The Shiv Sena on Thursday backed writer Mehak Mirza Prabhu, who had displayed a “Free Kashmir” placard during a protest at the Gateway of India in Mumbai earlier this week.
“A Mumbaikar Marathi woman could understand the pain of Kashmiris,” the party said in an editorial in its mouthpiece Saamana. “The Opposition feels this is sedition. There can’t be a dirtier example of irresponsibility. If the Opposition and its supporters feel expressing yourself fearlessly is sedition, it is not good for them [Opposition] and the country. The Opposition has fallen flat on its face after the woman’s clarification.”
Prabhu was among hundreds of Mumbai residents who participated in the “Occupy Gateway” protest on the pavements near the monument to condemn the violent attack on students of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on Sunday night. Prabhu’s placard irked several people, including Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Karnataka MP Tejasvi Surya. Fadnavis asked Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray how he could “tolerate” such an “anti-India campaign” right under his nose.
In response to this, the Sena editorial said the “allegation was so frivolous that the Opposition leaders made a mockery of themselves”.
On Tuesday, Shiv Sena minister Aaditya Thackeray had said that it was important to understand Prabhu’s intent. “Apart from that incident, [we need to] look at larger picture... we need to see her intent,” he added. “Was it to remove internet blockade? If it was to free Kashmir from India, then it is wrong. Obviously everyone condemned it... not even other protesters supported it.”
These statements, however, came even as the Mumbai Police said they would investigate Prabhu. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Tuesday said the police would take legal action against the writer for the placard. Deshmukh is a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, which is in alliance in the state along with the Shiv Sena and the Congress.
After the placard triggered opposition, Prabhu addressed the misinformation spread about her on social media on Tuesday. In a video, she said the demonstrators had gathered to not only protest against the JNU violence, but also to speak in defence of the right to enjoy freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
“Right now, because of the internet shutdown in Kashmir since the last five months, people of Kashmir do not have that right,” she said. “If we believe Kashmiris are like us [Indians], we should also treat them in a befitting manner. They should get the basic rights we are getting. They should have the freedom to express themselves. And that is why I picked up the placard.”
Jammu and Kashmir has not had internet services since August, when the Centre scrapped its special constitutional status and split it into two Union territories. SMS services and other forms of communications were also stopped on August 5. Some services have since returned but several restrictions are still in place. The Centre, apart from imposing a lockdown in the erstwhile state, also put mainstream political leaders such as National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti – all former chief ministers – under house arrest. They have not yet been released.