The J-K Police Wednesday stopped an academic programme in Srinagar, “threatening to seal a hotel” if Professor Mridu Rai, who teaches at Trinity College Dublin, was allowed to deliver a lecture. Rai was scheduled to deliver a lecture on ‘Language of violence, languages of justice: the state and insurgent Kashmir’.
Hours before the scheduled lecture, the police invoked Section 144 that bans the assembly of four or more persons at a public place.
“This is appalling that my voice was silenced along with other speakers,” Rai said at a press conference after she was not allowed to deliver the lecture. “It’s ludicrous. An academic lecture does not fall under Section 144. It was a simple conversation with people here.”
The author of ‘Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir’ termed the police action as tragedy. “If people like us are not allowed, it is a tragedy,” she said. “My lecture indeed was referring to the fact how greater violence is to ensure that voices are not heard, which in fact happened today.”
The lecture was organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in the memory of Kashmiri Pandit leader the late Ragunath Vaishnavi.
“We were threatened by SDPO Sheikh Faisal Qayoom saying they will seal the hotel in case we went ahead with the programme,” said Pervez Imroz, human rights activist and convener of JKCCS.
Imroz questioned the police action saying a hotel does not fall under public place. “It was a commemoration lecture to discuss about a person who fought for people’s political rights since 1930s,” he said. “We condemn this culture of imposing restrictions on such spaces.”
Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar, Farooq Ahmad Shah said he was unaware of any such function. “Honestly, I have no information about it,” Shah told The Indian Express. “They (organisers) should have informed us if they were not allowed to deliver the lecture.”
The PDP has condemned the police’s move not to allow the academic lecture. “It is outrightly silly and condemnable. The government cannot target or disallow intellectual activity. It’s trying to squeeze the space whereas efforts are required to open up the same,” said PDP chief spokesman Naeem Akhtar.