While India has long ceased to be the “world’s largest democracy” in the eyes of many, the events of the last few days in Bangalore have come as yet another indication that the country is fast sliding towards mob rule. Over the past four days, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) have descended on the streets of Bangalore, vandalising private property, laying siege to Raj Bhavan and disrupting traffic on a main artery, demanding action against Amnesty International India.
On Saturday, August 13, the Indian section of the internationally reputed NGO that champions rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other international covenants and treaties to which India is a party, as well as rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, had organised a meeting with families from Kashmir as part of a campaign based on its report“Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir” at the United Theological College in Bangalore.
The hall quickly filled up, the audience including Kashmiri students in Bangalore. Before the start, a group of Kashmiri Pandits (as Kashmiri Hindus are known) had arrived and, it transpires, demanded that they be included in the programme to put forward their viewpoint.
Given their intimidating presence – at least one of them sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Kashmiri Pandit” back and front was on his feet stalking the whole hall, talking to AI staff and others – AI India decided to invite RK Mattoo, president of the Bangalore Kashmiri Pandits Association, to the dais for the duration of a dialogue section chaired by senior journalist Seema Mustafa.
Prior to that segment, when Tara Rao, a senior staff member of AI India, was making her introductory remarks, a couple of Kashmiri Pandits seated in the front row objected loudly to the figure she quoted of the number of Hindus forced to flee the Valley, and a few minutes’ disturbance resulted. Eventually, the audience calmed down and the programme continued.
Subsequently, AI India screened a few interviews with families in Kashmir and invited an elderly Kashmiri gentleman – one of several specially invited to Bangalore from the Valley for the event – to share his anguish over the loss of his son. All of this went off reasonably peacefully.
During the brief section chaired by Seema Mustafa, she expressly noted in her initial remarks that as a journalist who’d been covering Kashmir for decades, she was aware that all sections,including Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims, had suffered greatly. She requested panellists to focus on their own suffering to illustrate the shared tragedy, and handed the mike first to RK Mattoo.
Rather soon into his remarks, he referred to the Indian Army as the world’s “most disciplined”. This riled the Kashmiri students present and several minutes’ disturbance followed. Mustafa decided to change tack and asked other panellists – those invited from the Valley– to speak. Subsequently, the mike was again passed to Mattoo. He used the word “terrorists”. This led to more commotion and standoff between the Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims in the audience.
“Some of my best friends are Kashmiris,” Mattoo said, presumably referring to Kashmiri Muslims.
The next part of the programme featured the singer MC Kash (real name Roushan Illahi). But the police who had been invited by AI India to provide security at the venue, decided to cut short his singing. This was followed by the Kashmiri students raising “azadi” (freedom) slogans.
In its response to the FIR, Amnesty said, “Amnesty International India as a matter of policy does not take any position in favour of or against demands for self-determination. However, Amnesty International India considers that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully advocate political solutions.”
No anti-India or anti-Army slogans were raised. At any rate, the Supreme Court of India is clear that the mere raising of even separatist slogans does not amount to sedition. AI India was entirely within its rights to organise the programme calling attention to the suffering of the people of Kashmir thanks to the scale of decades-long violence there, the human rights violations they are subject to and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. No staff member of Amnesty International acted in any way which was not in accordance with the law of the land.
It is appalling that an FIR has been registered against Amnesty International India at the behest of the ABVP which has made wholly spurious claims about what transpired on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bangalore Police has taken no cognizance of the vandalism committed by the ABVP’s members under their gaze at the United Theological College the following day, Sunday. Nor has any action been taken against the Kashmiri Pandits who incited the Kashmiris by their statements.
Unlike during the JNU episode earlier this year, when doctored videos emerged leading to the arrests of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, thus far there is no talk of spurious footage being bandied about in India. The Bangalore Police, perhaps with a nod from their political bosses, seem to have filed an FIR without checking the footage, and now with the ABVP breathing down their necks claiming anti-India slogans were raised, they appear clueless in containing the Sanghi mobs.
The Karnataka government and police ought to come to their senses, respect the laws of the land and book perpetrators of violence rather than seeking to browbeat organisations that are desperately calling for upholding the laws of the land, including laws guaranteeing the human rights of all Indians.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah is leading the Congress in the state straight into the arms of the Sanghi hoodlums with his lackadaisical rule. The party high command, for now, seems to be looking on helplessly.