Life, Liberty and Kashmir

I was going to write about history of banking today but because the blockade is still continuing in Kashmir, I am forced to write my opinions on it and clear at least some ideas and myths various people have about Kashmir. Before I start though, I hope the Goa Debian Utsav was good. While I haven’t seen any reports, I hope it went well. Frankly, I was in two minds whether I should apply for the Debutsav in Goa or not. While there is a possibility that I could have applied and perhaps even got the traveling sponsorship, I was unsure as to what to tell the students. With recovery of the economy in India at least 6 quarters away if not more, it would have been difficult for me to justify to the students as to how to look for careers in I.T. when salaries of most professionals have been stagnant, lowered and even retention happening in Pune, Bangalore and other places it would have been difficult to say that.

Anyways, this would be a long one. I would like to start with a lawsuit filed in Kerala which was shared and the judgement which was given which at least in my view was a progressive decision. The case I am reciting is ”Right To Access Internet Is Part Of Right To Privacy And Right To Education‘ which was given by Kerala HC recently. The judgement of the case is at https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-364655.pdf which I reproduce below as well.

So let us try to figure out what the suit/case was all about and how it involves the larger question of communication blockades and other things in Kashmir. The case involves a woman student of 18 years of age, a Faheema shirin (Petitioner) who came to Kerala for higher studies (B.Ed) at an institute called Narayanguru College located in Kozhikhode District. Incidentally, I have been fortunate to visit Kerala and Khozikhode District and they are beautiful places but we can have that conversation some other day. Now apparently, she was expelled from the college hostel for using the mobile phone during study time. The College is affiliated to University of Calicut. Now according to statements from the hostel matron, the petitioner and others, it became clear that inmates of the hostel were not allowed to use mobile phones from 10 p.m. to 6.a.m. -i.e. 22:00 hrs. to 0600 hrs. Apparently, this rule was changed to 1800 hrs – 2000 hrs. arbitrarily. The petitioner’s house is 150 kms. from the place. When she said it is not possible to follow the rules because of the subjects she was studying as well as she needed to connect to home anytime she wanted or her father or relatives may feel to call her or in case of any help. She alleged discrimination as these rules were only made for the girl’s hostel and not for the boy’s hostel. I had also seen and felt the same but as shared that’s for another day altogether.

The petitioner invoked the Conventions on Eliminations of all forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979, the Beijing Declaration and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which GOI is a signatory and hence had to abide by its rules. She further contended that her education depended on her using digital technology with access to web as given in her textbook. She needed to scan the QR codes in various places in her textbooks and use the link given therein to see videos, animations etc. on a digital platform called swayam. Incidentally, it seems swayam runs on closed source software as shared by SFLC.in on their website. Now if it is closed, commercial software than most probably the only the content can be viewed is via streaming rather than downloading, going offline and seeing it as that would attract provisions of the IT ACT and perhaps would constitute piracy. While this point was not argued, it seemed pertinent for me to point out as few people on social media have asked about. In several such cases it is either impossible or you have to be an expert in order to manipulate and download such data (like Snowdem did) but then that’s again a story for another day. Interestingly, the father in the case above was also in the favor of the girl using mobile phone for whatever purpose as he trusts her implicitly and she is adult enough to make her own life choices.

Thankfully, the petitioner had presence of mine throughout the journey that she did all her correspondence through letters instead of orally and had documentary evidence to back up all her claims. The State Govt. of Kerala has been on the forefront of digital technology for a long while and me and many of my friends have been both witness and played our small parts in whichever way to see Kerala become an IT hub. While they still do need to do a lot more but that again is a story for another day. While there was lot of back and forth between her, the hostel authorities, the father and the hostel authorities, she, her father, the hostel authorities and the college but they were unable to resolve the issues amicably. Her grounds for the fight were –

a. She is an adult and of rational mind so she can make decisions on her own.
b. She has right of privacy ( as shared by the Honorable Supreme Court in its 2017 landmark judgement)
c. She needs the mobile and the laptop for studying as her studies demand her using Internet.
d. She also relied and used the budget speech made by Minister of Finance and State Government for making internet accessible to all citizens and recognizing the right to Internet as a human right.
e. Her violation to right of property under Article 300 A.

In order to further bolster her case, through her lawyers she cited further judgements and studies which show how women are disadvantaged to Internet access, in particular she cited a UNESCO study which tells the same.

The judge, Honorable Jutice P.V. Asha guided herself with the arguments and counter-arguments by both parties, she also delved into Calicut University First Ordinances under which the University, the college and the hostel come in to see how thngs fare there. She had also asked the respondent that by using Internet has she or any other student in the hostel ever caused disturbance to any of the other inmates to which the reply was negative. The Judge also determined that if a miuse of a mobile phone or laptop has to happen, it can happen any time, anywhere and you cannot and should not control adult behavior especially when it collides with dignity and freedom of an adult. The learned counsel for the petitioner also shared resolution 23/2 in the UN General Assembly held on 24th June 2013 which talks of freedom of expression and opinion for women’s empowerment to which India is a signatory. There is also resolution 20/8 of 5th July 2012 which also underscores the point. Both the portions of the resolution can be found on page 18 of the judgement. The judge also cited few other judgements which were pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioner, the Vishaka Judgement (1997) , the Beijing Statement and several other cases and judgement which showed how women are discriminated against under society. In the end she set aside the expulsion citing various judgements and her rationale for the same and asked the matron to take the student back and also asked the student to not humiliate the teacher or warden and she be allowed to use phone in any way she feels fit as far as she doesn’t create any disturbance to other students.

Observations – It opens up several questions which are part of society’s issues even today and probably for sometime.

a. I have been part of quite a few workshops where while I was supposed to share about GNU/Linux, more often than not I ended up sharing about how to use web access rather than advanced technologies. In this I found women to be more backward and take more time to understand and use the concepts than men. Whether it is due to just access issues or larger societal reasons ( the hidden alleged misuse of web) I just don’t know. While I do wish we could do more I don’t have any solutions.

b. As correctly pointed by Honorable Justice Asha, if a women who is pursuing B.Ed. it would harm the career of the young woman. I would opine and put one step more, wouldn’t it also be endangering her proteges, her students from getting a better teacher who is able to guide her students to the best of her ability. As we all know, rightly or wrongly almost all information is available on the net. The role of the teacher or guide is not to show information but probably more as to how to inquire and interpret information in different ways.

Kashmir

In light of the above judgement would not the same principles apply to Kashmir. There are two points shared by various people who are in favor of the lockdown. The first is National Security, National Interest and the second is Kashmiri Pandits. Let us take them one by one –

a. National Interest or/and National Security – I find this reason porous on many grounds. This Govt. is ruled by one of the richest political parties that India ever has. Without divulging further, there is such a huge range of hardware and software for the Government to surveil. With AFSA in-place and all sorts of technologies available off-the-shelf to surveil on residents that argument looks weak. Further, the Minister’s statement tells that the issue is not security of the state but something else. Of course the majoratian view is that they deserve it because they are muslims. If this is not hate, I dunno what is. A person on twitter did a social experiment where a daughter and a mother had the same conflict. The daughter’s view is that it is not right, the mother’s view being the opposite. The daughter disallowed the mother any contact with her, her husband and her daughter for 2 weeks, the mother was in tears. Then how can you think of people being blocked for 2 months.

Another variation of the argument is that militants will come and kill. Now I find it hard to believe that even after having half a million soldiers in the valley they still feel miitants can do something and they cannot. I find it a little hard to digest. There has been news now that the Taliban are involved. If this is true then they have troubled U.S. also, so if one of the most powerful armies on the earth can be stale-mated for what 19 years, are we going to put Kashmiris in lockdown for 19 years ? In fact the prejudcial face can be seen even more at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXWZnnD6JFY-

Kashmiri Pandits – There is no doubt that there was a mass exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. Nobody disputes that. But just like the process followed in NRC, whether rightly or wrongly couldn’t the Kashmiri Pandits be sent back home. I would argue this is the best time. You have a huge contigent of forces in the valley, you can start the process, get the documents, get them back into the valley, otherwise this will continue to be something like Palestine is in Israel which has continued to an issue for both Israelis and Palestinians with no end in sight. The idea that Pakistan will not harass or do something in Kashmir in fool’s paradise. They have been doing it since 90’s, for that to have a huge population blocked from communicating is nothing but harassment. And hate will never get you anywhere. While this is more greyer than I am making it out, feel free to read this interview as well as the series called The Family Man which I found to be pretty truthful as to the greyishness of the situation out there. While most of the mainstream media gave it an average score, I found it thought-provoking. The fact is mainstream media in India no longer questions the Government excesses. Some people do and they are often targeted. I do hope to share the banking scenario and a sort of mini-banking crisis soon. Till later.

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