Dubai: Acclaimed writer and essayist Pankaj Mishra says that filing sedition charges against 67 Kashmiri students after some of them allegedly cheered for the Pakistani cricket team during a recently televised match with India is absurd.
“While I don’t completely know the facts of the case but to punish students just because they expressed a perfectly harmless opinion, in my understanding, mocks India’s claims to be a mature democracy,” Mishra said on the sidelines of the sixth Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai.
The UP police had filed sedition charges (which were later dropped) against most of the Kashmiri students studying in the Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in Meerut after the boys were suspended by their institution for cheering Pakistan’s victory.
Mishra, who is globally acclaimed for his expressions of intellectual confidence and linguistic inventiveness, said, “Anyone who has followed this dreadful story will not be surprised at what is happening. This (incident) goes on to establish the fact that bigotry has gone mainstream in India. Expressing an opinion over a cricket match shouldn’t bother a democracy.”
“Democracy in India is going to be further undermined if India continues to deny democratic rights to the people of Kashmir. It just makes a mockery of our claims to the champions of freedom of speech,” he said.
“There is routine denial of freedom of speech to the people of Kashmir. Democracy cannot flourish if India continues to crack down on the Internet in the Valley and shut off mobile phone connections whenever it suits them. It makes a laughing stock of our claims to be the largest democracy in the world,” Mishra added.
Mishra, called the ‘Edward Said of our generation’ by the Economist’, was in Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. More than 160 authors from 40 countries including leading names like Joanne Harris, Amit Chaudary, Jeremy Paxman, Peter James, Camilla Lackberg, Simon Kernick and Jeremy Bowen attended the festival which has become a flagship event in the Middle East attended by thousands of people each year.
—Sameer Bhat is a UAE-based Kashmiri journalist. This interview was Special to Kashmir Reader