New Delhi, August 28 (India Today/The Hindu): Former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Kannan Gopinathan on Tuesday rejected the Central government’s claim that the ongoing clampdown in Kashmir is meant to prevent deaths due to violent reprisals, saying that life holds no meaning to a human being without the right to liberty.
“Life and liberty go together, and that’s the beauty of a constitutional democracy. If they say that they will put you in jail to save your life, would that be acceptable to you? You can argue something like that for a certain period, yes, but this has been going on for three weeks now,” he told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
The 33-year-old bureaucrat had quit the administrative service on August 21 to protest what he claimed was the denial of fundamental rights to lakhs of people in Jammu and Kashmir. “It’s not like my resignation will cause even a flutter, but one has one’s own conscience to answer to,” he had said then.
Jammu and Kashmir was placed under lockdown as a “precautionary measure” earlier this month, when the centre took the surprise step of scrapping the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating it into two distinct union territories. It also placed many of its political leaders, including another former IAS officer Shah Faesal, under arrest.
Mr Gopinathan said he empathised with the people of Jammu and Kashmir even though he was not personally affected by the government’s clampdown. “Should something affect you personally for you to take a decision?” he asked. “My other question is: when freedom is being curtailed in your own country, when people aren’t being allowed to express themselves freely, shouldn’t it affect you?”
The former IAS officer said that while taking a decision like revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood was the government’s legitimate right, people should also have the right to react in a democracy. “The government takes a decision and then shuts down the reaction to that decision, saying that it could be violent… it’s an argument that can be used anywhere,” he added.
Gopinathan said journalists should have played a more proactive role in denouncing the Kashmir shutdown. “The media, which is supposed to advocate liberty and freedom of speech, should have said that they must be allowed to speak freely. Whether the government listens to the media is a different matter altogether,” he added.
Gopinathan did not elaborate on whether he would follow Shah Faesal’s example and join politics. “Now that I have quit the service, I would like to earn a livelihood by connecting with the public in whichever small way. If I can do that by working at the grassroots level, it would be good. I have not thought beyond that,” he said.
Kannan Gopinathan from the AGMUT cadre, who came into the limelight for his anonymous participation in the flood relief efforts in Kerala last year, has resigned from service. The officer, who has been serving as the secretary of the power, urban development and town and country planning departments of the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli sent his resignation to the Union Home Secretary on August 21
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr.Gopinathan who joined the service in 2012, said that he has taken the decision because he wants his freedom of expression back.
“Over the past few days, I have been really perturbed by what is happening in the country, wherein a large section of our population have had their fundamental rights suspended. There has been a lack of response to it. We seem to be perfectly fine with it. I also see in some small ways how I am also a part of it. I think if I had a newspaper, the only thing I would be printing on the front page would be ‘19’ on the front page, because today is the nineteenth day,” he says.
He hinted at how there has been no response even from within the service to the detaining of former civil servant Shah Faesal, who was the first Kashmiri to secure first in the civil services examination.
“We got into the service thinking that we can provide voice to people, but then we ended up with our own voice being taken away from us. In a democracy, let’s say Hong Kong or any other democracy, if the Government takes a decision, that is their right. But the response to that decision is the people’s right. Here, we have taken a decision and then we have detained everybody. They are not even allowed to respond to that decision. That is dangerous,” he says.
As for his future course of action, he still has not decided anything, as he is still awaiting for a response from the authorities to his resignation.
“I’ve not thought about it at all. I just know that this is not right and I dont want to be in it. That much I am sure of,” says Mr.Gopinathan.
Hailing from Kottayam, he completed his schooling from Puthuppally, and later completed electrical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology. During the unprecedented floods that hit Kerala in 2018, he actively participated in the relief efforts at Chengannur. He had kept his identity a secret until, a fellow officer identified him.