No Amnesty For Repression

Amnesty International (AI), like a few other global rights organisations, seeks to work with governments, to try and influence and even pressurise them to change policy. Often, such reports on ostensibly democratic nations are as damning as those on outright authoritarian regimes; the difference being that the former supposedly have a duty to differentiate themselves from the latter, according to their democratic Constitutions. But what efficacy, the question arises, do reports such as the exhaustive document on the utter absence of rights, and rank repression, in Kashmir, just brought out by AI, have in a context where the state seems to be predicated on denying the democratic rights that are supposedly its duty to uphold? That question is more relevant given the widespread feeling that nothing really changes in Kashmir despite such reports, that the status quo persists, brazenly so.

The obvious answer is that such a damning report lays waste to claims of a democratic set-up. Indeed, the AI report basically, though not stated in these terms, says the whole architecture of laws and ‘governance’ in Kashmir is repressive and aimed at perpetuating that repression with impunity. There is a ‘naming and shaming’ aspect to this, and a country as keen as India to portray a positive image cannot but be negatively impacted. Then, it must also be understood that India, like some other nations, has modernised repressive methods so as to undermine its own democratic duties in sophisticated ways. One way that works in Kashmir is by mutating the very concept and understanding of democracy itself. Be it via mass media, the trumpeting of its institutions while seeking to belittle criticism (even, for instance, arguing, that a report like the one just brought out by the AI is against national security interests while highlighting the apparent ‘freedom’ of allowing the AI to work here and produce the report), or setting up its own counterweights (such as various toothless Human Rights Commissions), the overall attempt is to manipulate political discourse, to posit that democracy exists albeit with a few creases. This becomes part of trying to enforce the status quo, of allowing some criticism and concurrently seeking to discredit all criticism.

But that massive gap still remains between claims and reality, between ostensible democracy and actual repression. And that unbridgeable gap ensures that the unraveling of those democratic claims is actually a work in progress. For, howsoever long it takes, with all their illusions of permanence, repressive states end up on the wrong side of history.