by Naveed Bukhtiyar
Your Excellency, I am an advocate by profession and a campaigner of transparency and accountability by conviction. I have been working on governance issues through Right to Information Act for almost 6 years. I have also been a busy student activist having founded a student union at Kashmir University to raise students’ issues peacefully and democratically. I was at the forefront of serving people during the Covid crisis as well.
Last year, in the month of September, in recognition of my efforts, I was given the Young Leadership Award 21 for social activism and RTI Activism and let me take this opportunity of reminding your Excellency that the award was given to me by you only.
I have seen years of delay, red tape and corruption in the government offices which prompted me to work towards a change in this approach towards citizens.
Your Excellency, almost a fortnight back, my friend who is an office bearer of one of the reputed mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir visited the office of a senior IPS officer to congratulate him on getting an award recently. He asked me to accompany him and I readily agreed as the officer enjoys a good public reputation. I thought it was a good opportunity to interact with him. As we walked into his office, my friend congratulated him and so did I. We sat and he was hospitable enough to offer us tea which we had.
As we were discussing informally, I told the officer that I was an RTI activist working on transparency issues. I also brought in his notice that an applicant, who had filed an RTI application with the police department seeking the details related to the funds allotted to the police stations in Kashmir, had approached me for assistance. I told the officer that the motivation for the applicant to file an RTI query was that, in 2019, he visited a police station where the concerned munshi told him to buy a ream of white paper for the police station first. I was brutally cut off by the officer. “Agar mere pass yeh application aati, to mai joote maarta aise applicant ko (Had I received such an application, I would have beaten the applicant with a shoe). You should see who is at the helm,” he roared.
While I was trying to process how someone who was so well behaved minutes back could turn so loud and aggressive, he yelled: “Pehli baar koi saaf shifaf afsar yaahn aaya hai (It’s for the first time that an honest officer is sitting here). Jo tum chai pee rahe ho, yeh mai apne paise se pila raha hoon (The tea that you are having is paid for by me). Show me any other district jahaa pe koi daaku– dacoit – nahin hai.”
Shell-shocked, I asked myself how everyone else except this gentleman in the department could be dishonest and corrupt, or a daaku as he put it, and yet the department was functioning in a commendable manner. For a few seconds, faces of many wonderful and professional police officers whose integrity I can vouch for flashed before me.
As I tried to reason with the officer that I wasn’t leveling any allegations against him and that I was just making a point that we needed transparency in every government department including police, his tone turned harsher. “Revenue mein RTI karo (Go and file RTI in the Revenue Department). Humen mat u**gli karo (Don’t mess with us),” he yelled. And then came a chilling threat: “I will book you under PSA and send you to Jaipur.”
For a few moments, I was motionless, not knowing what to say or do. I felt I was transported to pre-independence India and I was a brown Indian in the darbar of a white sahib who had every right to humiliate me, yell at me and threaten me. As he continued to say great things about himself and denigrating his contemporaries, I stood up and took his leave before pulling some courage and telling him that I didn’t subscribe to his way of thinking.
Later, my friend who had taken me to him was told that it was because of him that I was allowed to leave, otherwise he would’ve ruined my life.
What is more painful than the treatment I got is the plight of an underprivileged common Kashmiri before such officers. I was his guest, wearing my black uniform, affiliated to a respectable newspaper and yet subjected to distress and humiliation. He didn’t even hesitate from telling me that he had the power to send me to jail on a whim.
I must bring in your notice, Excellency, that a few days before meeting the officer I got in touch with another IPS officer, senior in rank to him, and he was so courteous. When I asked for a quote, he politely told me that he could not come on record because of service rules.
On the contrary, the power-drunk attitude of the officer who humiliated and threatened me in his office gave me a feeling that I was living in a colony where I had to obey my master.
The officer seems totally against the idea of democratic intuitions and ideals. All these years, because of my work, I have met many officials and some of them became good friends. We do disagree at times and have heated arguments on issues but I have never faced any threat before because of a disagreement.
In 2019, a senior officer of the rank of IG appreciated me and my friends for asking questions. I remember his words: “Much has changed in Kashmir. It’s good to see youth asking questions about what their tax money is spent on.” Those were such encouraging and motivating words.
Excellency, I had to thoroughly think it through before writing to you because someone who can threaten in broad day light for no valid reason can execute his threat as well but I still went ahead because my dream of seeing Kashmir that holds aloft democratic values is bigger than my fear.
Excellency, we often hear about ‘Naya Kashmir’; I’m sure this isn’t the ‘Naya Kashmir’ that you talk about.