One more high-profile detainee under the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act has been released. Once again, the government at the Centre has given no reason why former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had to be detained eight months ago, and later booked under a law deployed against dangerous criminals, or why it has decided to release him now. Nor will it say why only he and his father, Lok Sabha MP Farooq Abdullah, have been released, and not the others detained under this law, among them another former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti.
The apparent brazenness with which the government arrested the entire political leadership of J&K under preventive sections on August 5 last year, and then used the PSA, with its draconian provisions, to extend their detention, does not bode well in a constitutional democracy. Some senior leaders in the BJP have offered the facetious explanation that the people of J&K were happy that their political leaders had been jailed. Others justified the arrests in the name of the “security situation”. Even though it is clear that such authoritarian actions can pave the way for a greater erosion of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, by and large, these justifications have not been challenged adequately or vigorously. It is even more egregious that the courts became mere onlookers to these decisions.
At this time when India is battling a dangerous infectious disease and faces a situation like no other in its 73-year history, Kashmir has the misfortune of being doubly anxious. The disease has not spared J&K. There have been 11 confirmed cases so far. Meanwhile, hundreds of Kashmiris detained last year, on the day the government stripped the state of its special status and divided it into two Union Territories, remain imprisoned in J&K and in jails in other states. For the government to continue their detention during this terrible time is a double atrocity on them and their families. Further, while the rest of the country can freely access information on COVID-19 from across the world, J&K still does not have full-fledged access to the internet to enable people to understand this disease from a multiplicity of sources. Its doctors are struggling with low speed access to the net. The government must immediately release the remaining prisoners, wherever they are jailed, and restore full speed internet without delay.
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