The word “House Arrest” has now become a part of the vocabulary in Kashmir. Almost every second day one hears about one or the other leader being placed under house arrest. For one person namely Syed Ali Shah Geelani it has become part of daily routine. One wonders whether he has spent any totally free days during last few years. There can be no other clever and very subtle way of curtailing one’s basic freedoms than to put a person in his own home asa prisoner totally cut off from the outside world. Neither the person can come out norcan anyone go in to meet him. This is the latest “SOP” (Standard Operating Procedure) invented by the security authorities fully endorsed by their political bosses. If a person is formally arrested under one or the other draconian laws presently available to the authorities for curtailing individual freedoms, he becomes a prisoner and has to be put in some jail within the state or outside. Once there is a political prisoner, media comes in to publicise the event and many organisation raise their voices against the curtailment of individual’s freedom such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and so on. Detention for political reasons for a long period may even make that person a prisoner of conscience. This happened in case of Shabir Shah who spent almost 22 years in prison and was popularly called during those early days, the Nelson Mandela of Kashmir.
The other leaders of the movement for “Azadi” like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan, too have been imprisoned in their own homes from time to time. Some of them have also under gone long terms of imprisonment in regular jails within the state and outside. The formal detention or imprisonment is resorted by the government as a last resort. They probably feel that detaining a person in his own home does not generate such resentment as outright arrest would do. The plea often given is that this step is being taken to prevent any violence and disturbance which the free movement of the house arrested person may create if he is allowed to move around and address various congregations. The authorities can claim that they have not arrested any of the political leaders in spite of their treasonable and rebellious views and utterances. They also claim that these leaders have total freedom of speech and expression. The only catch is that they are totally free to speak to the walls of their own homes! The most these people can do from their homes is to issue calls for shut-down which too favours the authorities as it causes economic loss to common people and they get soon fed up.
Kashmir’s peculiar situation has given rise to many unique procedures for the maintenance of the so called “law and order”. The most famous in the recent times is the “undeclared” curfew. Curfew like restrictions are placed in entire valley or selected towns and the whole population is virtually imprisoned in their own homes but no magisterial orders are issued for the imposition of a formal curfew. The only announcement made formally is that strict restrictions on movement have been placed in different areas. No curfew passes can be issued as no formal curfew is imposed by a magistrate as required under the law. There are many other very subtle and hidden measures not part of any statute book which the authorities take to curtail the basic freedom. These inventions and innovations have come straight from the persons having a Kautilyan bent of mind.
One often hears about various discourses within the state or outside regarding the missing persons, the mass graves, and the scores of political prisoners under detention for decades now. However, there is hardly any mention about people under continuous house arrest. There is urgent need to bring up a discourse on this unique punishment of “House Arrest”. Even if the person stays in his own home with the family yet for all practical purposes he is a prisoner. Sometimes, the entire population gets imprisoned but they have a hope that the restrictions would be lifted sooner or later but the “House Arrested” persons continue to be imprisoned sometimes for months on! This not only generates extreme alienation and resentment but also hardens the particular stances the person may be having. The authorities in Delhi are either totally hypocritical or they want to frustrate and discredit the leadership other than the mainstream one. On one hand they talk of negotiations and democratic means for solving the Kashmir problem while on the other they ensure that the local leadership is totally stonewalled by either being imprisoned in their own homes or they are denied every opportunity of public expression of their ideas and programmes in peaceful democratic way. Interestingly, these days the mainstream leaders in view of the forthcoming elections, are loudly saying more than what the people imprisoned in their own homes are saying! Somebody ought to take notice of this Machiavellian strategy within India as well as abroad! However, one has to bell the cat locally and internationally! This can be done by the local media and the civil society if they feel it worthwhile.