New Delhi: Days after the Delhi high court struck down a Delhi police order to cancel a seminar on the theme “Understanding Fascism in India”, the national capital’s police denied permission for another event to discuss media blackout and state repression in Kashmir that was scheduled to be held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation on Wednesday, March 15.
The Delhi police in an order stated it has inputs that there could be a law and order problem if the event is allowed to happen. It said its inputs mentioned that the event was being organised by an “anonymous group” and that efforts to contact the organisers remained unsuccessful, although the poster announcing the seminar has a long list of fairly well-known organisers like the Students Federation of India (SFI), All India Students Association (AISA), the Delhi Teachers’ Forum (DTF) and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). All of these organisations have offices in Delhi and remain quite active on different issues.
The speakers are also fairly well known across India, and included former Jammu and Kashmir high court judge Hussain Masoodi; M.Y. Tarigami, former CPI (M) MLA in Jammu and Kashmir; Nandita Narain, professor at St. Stephen’s College; renowned documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak; and public commentator Anil Chamadia.
The Delhi police had sent a similar order to “Bharat Bachao” – a collective of scholars, social activists, advocates and politicians – that was organising the seminar “Understanding Fascism in India” at HKS Surjeet Bhawan to deny permission to hold the seminar. The police claimed that this seminar too could provoke a law and order situation and in view of that, it could not allow the event to go ahead. Later the organisers went to the Delhi HC and got the police order rescinded, provided they shared the details of the speakers and invitees with the police.
Interestingly, both orders were passed by the station in-charge of the IP Estate police station. Since the Bharat Bachao representatives received the denial two days before the event, they could move the court and get the order struck down. However, the organisers of the Kashmir seminar – scheduled for Wednesday – came to know about the Delhi police order cancelling the event only around noon on the same day, forcing them to comply with the police directive.
Speaking with The Wire, Sanjay Kak – who was scheduled to speak at the event – said, “When I reached the Gandhi Peace Foundation at around 2 pm this afternoon, I saw police deployment there. I was informed by the policemen that the event has been cancelled.”
He said that the police may have given the order denying permission to the organisers at noon only to stop the organisers from moving the court against the order.
“It’s a telling comment that a seminar on Media Blackout in Kashmir was cancelled earlier today on the grounds that it might disturb the ‘law and order situation’. It is out of such authoritarian steps that the abhorrent silence around the situation in Kashmir has been constructed,” Kak said.
“It’s important for people to take note that this silencing does not – and will not – stop at discussions of Kashmir alone: it has already fallen on various expressions of democratic rights in India. And this silence is not simply a matter of choking self-expression. It is fast becoming the throttling of democracy itself,” he said.
Commenting on her Facebook profile, Nandita Narain said, “The police tried the same thing with the Bharat Bachao programme at HKS Surjeet Bhavan on 11th and 12th March, but the organisers managed to get a court order allowing the programme to be held. This outrageous cancellation at the last minute only serves to reinforce the widely held belief about suppression of free speech, not only in Kashmir, but all over India, including in its capital Delhi.”
One of the organisers, Deepak Kumar from the Campaign Against State Repression – a collective of activists and students, told The Wire that although the Delhi police order is dated March 14, they received it only on the day of the event, merely three hours before the event had to begin. By the time the organisers reached the venue, the police had already cordoned off both the gates of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, he said.
“We had booked the Gandhi Peace Foundation for the public meeting on February 28. Gandhi Peace Foundation had the names of the organisers and details of the event. It is surprising how the Delhi police could call the organisers ‘anonymous’ and could not get in touch with us or the Gandhi Peace Foundation for the details of the event,” he said.
He said that the event merely sought to discuss an important matter and there was no fear of any law and order situation. “How can a seminar be a law and order problem,” he asked.