Public and Republic

As in the past, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir has once again been turned into a fortress to ensure a `safe’ and incident free parade in the Bakhshi Stadium on January 26. This year, the police and other agencies are particularly on their toes, following a ‘planted’ story in the US media, picked up by an Indian news agency, about Washington warning Pakistan not to sponsor any `terror’ attack during President Obama’s stay in India where he will be the chief guest at the main Republic Day parade. In 2001, when the then US president, Bill Clinton, visited India, thirty-five members of a particular community were gunned down in a South Kashmir village by unidentified gunmen in army uniform. Resistance leaders, the civil society, and families of the victims have since been demanding an impartial probe into the killings, but this has been ignored till date.

Nothing wrong in preventing a `terror’ attack, but taking people hostage in the name of security cannot be justified by any means, especially when people across India will be celebrating the dawn of democracy.

The Bakhshi Stadium has been sanitised by policemen using landmine detectors and other high-end surveillance gadgets. Sniffer dogs are likely to be pressed into process. Arresting dissidents has already put a question mark on the credibility of the celebrations. Measures taken by authorities to ensure a peaceful parade have inconvenienced people living in the vicinity of the venue. In coming days, house-to-house searches will be carried out in the area, adding to their woes. Posting sharp-shooters atop the Lal Ded Hospital and buildings around the stadium is routine. And as authorities make a big show of democracy inside, people remain totally indifferent.

But those at the helm could make the occasion meaningful by announcing the release of all political prisoners. Cases against ‘stone-pelters’ need to be withdrawn. Some detainees serving life sentences have completed twenty years in prison. Their cases need to be reviewed. The occasion must yield something positive. It should not be just another gathering to peddle rhetoric. Commitment and action to make the criminal justice system work properly could carry some weight.