The constitution of a nation is celebrated because it provides the ultimate protection for the rights it grants the average citizen. Preparations for India’s Republic Day, due Thursday, have begun in right earnest in Kashmir. In Kashmir this day means an extremely elaborate security arrangement to the extent that civilian movement is automatically discouraged, and most often it accompanies suspension of services like the mobile internet etc. As part of the massive security exercise fly government orders to nodal officers of various departments, including principally the education department, to ensure presence of State employees and students at the venues to mark the day. Such orders are perhaps unique to Kashmir, and are perceived as against the spirit of the constitution of a democracy. Elsewhere it is a gazette holiday! The government orders to ensure a minimal presence at the various venues then becomes the prime example of the ‘coercion’ employed to mark what should be the day of celebrating freedom and rights.
The Indian constitution allows Kashmir to have its own constitution, but in the general public perception the manner of observing the Republic Day means that the spirit of both is officially violated. Those groups and the many members of the general public who mark the occasion as ‘black day’ raise a pertinent question that has hung in the air for as long the constitution has existed. If the spirit of both were to be equally respectfully upheld, the same official seriousness and attitude should mark a day that celebrates Kashmir’s own constitution as well. The optics of the whole celebration in Kashmir brings the contradiction and the paradox out in the most emphatic of ways; deserted streets, deathly silence, fear in the air and a fresh prompt for the upcoming youth to shine their minds on the political history of their home.
The Republic Day then becomes a display of rightlessness and a deliberate obliviousness to it by those who claim to uphold the spirit of the constitution, democracy and citizens’ rights. Political courage should mean confronting this reality, particularly by those who rule on the basis of the vote they seek in the name of protecting basic human and political rights of the citizen. In the recent past evolved democracies like that of Britain have referred to their people major issues that agitated the general public and accepted their verdict even though the world at large viewed the verdict as ‘regressive.’ But there will be no going back on the manner in which a verdict like the Brexit was arrived at. Ideally, January 26 should mean to cultivate such a spirit and allow a people to shape their destiny, whether those who swear by the constitution agree with their verdict or not.