By Zafar Meraj
There is an old Kashmiri maxim “Anem suie, wawum suie, lajem suie pansie”. The broad translation of this maxim can be that whosever sows the seeds of the nettle is bound to be bitten by it himself.
And this maxim today fits the detention of Farooq Abdullah, the three time chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, a former union minister, seven-time member of India’s lower house, Lok Sabha, under the provisions of the dreaded Public Safety Act. With this Act of the state establishment, Farooq Abdullah, one of the most vocal votaries of India in Kashmir, has been placed under the category of timber smugglers and drug peddlers, for which the dreaded provisions were supposed to be enacted with later expansion of these to separatists and hardened stone pelters and ‘anti-national’ elements.
Never in his dreams would have Farooq Abdullah ever imagined that he would fall victim of the same which his father had imposed to deal with his political opponents and which he and later his son (mis) used with impunity to silence the voice of dissent in a brazen attempt to please their political masters.
It was in 1978, when Sheikh Abdullah was riding a wave of his popularity post 1977 assembly elections, he introduced a bill titled Public Safety Act that provides for the detention of a person for a term of two years without being produced before a court of law.
The law was strongly opposed by the minuscule opposition in the then state assembly that termed it undemocratic and highhanded that exposed the dictatorial tendencies of the Sheikh. The Sheikh who was adamant to enact the law at the earliest defended it on the ground that it was aimed at to curb the growing activities of timber smugglers and drug peddlers.
He dismissed the criticism of the opposition and the fears that it would be used to curb the voices of dissent and silence the opposition.
It was a time when Janata government had come to power in New Delhi and the atrocities and undemocratic measures adopted by Indira Gandhi to silence her political adversaries were still fresh in the minds of the people at large.
Immediately on assuming the power, Morarji Desai led Janata government had abrogated all the laws that were against the liberty of the people and freedom of speech and expression. Laws that were used to detain Indira Gandhi’s critics without any valid ground were removed from the statute book. I still remember the speech of the then union Home Minister Chaudhry Charan Singh in the Lok Sabha pleading with the Sheikh to soften the harsh provisions of law lest it could be misused. “Mairi Sheikh sahib say binty hay ki woh is qanoon kay zehreelay daant nikaal dain (I request Sheikh sahib to remove the poisonous teeth of this law).
But in Kashmir the Sheikh was not moved at all by the pro-democracy and pro-liberty approach of New Delhi and went ahead with enactment of Public Safety Act, which soon confirmed the fears of opposition that this would be used against critics of the state government.
And soon the fears of the opposition turned to be true when the provisions of this law were invoked against Ghulam Nabi Untu, not a timber smuggler or drug peddler but a political activist. The only fault of Ghulam Nabi was that during 1977 elections, he had dared to oppose Sheikh’s National Conference and came out to support late Mohiudin Qarra, who then fought election from Amirakadal constituency on Janata Party ticket. As far as timber smugglers were concerned, they continued with their activities only changing their patrons from erstwhile Congress to the ruling National Conference.
The other notable victim of the Safety Act was Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, then a young Communist, in mid-seventies, who was lodged in Srinagar central jail for a long time for the fault of raising his voice against the undemocratic and anti-people policies of the National Conference.
Both Farooq and son Omar in their regimes continued to use this law against political opponents as their predecessor had done and whosoever posed a threat to their government or was vocal in his opposition was slapped with the provisions of this law. Never did Farooq or for that matter would have thought that a day would come when they too would fall victims to this black law.
And today when Farooq has been forced to languish into his house, turned into sub jail and Omar subjected to solitary confinement in the infamous Hari Niwas, one wonders what their thoughts would be and will the treatment they have been subjected to bring some change in their thinking?