Shock, anger and disbelief gripped Kashmir after the authorities "banned" the annual Pandit Rughonath Vaishnavi annual talk by the renowned author Mridu Rai in a hotel in Srinagar on Wednesday.
Professor Mridu Rai, an eminent academician and author of, 'Hindu rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir' was scheduled to deliver a lecture on 'Languages of Violence, Languages of Justice: the State and Insurgent Kashmir' in a local hotel on Wednesday afternoon here.
However, the government allegedly threatened action against the hotel if they allowed the event to proceed. Later the organisers addressed a press conference which was followed by the lecture at the office of J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), which had organised the lecture along with other civil society members and groups.
Khurram Parvez, coordinator of JKCCS, said despite the government's attempts to stifle her voice, Mridu Rai addressed a limited audience. While delivering the hour-long talk, Prof Rai said, "I will never be silent".
Parvez said they had booked the hotel 15 days ago and all arrangements had been finalised for the talk. "But last (Tuesday) night police had gone to the hotel and asked them not to allow the programme. They had specifically told them to ask for permission (from government). They had even threatened to seal the hotel if the lecture is permitted," said Khurram.
Organisers claim that under the law, there is no requirement for permission for holding such an event at a private venue. "This ban is consistent with the government's policy of disallowing academic, cultural and political activity in Jammu and Kashmir. The state has consistently sought to choke all political spaces of dissent," said Parvez.
Later the organisers shifted the venue to their small office as an act of defiance against "suppressing the freedom of expression". "Our aim of organising the talk was to show that we will not be cowed down. We will not surrender and give our freedom because government is threatening us," said Parvez.
District collector of Srinagar Farooq Ahmad Shah said he has no information. "I do not have any details," he said.
The incident has taken political overtones with main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) accusing Omar Abdullah government of bringing disrepute the place it governs.
"It (banning the event) is out-rightly insane, undemocratic and dictatorial. Unfortunately the present government has stamped out all channels of dissent and now it has blocked even spaces for intellectual and academic activity which will be resisted effectively," said Naeem Akhtar, chief spokesperson of PDP.