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13 Dec 2010

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights expresses its concern at the arrest of Noor Mohammed Bhatt, lecturer of English at Gandhi Memorial College, by the J&K police on 9 December 2010 under S 13 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and S 153 of RPC for setting an examination question paper considered as being ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-establishment’.

Facts of the case once again bring out that whatever be the public claims about J&K being an ‘integral’ part of India, the real situation suggests otherwise.

The examination paper for students of B Sc was set in August and was one of the three question papers set by Noor Mohammed from which this particular set of questions was selected. The question which raised the ire of the authorities was ‘Are stone-pelters real heroes?’ and the translation of a paragraph which dealt with what was happening on the ground in Kashmir valley, which in five months claimed the lives of 112 persons——children and adults, male and female. To read incitement and abetment of “unlawful” activities reveals a paranoiac mindset among authorities. The mere posing of such questions, which pedagogically was a creative way of getting students to test their skill and apply themselves to write coherently in essay writing and translation in English, is a blatant attack on the freedom of expression and academic freedom which encourage students to think critically. Were a comparison made with examination papers elsewhere in India, it would become evident that these questions are rather innocuous and unexceptional.

But what is most alarming is the propensity of the authorities, and especially the J&K police, to censor, curb and silence critical thinking in the name of ‘national interest’. In a state which in the past has seen agitation against power hike, meat price hike, non-payment of wages and justice for victims of state violence…characterized as ‘anti-national’, this arrest should come as no surprise. What is significant is the fact that this incident reveals the desperate level to which the authorities stoop in order to not only manage and control people’s lives but also their thought processes. In this sense, every person and aspect of life in J&K is a matter of politics——not just any politics, but politics born out of a policy of military suppression and what Indian authorities call ‘perception management’. Equipping people to question this, or posing a question about it, can invite retribution.

Thus we are yet again reminded that J&K remains a disputed territory, where not just people’s movements but every expression and speech which encourages people to think, is closely monitored, censored or silenced. Welcome to Orwell’s 1984 in this ‘integral’ part of the Indian Union.

Moushumi Basu and Asish Gupta