There have been news reports in recent weeks that many roads, streets and other public places in Kashmir are likely to be renamed. The Chenani-Nashri Tunnel has been named after Hindutva ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The Wire has also reported that the Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar is likely to be renamed after Sardar Patel and that this change of name is likely to be announced on December 15, his death anniversary.
The Chinar Foundation, which is an organisation recently formed, consisting of Kashmiris – Hindu, Muslim and Sikh – strongly protests against this move.
While we have nothing against Sardar Patel, we believe that he had no connection with Kashmir. Therefore, it would be wholly inappropriate to name the stadium after him.
While we fully agree that Sheikh Abdullah’s name should be removed from all public places, institutions and organisations, since his legacy is questionable, we demand that in his place, the stadium be named after Sultan Zain-ul Abidin (or ‘Budshah’), after the great secular king of Kashmir, who, like emperor Akbar, was tolerant and loved by all in Kashmir – Hindu and Muslim alike.
The Chinar Foundation also demands that public places – roads, streets etc. – if they are to be renamed, be given the names of great Kashmiris – Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – who contributed to the history, composite culture and welfare of Kashmir. As examples, one can cite Kalhan (a great historian and author of Rajtaragini), Habba Khatoon (a great poet), Nooruddin Sheikh, also known as Nund Rishi (a Sufi saint), Laxman Joo (a great scholar of Kashmir Shaivism), the trade unionist and human rights activist Hriday Nath Wanchoo, as well as living icons such as Parveena Ahangar, chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Kashmir, and so on.
The Chinar Foundation also demands immediate restoration of internet facilities and pre-paid mobile services in Kashmir, since today these are not luxuries but necessities. Immense hardship is being caused to the people of Kashmir with the continued prohibition of these facilities.
We also demand immediate lifting of restrictions on freedom of speech and of the media, withdrawal of curfew anywhere in the Kashmir Valley, and freedom to anyone to travel to Kashmir and meet anyone and speak freely, both within Kashmir, and outside.
We agree with what the celebrated Judge of the US Supreme Court, Justice Louis Brandeis, said in Whitney vs California, 1927:
“Those who won our independence were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of free speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.
Even advocacy of violation of law, however reprehensible morally, is not a ground for denying free speech unless it is clear the call for violation would be immediately acted upon.”
We also agree with the ‘imminent lawless action’ test (or the Brandenburg test), laid down by the US Supreme Court in Brandenburg vs Ohio, 1969, followed by the Indian Supreme Court in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam, and Sri Indra Das vs State of Assam which alone can justify prohibition of free speech.
Justice Markandey Katju is former judge of the Supreme Court of India.