December 1, 2010 4:47:04 am
What kind of state are we,anyway? Prickly and immature,submitting to our worst,controlling impulses? Or tolerant,stable,modern? Heres a worrying story: On October 21 a few people made a few speeches in New Delhi; some may have said that Kashmir should not be a part of India. The foundations of the Indian state,you will notice,did not shake. Kashmirs status was not markedly different on October 22 than on October 20. And yet,a colonial-era law thats associated in most Indians minds with Mahatma Gandhis open defiance of it has been unleashed. An FIR was lodged against the writer-activist Arundhati Roy,the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and some others for sedition,the promotion of enmity between classes,assertions prejudicial to national integration,and rumours circulated with intent to cause mutiny.Merely reading that list of offences is a wake-up call. Does merely saying that Kashmir should not be part of India require this sort of legal action? Yes,shortly after the speeches,even as the BJP called for prosecution,the home ministry saw sense. The state must show tolerance and forbearance, said Home Minister Chidambaram,the Delhi police is acting in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law. The police registered no case,which,as these columns argued at the time,was only sensible. But then a man named Sushil Pandit filed a complaint; and a Delhi magistrate named Navita Bagha demanded the police act. And did the Delhi police,and by extension the home ministry,make the argument that the Indian state has moved beyond prosecutions of this sort? No; Indias government was instead browbeaten by one magistrate into registering a non-bailable case,with a maximum possible sentence of life,against six people who spoke at a seminar.This is more than merely embarrassing. Statist,knee-jerk prohibitions do not work,and nor would liberal states employ them anyway. This is of a piece with the exaggerated demands for respect for our symbols you can land in hot water for making the national anthem available as a ringtone! National pride should not be constructed of such fragile stuff. Secure states do not respond to every questioning speech. In the end,we need to ask ourselves one simple question: does India appear more stable and admirable if Geelani argues in Delhi for Kashmiri separatism,and convinces few or if the state responds to the most retrograde,statist members of its public and arranges for his prosecution? We want to be proud of India. That needs the government to withdraw these cases immediately.
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