NEW DELHI: In a discussion held at the India International Centre to review the last three years of the Modi Government, a three member panel moderated by Sukumar Murlidharan presented their views on the topic of ‘Militarisation and the Suppression of Dissent’. The panel consisted of political analyst Achin Vanaik, former Director General of BSF EN Rammohan, and legal and social activist Warisha Farasat.

Establishing a link between growing militarism and an increasing erosion of democracy, Vanaik stated that he will “telegraphically” present nine concise points that deconstruct this link between militarism and the rise of hindutva nationalism in the country. “The erosion of democracy begins as soon as the state allows for the army to become a legitimate tool of administration. It only increases when the army sees the enemy within the nation itself; when the threat is an internal one.” said Vanaik, addressing the Kashmir conflict and the persecution of the muslim population in Kashmir. Terrorism, he continued, has become the most convenient justification for this militarisation and brings forth the undermining of the democratic rights of a minority such as the Kashmiri muslims.

The rise of Hindutva politics through outfits such as the Sangh Parivar was cited by Vanaik as source of merging nationalism and subsequent militarisation with religion. “One you sacralise nationalism, any sort of critique or dissent is not only considered anti-national and anti-patriotic, but also blasphemous. He suggested that both religion and nationalism demand absolute loyalty from its followers. There is no space for any divergence from these absolutist principles and dissent not tolerated.

Comparing the current Indian context with the US, Vanaik said that “he feels terrible saying good things about the US”, but at least the first amendment of the US constitution allows for people like the American Rapper Snoop Dogg to say: “I don’t want a dead president. I want a president dead.” Defending free speech while simultaneously quoting American rappers, Vanaik eloquently delivered the hard hitting reality of contemporary Indian nationalism and its essentialist claims, which he described as “profoundly dangerous” because “the essence of this nationalism is attributed to a majority”. He concluded that for democracy to thrive, minorities need to be actively included in, and protected by the democratic state.

“I will speak from my own experiences that I have gained while on the ground.” said E. N. Rammohan former Director General of BSF, taking over the podium from Vanaik. He relayed his experience of Kashmir in 1993 in the height of insurgency. “The situation was worse than it is today when I was stationed there in 1993.” At the time, around forty battalions of BSF were deployed in Kashmir and the unwritten order given to these forces was “don’t take anyone alive.” In Srinagar, all Army and BSF personnel had “their own camps full of arrested people.” Rammohan said that this practice was not only unlawful, but it was in these camps that “Kashmiris would be held for some fifteen to twenty days, often tortured and then released at the whim of this personnel.” At this point, Rammohan explained that according to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, any arrested individual is to be handed over to the nearest police station with the least possible delay. These people never saw the inside of a police station or a courtroom after being arrested.

Rammohan concluded by emphasizing on the fact that human rights violations have been regularly covered up by the state forces. Rhetorically he then asked the audience, “why wouldn’t people rise up against? Especially when all they feel when they see you is fear.”

The event was organised by the Idea of India Collective, a conglomerate of individuals and organisations.