Circular on using past protest record to deny jobs, passports risks further alienation in J&K
Police verification and security clearances for passport or government job applicants are a matter of routine in most parts of the country. In Kashmir, where the police have now issued a circular aimed at gathering details and denying security clearance to those involved in throwing stones and joining street protests in the past, the exercise may not be out of the ordinary, but it could result in serious prejudice to the aspirations of many young men and women. The circular, which asks CID Special Branch field units to ensure that any subject’s involvement in law-and-order incidents and related crimes be specifically looked into, and also to collect digital evidence from the records of police and security forces, suggests that the administration is quite serious about preventing those with a likely link to protests in the past from either entering government service or travelling abroad. Reports suggest that the official list of street protesters swelled between 2008 and 2017 to include nearly 20,000 people. On the face of it, the decision to subject applicants for passports and jobs to scrutiny is not illegal. Under Section 6(2) of the Passports Act, 1967, passports can be denied to applicants for various reasons, including their likelihood of engaging in activities prejudicial to the country’s sovereignty and integrity, or detrimental to its security. Further, those convicted in the preceding five years, or against whom proceedings are pending before any criminal court, are also candidates for refusal. There is legal recourse for those affected, as the Act allows them to approach the trial court for a ‘No Objection’ certificate to get a passport.
In the backdrop of the Union government’s outreach to revive political activity preparatory to elections, it is quite incongruous that such a far-reaching measure that would dampen the hopes and aspirations of thousands of people is being pursued. The Government’s position is that the alteration of the status of J&K in August 2019 has ushered in a new era of development and prosperity, and that it is time to strengthen grassroots democracy. It was as a part of this process that Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited leaders of the Union Territory’s political parties in June for a discussion. Despite their obvious disappointment that the restoration of statehood is likely to be considered only after polls to the Legislative Assembly, the parley did create some cautious optimism about a fresh political process. Were the administration to pursue this circular zealously, there is a danger that it may revive the sort of alienation among the youth that led to the stone-pelting incidents in 2008 and 2010, and the wave of disaffection following the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani. When all efforts should be directed towards building on current gains, nothing ought to be done to make those still harbouring, for whatever reason, a sense of betrayal feel that some fresh collective punishment is in the offing.