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Defending the voice of dissent

Nisar Dharma

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Dissent is today being labelled as anti-national. The essence of freedom and democracy is dissent. In countries that say there is no dissent, there is no freedom. In a democratic society, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. Dissent as a right has been accepted by the Supreme Court under right of the freedom of speech. In 1950, the People of India gave themselves a Constitution that promised to secure to all citizens, inter alia, “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” This was given a concrete shape by the specific rights guaranteed by Articles 19 and 25 and the associated framework ensuring their implementation. The past six-and-a-half decades have witnessed the manner, and the extent, of their actualisation.
The quest for correctives often found expression through assertions relating to freedom of expression and its concomitant, the concept of dissent. It is concept that contains within it the democratic right to object, oppose, protest and even resist. Cumulatively it can be defined as the unwillingness in an individual or group to cooperate with an established authority, social, cultural or governmental. In that sense, it is associated with critical thinking since, as Albert Einstein put it, “blind faith in authority is the greatest enemy of truth”.
In a democratic society, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. In that sense, the right of dissent also becomes the duty of dissent since tactics to suppress dissent tend to diminish the democratic essence. In a wider sense, the expression of dissent can and does play a role in preventing serious mistakes arising out of what has been called “social cascades” and “group polarisation,” which act as deterrents on free expression of views or sharing of information.
In the globalising world of today and in most countries having a democratic fabric, the role of civil society in the articulation of dissent has been and continues to be comprehensively recognized. Nothing is more fatal for disagreements and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden external agendas. The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you of taking their ideas seriously.
“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst.” These words by Justice D Y Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which last week ordered that five human rights activists arrested by Pune police on charges of involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, be kept under house arrest, have gained big importance at a time when protests and voices against the establishment are heard in increased decibels across the country.
The order stayed the police’s attempts to move them to Pune amid growing protests. The apex court also issued notices to the Union and Maharashtra governments, seeking their replies and observed that those arrested are prominent rights activists, professors and lawyers. The SC ordered the five activists to be kept under house arrest till 6 September. Till now, no credible evidence has come to light that these HR activists intended to either engage in or incite violence-provisos integral to a charge of sedition. It is her case that they only reiterated what millions of downtrodden and suppressed people have been demanding.
The fact is that over the last two decades the market-friendly policies have come to dominate the Indian ruling class concerns, and the expression of any views whatsoever inimical to those policies or their consequences for the vast mass of Indians has been tended to be seen as anti-national activity. Recently, over 100 military veterans in an open letter to the powers that be, said, “Dissent is not treason. In fact, it’s the essence of democracy.” In an attempt to speak against the “clamp down on free speech and the all-pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, hate, and suspicion”, nearly 114 veterans wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi stating their dismay at the divisiveness and current state of affairs of our country.
“We can no longer look away. We would be doing a disservice to our country if we do not stand up and speak for the liberal and secular values that our Constitution espouses. Our diversity is our greatest strength,” they said.


Nisar joined The Kashmir Monitor as a reporter in June 2015. Since then, he has been consistently covering beats including conflict, politics, education, and health.

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Editorial

Afraid Of Heights? VR Therapy May Help You!

The Kashmir Monitor

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If you are acrophobic or are scared of heights, then taking automated virtual reality (VR) based psychological therapy may help reduce the phobia, say researchers.
According to the study, published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, the participants took part in activities during the VR session that challenged their fears and helped them learn that they were safer than they thought.
“Immersive VR therapies that do not need a therapist have the potential to dramatically increase access to psychological interventions,” said lead author Daniel Freeman from Britain’s University of Oxford.
“As seen in our clinical trial, VR treatments have the potential to be effective, faster, and more appealing for many patients than traditional face-to-face therapies.
With our unique automation of therapy using VR, there is the opportunity to provide really high quality treatment to many more people at an affordable cost,” Freeman added.
For the study, 100 people with clinically diagnosed fear of heights, who were not receiving psychological therapy, were divided into two groups and were given either the new automated VR treatment or usual care, which was typically no treatment.
Participants were given six VR treatment sessions roughly for 30 minutes each for two weeks where they wore a VR headset.
Throughout various activities, starting with simpler tasks, such as watching a safety barrier drop gradually, leading to harder tasks like walking on a platform over a large drop, the virtual coach offered encouragement, and afterwards explained what the participants had learned from their activities and asked whether they felt safer than before.
The virtual coach also encouraged participants to try real heights between sessions.
At the end of the treatment and at follow-up, participants from the VR group reported that their fears have reduced as opposed to the control group who rated their fear of heights as remaining similar.

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Editorial

Unending traffic woes

The Kashmir Monitor

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It has become routine with the officials related to traffic department to come up with meetings and announcements of new measures to regulate traffic in Srinagar. But nothing concrete is done to streamline the traffic management and road safety. It can be said with great authority there is complete mess on roads all across Kashmir, and the authorities responsible for maintain roads and managing traffic are doing mere lip service. Though the traffic problem is an old case but it needs to be corrected at some point in time. Jam and mess on Srinagar roads is a daily affair.

The main city intersections remain jammed all through the day making travelling difficult even for pedestrians. The distance which normally could be covered in minutes takes hours to travel over. Travelling on Srinagar roads, indeed, has become longer and grueling affair. The huge traffic jams at Pantha Chowk, Hyderpora, Ram Bagh, Exhibition Chowk, Batamaloo, Qamarwari, Budshah Chowk, Hari Singh High Street and Dalgate have reached unparalleled proportions.

The traffic congestion at Qamarwari clogs the city from the west end. The north end gets blocked with huge jams at Soura and city interiors like Khanyar and Rainawari.

There are instances when a commuter had to wait for hours to get cleared of the traffic jam. The mess right from Iqbal Park to exhibition Chowk is so grueling and time consuming that many a commuters, who have their work places in and around Lal Chowk, have made it a habit to leave their homes in early morning hours. The mess on prestigious Boulevard Road, which is the face of Kashmir tourism, is even more agonizing. The evening time, when there is presence of tourists in the area, gives a horrible look. The installation of traffic signals has not helped to the level one had expected in regulation of traffic at Exhibition ground. The commuters could not be absolved completely for the mess. The moment the light turns red, cars zip past in a flash. The zebra-crossings are blocked by cars, forcing pedestrians to make their way through the vehicles. Shameless drivers on the wrong side, nosing through illegal cuts, taking U-turns before roundabouts, driving with mobile phone fixed to their ears – all are direct causes of the mess on the roads. Undoubtedly, much needs to be done for regulation of traffic in the city to make life easy for the people. The development of road infrastructure is the primary need but it cannot be done overnight. It would take time. The mess on the city roads is a strong reminder to the government to build road infrastructure on priority bases. Till then people should not be left to suffer. There is a strong need for regulation of traffic to minimize the peoples’ problems. The strength of traffic police should be increased in proportion with the increase in rush on roads. The policemen have to become more responsible. There are large scale complaints that policemen allow illegal parking of vehicle against payoffs. They need to change and be harsher with the people who break traffic laws and believe that rules are not for them.

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Editorial

Homage to the Martyr

The Kashmir Monitor

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To understand the story of Karbala, one must take into cognizance that Islam is a religion, nay, away of life, revealed by Divine Grace, inviting all mankind to the Blessings of Allah, the Supreme.Islam, consisting of a complex structure of thought, practices, statutes, and transcendence,spread among diverse peoples, from the West Coast of Africa to the islands of the Pacific, withina matter of a few years, an unheard of phenomenon, as a ‘miracle’ from the Divine. It changedthe perceptions of right and wrong, and the foundation of societal interactions of precedinggenerations. Islam was challenging man to reach beyond himself to reach stages of the highestprosperity, spirituality and inspiration. This could not be accepted easily by the existing power structure. Ingrained base emotions especially of jealousy and vengeance raised its evil head inthe form of rebellion against the Prophet’s legacy. As long as members of the family of theProphet remained, they was always a threat that Hussain (AS)’s supporters would come to power and, therefore Hussain (AS) had to be eliminated forever from the Caliphate. Hussain was alarmed when Yazid wasdesignated his successor. Hussain (AS) was resolute against the imposition of dynastic rule inIslam and decided to oppose Yazid by giving support to his own followers, no matter what thecost. Hussain (AS) had previously been offered largesse and many gratuities to stay away fromthe struggle which he had stridently refused. Hussain (AS) wanted to save Islam from corruption,and if necessary, by shedding his own blood, and that of his children. Hussain (AS) was invited to go to Kufa from Medina to become their leader. Having reached theoutskirts of Kufa, beside the Euphrates river, with a group of around 175, he and his immediatelyfamily and the other direct descendants of Prophet Muhammad (SWS), and their followers, weredenied water for 3 days in the desert and ultimately brutally killed by an army numbering a fewthousand.
The story of the Battle of Karbala is actually the age old story of the struggle in man between hishigher virtues that reach out to heaven, and his vices that pull him down into the abyss of ignominy, despair and defeat. Hussain (AS) showed that one must fight and strive to establishtruth and justice in the land, and for it, must be prepared to offer the supreme sacrifice. Throughhis legacy he established firmly the basic foundation of the religion – readiness to sacrificeeverything for achieving closeness of Allah, which is best for the hereafter, and is the goal of thedevout.To understand the decrepit state of Islamic society today one must examine it through the lens of Karbala. Power hungry men devoid of the love of Allah, the Prophet and the Ahle Bayet, unableto grasp advances in other branches of knowledge of the last 5 centuries, and fostered by acrude zeal to acquire the ‘former glory of Islam’, not for its virtues of achieving closeness to Ahle Bayet for achieving worldly power, are terrorizing not only their own communities but the peace of the entire world. Misleading the Ummah in the garb of devoutness, they borrow from history for the sake of glory. They have no appreciation of the proper qualities of leadership as personifiedby the Ahle Bayet, the Close Companions, and the learned ones of society, no reflective study of the literature available on Islam, and above all, no willingness to offer self sacrifice either for theUmmah or for Allah.
Today, as never before, we need to know the ideals of Hussain (AS), and remember thesorrowful days of Karbala not for worldly gain but to attain the love of Almighty Allah. Every timethat we remember the gallant Shahadat of Hussain (AS), we celebrate Hussain (AS)’s victoryover the depravity of Yazid and Islam becomes victorious. Each time we shed a tear for Hussain(AS), the doors of Allah’s Blessings open once again on the tortured and wavering souls of modern day Muslims. To keep the spirit of Karbala and Islam alive in our hearts, we must learnto observe the Muharram in a manner that befits the great traditions of Islam as laid down by the Prophet.

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