Right to protest and ‘right to violence’
Dr Shabir Choudhry 17 January 2011
Together with other rights, a right to protest is a fundamental human right which derives from freedom to assemble; and it must not be usurped by the authorities in any civilised society. But right to protest should be distinguished from a ‘right to violence’.
Everyone is allowed to enjoy all fundamental rights, as long as one does not infringe rights of others when exercising those rights. Somehow it is erroneously assumed that a ‘right to protest’ also includes a right to violence - attack others and burn property belonging to others.
No government, whether legitimate or not, will allow a challenge to its writ. So when some people assemble to protest, sometimes without permission, they go there with intention of creating trouble. They go there with a supply of stones and other items which could be used to attack those who are entrusted with a responsibility to maintain law and order.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows the authorities to impose restrictions on freedom to assemble or right to protest if they feel it is detrimental to ‘national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others." (Article 21)
Protest could hardly be categorised as a threat to national security, however, some criminal minded people, anarchists and agents of foreign powers could use the occasion to create chaos and damage private and public property. It is responsibility of the authorities to ensure that law and order is maintained; and that no one is allowed to commit crimes or create mayhem under pretext of right to protest.
Entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed; and its future is to be determined by the people of the State. Decades of militancy, extremism, communalism and uncertainty has very seriously damaged fundamental character of the Kashmiri culture of tolerance, moderation and coexistence. Although militancy is on decline, but forces with agenda of promoting extremism and hatred are still alive and kicking, and waiting in the wings to begin another round. Whereas unfettered right of self determination is priority of majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, some groups with extremist and communal agenda want to exacerbate already bad situation.
Bharatiya Janata Party, an extremist group by any standards, has announced to hoist an Indian flag in Lal Chowk of Srinagar on 26 January is an attempt to pour petrol on fire. BJP surely have plenty of Indian flags and dedicated people to advance their agenda, however, they are advised to hoist flags on Lal Fort and Qutab Minar, and avoid pushing Kashmiri Muslims in the corner of Pakistan once again.
BJP leaders should understand that, at one time, majority of Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir were in favour of joining Pakistan; and at times, they expressed their love for Pakistan or teased India by hoisting a Pakistani flag in Kashmir (people knew hatred between India and Pakistan and they sometimes chant pro Pakistan slogans and hoist Pakistani flag to tease Indians).
Now that love of the Kashmiri people for Pakistan is at its lowest ebb, and romanticism is virtually at its end, as confirmed by various surveys; is it sensible of BJP leaders to hoist an Indian flag in Lal Chowk which could result in people of Srinagar hosting a Pakistani flag, not for love of Pakistan but to ridicule BJP? This will provide an excuse to Pakistani authorities to claim that people of Kashmir are eager to join them; and make them relevant again.
Young Omar Abdullah has faced enough troubles in his two years reign; and nearly lost his post during the stone pelting campaign in the last summer, which some experts call a master stroke of those forces who want the Kashmir pot to remain on the front burner. Now that some kind of normalcy is returning to the Valley, mainly because of the cold weather and some exhaustion, Omar Abdullah would not like the BJP to create chaos and possibly bloodshed.
BJP's campaign known as, Rashtriya Ekta Yatra, started from Kolkata a few days ago and their dedicated and troublesome activists are under the command of Anurag Thakur, President of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. He is determined to go ahead with his plan and hoist the Indian flag in Lal Chowk on 26 January.
Omar Abdullah government has responsibility to rule and maintain peace in the entire Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side of the LOC; but he might feel his first priority is to keep peace in the Valley and especially in Srinagar. This peace is under serious threat; and he has to face this challenge with proper planning and vigour.
It is believed that New Delhi has given a free hand to Omar Abdullah to deal with the problem as he finds it appropriate, and have assured him of full support; but he feels the BJP has landed him in a quandary. If he allows the BJP to go ahead with its programme it will be resisted by the political parties with some hold in Srinagar which could lead to unrest and bloodshed; and if he imposes ban or stop the BJP by force that will have implications of its own.
In a separate move, a complaint has been filed in a court against Omar Abdullah and the JKLF leader Yasin Malik for ‘opposing hoisting of national flag’ The complaint was filed under ‘section 153 of the IPC (giving provocation with intention to cause riot) and section 2 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971’. Sumit Parashar, who filed the case, alleges that by ‘opposing hoisting of national flag, both Abdullah and Malik have committed an anti-national act.’
Omar Abdullah has to plan his strategy carefully and act in public interest. He has to prove that he is in control and that he will act with vigour and determination. He has to prove that he will not allow some extremists to imperil peace and harmony of Kashmir; and that his administration will not hesitate to use force to maintain law and order, as they used force on stone throwers in summer 2010.
Be it be the BJP, or any other group, no one should be allowed to promote extremism, communalism and hatred; and destroy peace, harmony and traditional Kashmiri culture of toleration. If designs of these groups are not checked then it is possible that ‘bad old days’ might return; and groups which espouse violence and hatred, and their mentors from outside will call shots and ruin Kashmiri culture of peace and toleration.
Writer is Head Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
View my blog and web: www.drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.com