“Everyone — whether a government employee or not — has a right to express himself/herself, she/he has a right to raise voice against corruption, nepotism or failure of the government. After all, a government employee is part of the society.’
Last month, J&K government issued a gag order against its employees and officials and warned them of using social media against the government and its intuitions. The order evoked sharp criticism not only within the employee’s fraternity but also from mainstream and separatist parties. They all called this diktat as “against freedom of expression” and the employees even warned of forming a counter strategy against this diktat.
As per the order that was approved by the Governor, N N Vorha at the behest of J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti: “No government employee shall engage in any criminal, dishonest, immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct on social media which may be prejudicial to the government. They (government staff) shall not use personal social media accounts for any political activity or endorse posts or tweets or blogs of any political figure and also shall not use their accounts in a manner that could reasonably be construed to imply that the government endorses or sanctions their personal activities.”
The order states that the Service Rules Order (SRO) 525. “They (employees) shall also not post inflammatory, extraneous messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response”
The order comes after government took action against its employees who used social media to criticize the government. Even a senior officer was also suspended for launching attack on the government. Even though Roads & Building Minister, Naeem Akthar said that employees must behave properly and follow the rules meant for civil servant. However past two years, the government has been issuing gag orders on the media or by snapping internet connectivity etc. However, this is the first time when government had issued a direct order that debarred the government employees from criticizing the government on social media.
Soon after the order was made public, it received sharp condemnation from several quarters even from the government employees. However, after this order government employees started taking precaution as it could have landed them in trouble. Many employees even vowed to stay away from social networking sites. However, trade union leaders threatened to launch agitation against this draconian diktat.
Abdul Qayoom Wani, president of Employees Joint Action Committee lambasted the government for this action. “Everyone — whether a government employee or not — has a right to express himself/herself, she/he has a right to raise voice against corruption, nepotism or failure of the government. After all, a government employee is part of the society.’’
Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq termed the order as punishment to the state employees. “Ordering gags and threatening punishment to State employees for expressing their opinion on social media completely exposes the aversion to truth or its disclosure by the occupational regime and its unscrupulous local agents !The charade of “normalcy” in #Kashmir will continue to..’; tweeted Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
National Conference spokesman, Junaid Azeem Mattu termed the order funny. ‘’For a Govt where a JK Bank Manager handles the @jkpdp Twitter account and that of @MehboobaMufti – the social media diktat to employees would be funny if it weren’t tragic,’’ Mattu tweeted. Even Mattu reminded the current government how people who criticized the government when the PDP was out of power were rewarded by the current government by offering them plump posts in the government.
Independent legislator, engineer Rashid said the order is an attack on the fundamental rights of speech and expression. ‘’Making government employees accountable is always a welcome move but nobody can deny the fact that the government employees are also part of the society and sons of the soil,’’ Rashid said in a press release. Even some mainstream politicians asked government to rescind the order as it sends a wrong signal in the democratic setup.
A senior journalist working for a national magazine wondered whether government employees could now afford likes on the Face book. ‘’Don’t know whether JK govt employees can now afford retweet or likes it on the Face book as new social media policy of Mehbooba Mufti govt is silent about it!!,’’
Even top J&K government officers also used social media to express their views on this gag order.
‘Aazki peth kar ba code zubani manz update. Dapan Facebook chalawnus peth karun sarkaer mulaziman tal-paet shalak. (From today onwards will use code words to update. Heard government will use foot beating for using Facebook,’’ Shah Faisel, IAS topper wrote on his Face book. In another post he, however, said that employees must follow certain code of conduct.
‘’But jokes apart, Government employees must observe a certain code of conduct while using social media. I mean good behavior, nothing more. I have seen some teachers hurling invective, doctors abusing with freedom, officers getting into unsavory arguments and engineers sharing indecent content much to everyone’s embarrassment. That is not acceptable. Even criticism has to be worded politely.’’
Sources said that the Roads & Building Minister, Naeem Akthar and a doctor serving in a government hospital seems to have hastened the gag order on government employees on social media.
From past many months, J&K government was seriously contemplating to issue gag orders on the use of social media by the government employees. The government had also asked police to carryout profiling and survey of some government employees and officials and the contents they (employees) are sharing on the social media, especially criticizing government and top ministers. However, it seems a Facebook argument between minister and doctor seemed to have accelerated this process. On December 25, J&K R&B Minister Naeem Akthar had uploaded an old picture of a cinema at the Lal chowk on his Face book account in which people from all communities were seen waiting in long queues for tickets. ‘’Waai kum doh! Batte, Mussalman, Sikh saeri ticket hevaan. (Oh’ those days, Hindus, Muslims and Sikh everybody buying tickets) As we ‘progressed’ we regressed. Into a dark groove that seems to have no exit,’’ wrote Akthar along with the picture. However within minutes Adil Shah whose profile describes him as a doctor serving at Department of Chest & Medicine, Government Medical College (GMC) hospital blamed Akthar and other politicians like him for the mess. ‘’We regressed because of politicians like you & Muftis & Sheikhs !!!!!,’’ Shah commented on the post of the minister.
However, Akthar shot back and replied. ‘For someone serving the patients in a government hospital your FB profile is interesting…’’
A senior police officer that they have already been monitoring the contents of many serving government employees in the Valley for their posts on the social media and reported the same to government. ‘’We just profiled many employees through their social media posts and comments from past many months. It was being done in a clandestine manner and report was prepared and then sent to senior officials,’’ he said, adding that they never recommended gag on the use of social media by the government employees.
Whatever may be circumstances, the government has been thinking on this order from many months especially after the 2016 agitation when Valley remained shut for several months after the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander, Burhan Wani. Even the government had prepared list of employees who according to the government were working against the state, even many employees were detained. The gag order, however, has raised many an eyebrows as the present government came into power through democratic setup and democracy in real senses means freedom of expression.
By this order government also wants to send a strong message to one of the strong community that is eyes and ears of the government that they can’t engage even in verbal criticism against the government. “The current government wants to control everything and are trying to send a message to its adversaries that they could also be dealt with iron hands incase they criticize the government,” said Ishfaq Ahmad a former employee.