weaken the paper’s contentions. When the Press Council adopts a stand that the curbs on media are essential for the sovereignty and integrity of the country, that reflects the tone of a deplorable dictatorship. And that there was no debate or discussion in the Council was made clear by members like Jaishankar Gupta and CK Nayak. When the Press Council endorses media curbs and the judiciary that should have been the shield against encroachments on fundamental rights becomes lax in that, the point to remember is: a country is not the government; and it is not government policies that is prime but people’s welfare.