It was evening hours. Sun was about to set. People were preparing for iftar (breakfast in Ramadhan). My neighbour Gulam Mohammad (name changed) opened his shop to sell iftari items like semolina (suji), sugar, basil seeds, juice, fruits etc. There were not many people at his shop also. Suddenly a police jeep on petrol duty came, caught hold of the elderly poor shopkeeper, thrashed him and vandalized his juice bottles and other items. On top of that they drove their vehicle over it. A scene that should send chills down your spine. The incident took place on International Labour day and irony just died a thousand deaths.
Imagine even on international Labour Day, labour has become a crime. If this is the law of this lawless land, then such laws should be sent to gallows. St. Augustine has said “An unjust law is no law at all”. One may also ask should laws be seen in absolute black and white?
Many incidents of police high-handedness have surfaced since curfew disguised lockdown was announced and yes many people have been caught violating administrative orders and neglecting precautionary measures. However some questions do remain there. Being locked and down is not that simple. Orders from the government and then their absolute implementations have consequences, for beyond pandemic. First, for poor people, how life looks like for them in this lockdown? How are they managing their expenses? And how long can they survive like this? What has been the condition of stranded labourers? What made certain stranded workers to travel in a mixer?
Second aspect to this lockdown is the increased powers of state machinery specifically of police and the manner in which lockdown is implemented. Why many, though not all, in the administration, specifically police have become so arrogant in these tough times? Have certain institutions inherited colonial approach or is it in their genes? Aren’t we living in a democracy? Don’t we have any rights? Don’t we pay taxes? And are we entitled to a life of dignity or not?
Then there is the psychological impact of lockdown. Normal routine has disrupted and who wants to be locked, be it at home or else. People do want things to get back to normal as soon as possible. In such a situation should we continue with a strict lockdown like the one we see in Kashmir? Or should we brainstorm a way for smart lockdown?
Another aspect to it is that in view of the so called lockdown, how should violators be dealt with? Should violators be beaten to pulp? Should they be humiliated and then videos of such humiliation made viral? Or should they be dealt as per law? Like fined or booked as per law. Under what law police vandalized the juice and other food items of my neighbour and then crushed the same under their van? Should my raising of these questions be seen as crimes against humanity? When shall I be booked or intimidated? Should I be deemed as antinational or seen as provoking people and threatening law and order? Or should it be seen just as a concern for rule of law to prevail and not institutional despotism. As it is said “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, no institution in democratic setup should consider having despotic powers.
I am aware that the lockdown has been ordered on the pretext of saving human lives. But if politicians and administrative officers are so concerned about human lives then questions do arise over the budget allocated to health and medical research over these years. Like in Kashmir how many ventilators are there in hospitals? In past have we done enough to improve our health infrastructure? Or has it been business as usual? Interestingly in times of pandemic like Covid-19 why are political agendas and policies being advanced? Was new domicile law for Kashmir so need at the moment?
Society should be based on rights of citizens and rule of law. We do have certain rights, human and fundamental rights. Those rights are recognized by the society and should be enforced by the state. We do need checks and balances to prevent lawlessness and keep law enforcing institutions within the limits of law. Not all are violators or criminals and not all want to put lives of others at risk. We are just common people, desperate to live happily, without fear and without being subjected to degraded treatment. If we have right to life, make that with honour and dignity. After all who wants to live a humiliated life? What about violators? Let all those be dealt and punished but only as per law.
Khan Emran, M.Phil Psychology from University of Kashmir