Public protests play an important part in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of all societies. Protests encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry. They strengthen representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs. However there is a thin line that separates protests from public violence. Though the Constitution of India protects the right to assemble peacefully, however demonstrations, whether political, religious or social or other demonstrations, which create public disturbances or operate as nuisances or create or manifestly threaten some tangible public or private mischief are not covered by protection under Article 19(1) (free speech). Why am I talking about all this is because the manner in which protests are being carried out in Kashmir don’t only fall outside the lines of Indian constitution but they also fall beyond the lines of humanity. Public violence is increasingly evident in our valley. Whether it is people protesting about lack of services or about Kashmir conflict or justice for Kathua girl the participants keep pushing the envelope so that violence and damage to public and private property or persons becomes the norm. It is time for this to stop.
When, where and how protests should be carried out seems one important question that Kashmiris should think about seriously. While the manner in which the little Akhter Bhatwas raped and murdered represents the heights of human brutality and barbarism, it is unfortunate to see the violent manner in which protesters are registering their anger in the streets of Kashmir. There is loads of violence happening in her name which Kathua girl would have never liked. Thanks to the commendable work done by the concerned investigating team and the uncompromising stand taken by the Chief Minister, the case seems to be resolved to a great extent. The accused have already landed in the jail and are being tried in the court. In this situation, it becomes a bit irrelevant on our part to carry out protests in the manner in which we are doing it. Our violent approaches are only pouring more blood into the bleeding streets of Kashmir. Demanding justice for Kathua girl is great however adopting violent approaches is surely not a good idea. The process is not only hurting our young school going kids physically, it is also hurting them mentally. For a young student, a night or two in a police station can never be a good mental tonic. And police is police, they would never spare a situation where they get a chance to warm up their limbs or their Dandas (sticks). Had the students behaved peaceful in their approach, all this could have been easily avoided. Though all this could be a bit compromisable for a student, however how justified is it for him to compromise on his academic front is a serious question. We seem to have forgotten that great man named Nelson Mandela, who once said to his people that ‘we can wait for independence but we cannot wait for education’. If our students are thinking that violence in streets or on the roads would bring justice to AsifKathua girl, I am sorry, it will not. This violence in the name of Asifa is only bringing us more tears. Our little students are getting hurt, policemen are being injured, roads being blocked, businesses are suffering and top of it, charge-sheets are flooding the police stations. And all this is happening in spite of the fact that the case seems to be going into its right direction. What do we want now? In spite of all that that if we still feel we have something to protest about, why can’t we do it in a dignified manner? How do we expect a stone thrown in the name of Kathua girl doing any justice to her when it is only hurting another innocent kid like her in return? While these protests might help us in putting some pressure on the concerned judge to speed up his process of delivering justice to Kathua girl, however how meaningful is it to lose more boys and girls; are in the process by involving ourselves directly with the security forces becomes a serious question. Here again we seem to have forgotten that wise saying ‘a good picture is worth a thousand words’! Otherwise we would have never felt the need to scream or cry or throw stones knowing that the picture or placard in our hands spoke louder than all such acts?
I feel as Kashmiris we have a habit of messing up things. We have messed up our own history and enslaved our identity, making it difficult for us as well as others to decide who we really were. We continue messing up ourselves through our actions. We hardly know how to react to a particular event. We do loads of protesting but we hardly know how to do it in a dignified manner. We make it easy for others to label our protesters as violent mobs burning down the streets or hurting people. We make it easy for our own crowds to go against us by blocking their roads and shutting down their businesses. We make it difficult for all peace loving folks of our society who aspire for a peaceful and dignified life. We seem to be destroying ourselves as a tribe for some real bad consequences that only god knows about. When more accused appear on public violence charge-sheets and of malicious damage to property or persons, there might be a reversal of the tide, with protests being seen as unacceptable and having unpleasant consequences for the participants. We need to stop that from happening.
(The author is pursuing PhD in Journalism at University of Mumbai)