New Delhi: “Not being able to contact anyone, to talk to anyone, and not having any mode of communication — this can be the worst punishment.”
No, that’s not a line from an editorial about the current situation in Kashmir. Believe it or not, Union information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said all of that with a straight face, without once mentioning the Centre’s current clampdown in the Valley.
Today marks the 24th day on which mobile services, internet, broadband, landlines and postal services have been cut off in the Kashmir Valley.
According to the Indian Express, Javadekar was addressing an award function for community radio stations. “Logon ko mann mein sara pada rahe, aur kisi se kuchh na bolo, isse badi saza kya hoti hai? Kisi se sampark na ho, kisi se baat na kar sakte ho, aur aapke paas communication ka koi saadhan na ho — yeh sabse badi saza ho sakti hai (People keeping everything to themselves, what can be a bigger punishment than not being able to say anything to anyone? Not being able to contact anyone, to talk to anyone, and not having any mode of communication — this can be the worst punishment).”
At the same event, Javadekar lauded the government’s decision to read down Article 370, The Hindu reported, without a mention of how his own definition of the “worst punishment” is being meted out.
Ever since the Centre decided to read down Article 370 of the constitution, revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate the state into two union territories, Kashmiris have been living without most means of communication that are now integral to everyday life. From the first week, there have been reports of people queuing at government offices to try and contact their relatives.
Hundreds of political party members, including former chief ministers, have been detained. As The Wire has reported before, many family members are unsure of where there detained relatives have been taken or have been unable to meet them in the last three weeks.
Even though Kashmiris are undergoing what a Union minister has now described as the “worst punishment”, the Centre has been doing its best to argue that the situation is “normal” in the Valley. Several mainstream TV channels have played along, even though the government has not yet eased the communication blackout or released detained leaders. Why the “worst punishment” is required when the situation in Kashmir is “normal” is perhaps something Javadekar should be asked.
Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, the Press Information Bureau issued a release saying that “it is observed that sections of the media have taken a quote of Union minister Shri Prakash Javadekar out of context.”
It said Javadekar had clarified: “Sections of media have unnecessarily attempted to link the situation in Jammu and Kashmir region with my comments about the significance of community radio and communication in general, which amounts to irresponsible and unethical journalism.”
Neither the PIB nor Javadekar chose to explain why, if the inability to communicate with others is the “worst punishment”, it would be wrong to infer that this was tantamount to an admission that the people of Kashmir were indeed being subjected to this form of punishment.
The analysis has been updated to include Javadekar’s reaction.
You can read The Wire‘s complete coverage on the situation in Kashmir here.