AGAINST the backdrop of recent news of the closure of Amnesty International’s operations in India, the larger criminalization of dissent, and record-long censorship of voices in Kashmir — one is taken back to the period of Samizdatwritings in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Samizdat, which emerged as a literary revolt against heavy censorship of press involved writing, publishing and circulating secretive and dissident literature critical of the state apparatus’ repressive measures.
Despite having suffered immensely and losing the steam for a little while, the movement nevertheless survived the punitive pressures and continued to flourish in Communist Russia. Yet, even in the present times India and Russia seem to have a lot in common when it comes to populist culture and intolerance to dissent. While Russia is furthering and strengthening its tradition of reprisals, India is upping its game along the same line too. No wonder, India has become the second country after Russia and the first ever democratic country where Amnesty International was forced to close down its operations.
Closer home, for Kashmir, where the space for furnishing truths and portraying the miseries has already shrunk, the news of Amnesty International’s elimination has only added up to the unprecedented list of traumas.
Looking at its general service and reach-out, the organisation is functional in over seventy countries but has run into conflicts with only a few like Israel and China, which have a dismal record of Human Rights abuses.
Although it has been facing the administration’s wrath since 2018, which has been raiding its office on one pretext or the other; its activism on the unfortunate series of events that shook the political landscape of India has dunked it into trouble. From its continual warnings of the impending humanitarian crises post CAA and NCR; its statement on the complicity of police in the recent Delhi riots; and its statistics regarding the highest number of health-workers’ deaths during the Pandemic — the organisation has lately unravelled too much of truth to be manipulated/digested by the current regime.
For Kashmir, with repeated toppling of India from World Press Freedom Index and the consequent strangulation on local media, the organisation’s shut down means a further deepening of the void created by information blockade. From raising the cry for the disappeared to repeatedly campaigning against the draconian laws and the unbridled impunity of the Armed Forces under AFSPA, Amnesty has been reporting Human Rights violations in a space where enforced silence on the local media rules the roost. On the other end, with its reportage on Human Rights abuses, it has been performing the service of countering, to some extent, the jingoistic narrative peddled religiously by national media with respect to Kashmir in particular, and India in general.
Although the organisation’s ouster serves as a clear marker of the present regime’s extreme intolerance towards hard truths, earlier regimes have been far from fair in their approach of engaging with Human Rights issues reported by this organisation or any other in case of Kashmir. Most of the earlier reports and data on the subject were used to caricature Kashmir issue into a mere Human Rights problem devoid of any political context. In other words, a phase where Human Rights violations were nevertheless recognised as a problem, albeit problematically, is replaced by another where the mechanism for cataloguing the casualties stands annihilated itself.
Particularly with respect to Kashmir, the organisation has always been treading a bumpy road. With its reports on Human Rights abuses in the valley getting discredited, the organisation has been hounded for long now. In fact, last year, it was banned from releasing its report on Kashmir which engaged with the use and abuse of PSA (Public Safety Act) against Kashmiris.
Although its subversion does resound a death knell for already impoverished Indian institutions and civil society, it translates into further infantalization and complete loss of voice for the minorities who are at crossroads in India.
Inauspicious, as the move is for Kashmir in specific, or India at large, the vacuum left by its forced elimination raises a volley of grave concerns and questions in the face of its normal functioning in the countries touted as failures and graveyards of democracy in the larger political imagination. The fact that the organisation continues to amplify the voices and Human Rights abuses from the tumultuous landscapes of Afghanistan to the Occupied Territories of Palestine puts the entire discourse of multiculturalism, secularism and democracy which India prides itself on to a naught.