Anyone who tries to protest in support of Kashmir is being detained: Sandeep Pandey

16 August, 2019

On 11 August, Sandeep Pandey, a social activist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee, was briefly put under house arrest in Lucknow, along with his wife Arundhati Dhuru, a fellow activist. Pandey said this was done to prevent them from organising a protest the same day opposing the government’s effective nullification of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The police officials deployed outside Pandey’s residence did not let the couple leave their house until 4 pm that day. However, Pandey had already postponed the protest scheduled for 11 August to 16 August.

The local administration denied that Pandey had been put under house arrest. “Why should we arrest him? There is no truth in it,” the Lucknow district magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma told the Hindustan Times. “Yes, the administration did not allow him to hold a demonstration at Gandhi statue in Hazratganj, as he had announced. They are free to stage protest at Eco Garden, which has been made the official dharna sthal”—protest grounds—“so that no inconvenience is caused to commuters.”

Pandey spoke to Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan. He said he is determined to go ahead with the 16 August demonstration. “What they have done in Kashmir is wrong,” he said. “They have not consulted with the people or any political party of that state. It is anti-democratic and they know it.”

(Update: After this interview was published, Pandey was placed under house arrest, shortly before the protest was scheduled to begin.)

Tushar Dhara: Your planned protest is today and you were apprehensive about the police placing you under house arrest again. Has this happened?
Sandeep Pandey: No. The police have not placed me under house arrest. In fact, they called me and asked how many people were turning up for our protest this evening and said the information was needed for security arrangements.

TD: Why do you think the police have reacted differently this time?
SP: They are probably embarrassed by the negative publicity they received last time. When media persons called them up for an explanation, the police denied that they had placed me under house arrest. So they probably may not attempt a repeat of those events today.

TD: Can you describe what happened on 11 August?
SP: We had planned a candlelight demonstration in Lucknow to protest the abrogation of Article 370. We sent out the invitations for the protest [on 10 August]. The police informed us that since it was Bakr-id [on 12 August] we should not go ahead with the protest. We agreed and decided to postpone it to 16 August, after Independence Day. At around 1.30 pm, I stepped out of my house and I found police waiting outside. They must have come at around 11 am, but since they did not inform us of their presence, we found out only when I stepped out. The police told me I was not allowed to step outside my home till 4 pm, despite my telling them that the protest had been called off. I asked them whether I was under house arrest. The police did not confirm, they just said “these are our instructions.”

TD: Did you ask the police or the administration which law was used to confine you?
SP: I did not ask them. But I understood that it was because of the fallout of the Jammu and Kashmir decision. The way they detained [the former chief minister] Farooq Abdullah, the government does not want anyone to express support for Jammu and Kashmir, so they are detaining anyone who tries to organise something. This is illegal. When the media asked the police about my detention, they denied that any such thing happened. This was probably a verbal order by the cops.

TD: Why did you postpone the protest?
SP: When we realised that it is Bakr-id on 12 August and the police will be deployed on law and order duty, we decided not to do it the day before. If something happened then we would have to explain why we picked a date right before Bakr-id. We decided that since Independence Day falls just a few days later, we should postpone the protest to after that. We are trying to organise a big turnout on the 16th.

TD: Why do you think the government is clamping down on democratic expression?
SP: What they have done in Kashmir is wrong. They have not consulted with the people or any political party of that state. It is anti-democratic and they know it. It is also unconstitutional since the Jammu and Kashmir assembly has been dissolved. They want to clamp down on any legitimate form of democratic expression against what they have done.

TD: What will be the consequences of the decision to read down Article 370?
SP: Instead of solving the problem by taking the people of Jammu and Kashmir into confidence, the government is imposing their own course of action, bypassing constitutional and democratic norms. Abolishing Article 370 has been on the BJP’s agenda for long, and they have done it. Article 370 gave autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, and autonomy is the soul of democracy. Other states should also be given autonomy. The Constitution empowers gram sabhas to carry out economic planning and social justice programmes in their areas. That it is not being implemented is a different thing. Even Mahatma Gandhi envisioned self-reliant villages. Autonomy is good for democracy and I wonder why they are so scared of it. The mainstream Kashmir politicians like [the former chief ministers] Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, who were with India, have also been placed under arrest. If this kind of dismemberment was done to any other state, for instance Uttar Pradesh, would the people of that state tolerate it?

TD: Do the majority of Indians support the nullification of Article 370? Is there a possibility for a mass democratic upsurge in favour of restoring the status-quo?
SP: There is not too much opposition to the government’s move and the opposition parties are also divided on the issue; that much is clear. The way the government went about implementing it is wrong and people should question this.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Editor’s note: Pandey was put under house arrest after the publication of this article. The headline was changed in light of this development.