Freeleaders and restore rights in Kashmir – editorials
It has been just over five months since Parliament amended the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The measure had been accompanied by a set of drastic measures: cutting off fixed, mobile and Internet connectivity; widespread detensions of activists; restrictions on the travel of opposition politicians to the Valley; additional deployment of security personnel. The government argued that this will lead to further integration of the region with the rest of the country. But critics noted that the government had sacrificed democratic rights in its quest for security.
Now it’s time to review the log so far. Some restrictions have been removed: fixed and mobile connectivity is back, messaging services have been partially restored, a set of leaders have been released under conditions. But as this newspaper has argued in the past, this is not enough.
The key to further integration of the Valley is to allow space for full political activity and restore all rights to citizens. There is no reason to keep leaders like Farooq and Omar Abdullah, or Mehbooba Mufti, who have sworn by the Indian Constitution and have kept the Indian flag waving in exceptionally difficult times in the Valley, under arrest. Their release will be a great sign of the Centre’s commitment to reviving democratic activity. It will also be a step towards an eventual election, which is the only way to have a legitimate democratically elected government. At the same time, the Centre must also fully restore connectivity, including Internet connections, and allow citizens to exercise the same rights as citizens of other parts of India. This will gain their trust and counter criticism in the international community about India’s commitment to human rights. India needs to secure and be prepared to fight terrorism, especially in a region like Kashmir. But democracy and rights in Kashmir will only help that struggle, not harm it.