The Jammu and Kashmir police denies media reports that several people were arrested last week for not showing respect to the national anthem. It was reported that some people did not stand when ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was being sung during a program in the former state.
It is quite ironic that it was the closing ceremony of the ‘Pedal for Peace’ program that culminated in these arrests. In Kashmir, it seems, ‘peace’ always ends up getting linked with the loss of freedom. The Indian state cannot imagine one without the other.
What made the matter more serious is that the lieutenant governor was there and the national anthem was being sung in his presence. When the media started claiming that people had been arrested for sitting while ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was sung, the J&K police clarified that no one had been ‘arrested’ and that all they had done was to ‘bind down’ 12 persons.
Leaving aside semantics, the police action meant jail. All of those who remained seated while the national anthem was sung have been sent to custody for seven days. This is, in a way, a warning to them to behave in the future. The order sending them to jail states that there is a possibility that they might disturb law and order in the future.
If they do not stand up during the national anthem today, then one can imagine what they are capable of doing.
Reading this, I recalled an incident from Delhi in 2016. Some youths were arrested and brought to the Parliament Street police station. When I asked what their fault was, the SHO told me that the arresting policeman had said they ‘looked like JNU types’. There was apparently a danger of breach of the peace if ‘JNU types’ were allowed to roam around freely. So, the police detained them.
When I requested the SHO to release them as they had done nothing to warrant being detained, he ordered that they be searched. A flag of the Students’ Federation of India was discovered from one person’s bag. Horrified, the SHO admonished me. ‘You ask me to release such a man!’
I asked what objection could there be to to this flag. For him it was very simple: today he is carrying an SFI flag, tomorrow he will be carrying a revolver! How could one even argue with such an officer? The police in Jammu and Kashmir are just like the SHOs of the Delhi Police. Those sitting while the national anthem is played can definitely create trouble in the future. They have to be troublemakers.
Of course, the Kashmir police is careful not to say this upfront because in 2021, the Jammu and Kashmir high court had quashed an FIR lodged in 2018 against someone in a similar case. The high court had ruled that it is not an offence for someone not to stand up during the singing of the national anthem. You could call it contempt of the national anthem, but that is not a crime.
Though the court framed the issue in legal terms, there is a more profound point at stake: How can a person be forced to respect someone or something which does not evoke this sentiment in her or him spontaneously?
Respect stems from the heart. You can make a person stand by unleashing a sword or whip, but at that very moment of outward ‘respect’ the person’s heart will be seething with disrespect. It is not that dictators and their henchmen do not understand this simple thing; what they cannot tolerate is for others to see that there are people out there who have no affection for them.
Let us leave aside the legal aspect and talk about the real issue. How can we imagine that people in Jammu and Kashmir will have respect or affection for any symbol of official India when the latter is associated in their minds with coercion, imprisonment and oppression?
After the humiliating act of scrapping Article 370, the taking away of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood by bifurcating it into two centrally administered Union territories, and the general repression unleashed since then, anyone who thinks ordinary Kashmiris will have any place in their heart for India or Indians is living in a fool’s paradise.
Kashmiris have also seen how leaders who proudly called themselves Indian were treated in the most horrendous manner by the Indian state. The Indian state and most Indian political parties have proved that they see Kashmir only as land and orchards – resources to be appropriated for the mainland.
The recent government scheme to give ‘land to the landless’ is seen by Kashmiris as a design to change the demography of Kashmir. Similarly, the recent delimitation exercise was nothing but an attempt to further ward off the possibility of Muslims having a voice in power sharing, if and when elections are held for an assembly.
Everyone’s hands and feet are tied in Kashmir and lips are sealed. No local newspaper can give real news and no one is allowed to have an independent opinion. Apart from this, the arrests of Sajjad Gul and Fahad Shah, the capture of the Press Club and the earlier disabling of the Kashmir Times cannot be forgotten.
So, is it any surprise that the relationship today between Kashmiris and the Indian state is seen by the former as a coercive one? The former state of J&K is the only region of India whose people have been ruled by an unelected administration for over five years.
The fate of Kashmir is not being decided by the people of Kashmir and their elected representatives but by an administration – controlled by a lieutenant governor appointed by the Centre – which behaves like an aggressor. Against this backdrop, the wish that Kashmiris respect India or any Indian official symbol is totally misplaced.
The Centre’s relationship with Kashmir is not a humane one. It is a relationship of the strong and the weak. When the weak cannot scream, they register their resistance by remaining silent. The mighty have the power to punish the weak for this. That’s what the police has done by putting 11 Kashmiris in jail for not standing when the national anthem was played.
Sending people to jail might make people fear India. But will it evoke their respect and affection?
Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.