In a rare state interference, the police on Wednesday disallowed an academic programme in Srinagar where the professor, Dr Mridu Rai, who teaches at Trinity College Dublin, was scheduled to deliver a lecture, by invoking Section 144, which bans assembly of more than four people.
“This is appalling that my voice was silenced along side with other speakers. It’s ludicrous. An academic lecture does not fall under Section 144. It was a simple conversation with people here,” said Rai.
Her book ‘Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir’ created a major stir among academic circles in 2004 here and remains a widely debated and quoted book in the valley.
“If people like us are not allowed...it is a tragedy. My lecture indeed was referring to the fact how the greater violence is to ensure that voices are not heard, which in fact happened today,” said Rai.
The police on Tuesday evening swooped on the venue at Grand Mumtaz Hotel and asked the managers not to allow the function.
“We were threatened by sub district police officer (SDPO) Sheikh Faisal Qayoom (Kothi Bagh police station) to seal the hotel in case we went ahead with the programme,” said Pervez Imroz, convenor of the valley’s well-known human rights body Coalition of Civil Society (CCS).
Rai was scheduled to deliver a lecture on ‘Languages of violence, languages of justice: the state and insurgent Kashmir at around 2 pm at the hotel. The lecture was organised as part of Pandit Rughonath Vaishnavi Annual Talk by the CCS.
Later, the CCS organised a press conference at its office in Srinagar on the issue.
“Vaishnavi has fought for political rights of Kashmir along with forefathers of chief minister Omar Abdullah. This talk was a tribute to the work of this unsung hero,” said Imroz.
Imroz, a lawyer by profession, said a hotel does not fall under public place category. “It was a commemoration lecture to discuss about a person who fought for people’s political rights since 1930s...We condemn this culture of imposing restrictions on such spaces,” he added.
Vaishnavi’s daughter Dr Poornima Bhan, who was present on the occasion, said, “It would have been great if it was allowed.”
When contacted, deputy commissioner Farooq Shah told the Hindustan Times that function organised by NGOs and other have to seek permission from the authorities.
“Let them approach to us for a permission. We will see if it may cause any law and order problem,” said Shah.
Opposition Peoples Democratic Party has also condemned the state government’s move not to allow the academic lecture.
“It is outrightly silly and condemnable. The government cannot target or disallow intellectual activity. It’s trying to squeeze the space where otherwise efforts are requiered to open up the same,” said PDP spokesman and MLC Naeem Akhtar.
There is a history where the authorities stopped activities of renowned human rights champions in the valley but it was for the first time an academic lecture was disallowed.