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J&K Govt Employees Are Quitting Social Media Amid Intense Crackdown

'Nobody dares to take a risk and post anything against the government,' says a senior employee.

Published
India
6 min read
J&K Govt Employees Are Quitting Social Media Amid Intense Crackdown
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“Whenever I see the news about the termination of government employees in Jammu & Kashmir, I search for my name in the list. Following a spate of terminations, I am counting my days,” said Shabir Ahmad (name changed) a gazetted rank officer posted in the government’s higher education department.

Since the Central government led by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) abrogated Article 370 in August 2019, a number of employees were sacked without a fair probe in the “interest of the state” under Article 311 (2) (c) of the Constitution.

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'Submit Details Before Salary'

Amid the terminations in March this year, the Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha-led administration asked its new employees to submit details of their social media accounts for police verification, compelling the current employees to either deactivate their social media accounts or hide their social media presence.

The new recruits were asked to submit details about their social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – before a salary or allowance is paid to them.

In April this year, LG Sinha formed a Special Task Force (STF) to bring under the scanner government employees allegedly involved in ‘anti-national’ activity.

Since then, many employees in the region have been receiving ‘verification calls’ from the police and are living in fear of losing their jobs.

For example, Ahmad, in his 30s, claimed to have been called twice for police verification, making him fearful of losing his job. “Gone are the days when I used to have vibrant political discussions with my friends on our WhatsApp groups. These days, the conversations in the groups are confined to only fun. My Facebook account has also turned mute and I hardly post anything on it,” said the young officer.

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Govt Is the Largest Employer in J&K

Similarly, the termination of employees forced a government school teacher based in south Kashmir to delete his 10-year-old Twitter account. He said:

“The climate of fear is such that in September this year, I decided to delete my Twitter account. I feared that I may be followed by people who write against the government or I may be tempted to like or retweet tweets against the government. With a heavy heart, I decided to stay away from social media completely."

Given the lack of a robust private sector in Jammu & Kashmir, the government is the largest employer, with about 4,50,000 people on its rolls.

Following the tightening scrutiny and surveillance, a number of daily wagers and contractual, non-gazetted and gazetted rank employees in the government sector have either disappeared from social media or created new accounts for the sole purpose of keeping themselves updated with news and information.

“In order to be on the safer side, one of my colleagues recently deactivated his years-old Facebook account to stay out of trouble. He created a new account with the intention to remove all posts, comments, reactions against the state on his previous account. He feared that his old account may cost his job,” said a former employee, who worked at the office of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations Kashmir.

Mohammad Rehan (name changed), 42, who is working at the Department of Revenue, said ever since the government started dismissing government employees, he has observed a drastic change on social media. “No one is posting anything on their social media spaces. Forget posting anything, employees even hesitate to like or comment over a simple post,” he said.

He added that some employees have left social media, while those who still use it are exercising extreme caution.

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'Share Only Official Orders to Avoid Risks'

A senior government employee who is currently posted in Srinagar said the use of social media for government employees is limited to news and entertainment. He added:

“No employee dares to take risks and write anything against the government, its policies and actions. The employee knows that if journalists, lawyers and rights activists are not spared, how can someone in the government sector enjoy free space? Many are even scared that following their terminations, they can be booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or the Public Safety Act.”

Tahir Ahmad (name changed), who works with the Jammu & Kashmir public works department, said that the government is not accepting any sort of criticism. Due to that, he is only sharing government orders on social media. “To be in the good books of the government, I am sharing only official orders on my social media accounts. I have realised that even minor criticism can cause an employee a transfer, suspension, or an explanation and an attachment order can be issued against them.”

The deep scrutiny and termination of employees are being seen by many, including the former employees’ union leaders of Kashmir, as part of a ‘bigger crackdown’ to muzzle dissent.

Former state general secretary for Employees Joint Action Committee, Farooq Ahmad Trali, 65, said, “Every citizen, including the employees, can write anything under the domain of right to freedom of speech and expression. Sadly, ever since the government of India abrogated Article 370, the genuine voices of employees have been muzzled. It is unethical and also unconstitutional that the government is acting against those employees who are reacting to government policies or government actions.”

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A Slew of Govt Orders for Workers

J&K Peoples Conference leader and former chairman of the Employees Joint Action Committee, Khurshed Alam, termed the government action of scrutinising and terminating employees as arbitrary. “The action against employees is unprecedented and I have never seen such a situation before. Within the framework of the Constitution and civil service rules, an employee can express his opinion or viewpoint because we live in a democratic state, not a colonial state,” said Alam.

He added that in his 15-year-long tenure as chairman of the Employees Joint Action Committee, he, along with other leaders, had openly criticised the government and its policies. “Sacking employees without giving them a chance to defend is unethical and unconstitutional. It is unfair to sack employees without issuing any explanation to them or without holding a fair trial. I firmly believe that when the government fights against its own staff, it will weaken the whole government mechanism.”

The government scrutiny and sackings come at a time when government jobs, once reserved for locals under the now-stripped special constitutional status, are now open to outsiders.

In October 2020, the J&K government had amended Article 226(2) of the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations for a provision to retire at any time any government employee after he has completed 22 years of service or attained 48 years of age.

In February, the J&K government issued an “urgent” order, asking Deputy Commissioners of ten districts in the Valley to submit details of all employees who will complete 22 years of service or attain the age of 48 by December 2021.

Eight months later, in September, the J&K government issued another order directing periodic verification of character and antecedents of the government employees.

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Periodic Checks, Scrutiny

According to an order issued by General Administration Department (GAD), every government employee is mandatorily required to maintain absolute integrity, honesty and allegiance to the Union of India and its Constitution and do nothing that is unbecoming of a Government servant. “Involvement in any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism, subversion, sedition/secession, facilitating foreign interference, incitement to violence or any other unconstitutional act are some of the aspects that will be looked at during the periodic checks.”

In a separate order, the government made “vigilance clearance” mandatory for its employees to acquire a passport.

The repeated orders for employees have also caused anxiety among youth aspiring to get jobs in the government sector.

Srinagar High Court advocate Shah Faisal says terminating employees without hearing them is a violation of Article 311. “Dismissing employees straightaway without hearing them, issuing a show-cause notice, or holding an inquiry is unconstitutional. By doing this, the principle of natural justice is denied to an employee, which does not happen in a democratic space.”

He added that the government can not scrutinise the social media of employees, except when an employee uploads anything that may disturb law and order. “For the past two years, employees have been wrongly dismissed and they all are bad terminations. The sackings were done only to muzzle the voices of employees. I believe sooner or later, all the terminations will be quashed by the courts and the fired employees will be reappointed,” said Faisal.

(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik.)

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Topics:  Kashmir   Social Media   Jammu and Kashmir 

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