US author’s lecture stopped in Srinagar

SRINAGAR – The security agencies disallowed an academic programme in Srinagar where Professor Dr Mridu Rai – a US-based academician who teaches at the Trinity College Dublin – was scheduled to deliver a lecture, by invoking Section 144, which bans assembly of more than four people, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported on Thursday.

“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 whose 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 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 swooped on the venue at Grand Mumtaz Hotel and asked the managers not to allow the function, the Indian newspaper reported.

“We were threatened by a sub district police officer (Kothi Bagh police station) to seal the hotel in case we went ahead with the programme,” said Pervez Imroz, convener of the Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), a well-known human rights body. Rai was scheduled to deliver a lecture on ‘Languages of violence, languages of justice: the state and insurgent Kashmir at around 2pm 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, a lawyer by profession. A hotel does not fall under public place category, he said.

“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. Dr Poornima Bhan, Vaishnavi’s daughter who was present on the occasion, said that it would have been great if it was allowed. The People’s Democratic Party has also condemned the state government’s move not to allow the academic lecture.

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