Democracy is a system that provides for fundamental rights, universal adult franchise, separation of powers of the state, due process of law, independent judiciary, and the bedrock, the Constitution. Among these, fundamental rights are the essence of democracy, for they uphold and protect the freedom and liberty of citizens.
Indian democracy promises six fundamental rights to everyone without any discrimination. The right to freedom of speech and expression is provided under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. It means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely. For the holistic development of a country, dissent and disagreement are a must, which should not only be permitted but also encouraged.
However, the spirit of freedom of expression doesn’t seem to have been imbibed by people at large. The recent assassination of Advocate Babar Qadri can be cited as a glaring example of intolerance. Qadri was shot dead by unidentified assailants at his home. The attack came three days after Qadri tweeted about a possible threat to his life, but he was not provided security, which raises questions on the assurance the Constitution gives of safeguarding the individual.
It seems that nowadays blood has become so cheap that we hardly bother to remember such gory incidents for any length of time. The memory fades from our minds even before the blood has dried. Perhaps people are used to it now! Rampant human rights abuses in J&K have made it a ‘new normal’. The report by the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) released on July 8, 2019, enumerates several human rights abuses in J&K, from mass killings to enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse, political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. In fact, there has been a continuous surge in them since the report came out.
The J&K Coalition of Civil Society has reported that conflict-related causalities in J&K were the highest in 2018, with 586 people killed including 267 members of armed groups, 159 security forces personnel, and 160 civilians. The blame game is played from all sides while ignoring their own culpability. It’s pertinent to quote Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), that “authorities in both the countries (India and Pakistan) should … change course and hold accountable those who have committed serious abuses.”
Let’s hope that criminals, on any side, are brought to justice. On the other hand it’s time to inculcate the sense of tolerance, equality, and acceptance of dissent within us. We must start by respecting the arguments of others because the answer to violence is not more violence. As Martin Luther Jr has beautifully put it, “Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light will. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love will.”
—The writer is studying for a Master’s in Public Administration. [email protected]