By Parnika Deora
The heat generated by the Rohith Vemula case had just started to simmer down when an even bigger event tore the country and its people into deciding as to how far can we stretch the boundaries of free speech. Jawaharlal Nehru University is not only one of the premier institutions for research and further studies, but it is also praised for producing some great intellectuals and having an active students wing.
So what exactly went haywire one evening that led to some people promoting #ShutdownJNU?
Vigilantism is at its height and our country is in dire need of some peace. Recent scuffles regarding the FTII scandal, Vemula case, JNU controversy etc. have blurred the lines between ‘anti-national’ and ‘opinion of dissent’. The slogans that Kanhaiya Kumar allegedly shouted are contested arguments.
What is non-questionable is that conducting a meeting that involves a cultural and democratic ethos followed by criticism of the government or judiciary’s decisions does not come into the ambit of ‘anti-national’ activities.
Kanhaiya Kumar (JNUSU President) was a part of that controversial event in JNU but there is no hard evidence that he shouted anti national slogans and gave a ‘seditious’ speech. All we know is that the meeting was a protest against what they called ‘the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat’ and was in solidarity with ‘the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination.’
Certain videos that have surfaced showed a group of Kashmiris that had come from outside, forming a circle and shouting slogans like “Bharat ki barbaadi tak, jung rahegi, jung rahegi!” The issue of Kashmir has always been a sensitive subject for the government and citizens of two rival countries, India and Pakistan. During the event some people also shouted “Hum kya chaahte? Azaadi”. This issue of whether Kashmir belongs to India or Pakistan is highly sensitive and for the sake of security and national integrity, we can understand if people find it offensive that it should be contested in the form of protests. Although the catch here is that, there shouldn’t be a problem with a group of students simply shouting slogans in support of a particular region’s, as contested as Kashmir, freedom.
The students of JNU were not and did not mention Pakistan’s right over Kashmir or that Kashmir shouldn’t be a part of the Indian state. The intention of the protest was just to show solidarity for the Kashmiri people with their ‘AZADI’ which means the democratic right to self determination. What we witnessed later was a disquieting account of how the police entered the university premises and arrested JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. His arrest shows the draconian ideologies of certain people and its effect on our country’s democratic set up.
Protests broke out rampantly with professors, students, activists coming out and demanding the release of Kanhaiya. On the day of the hearing of his sedition case at the Patiala House Court journalists, students of JNU, teachers etc along with lawyers, BJP MLA O.P. Sharma and the Delhi police had gathered for the hearing. The presence of these ideologically different groups turned out to be an incendiary event. Some bickering and ill intentioned talks took place and a group of lawyers were seen intimidating and physically assaulting journalist, JNU students and teachers.
B.J.P MLA O.P Sharma was captured on tape with CPI(M) activist Ameeque Jamei where he beat him black and blue. The former was accused of assault outside Patiala House court, arrested and then released on bail. Not only that, many female journalists were threatened by men who called themselves to be lawyers and demanded that the journalists not use their mobile phones to record anything.
As if the Delhi police wasn’t paying heed to the public outrage, it arrested professor Geelani for conducting an open event regarding Afzal Guru’s hanging at the Press Club of India. B.J.P has been having a tough time dealing with the criticism it has been facing but the party’s disaster management strategy seems to be ill managed. The Centre has been facing a conundrum itself as to how to go about this contested issue.
Some feel that slogans like ‘India Go Back’ and ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ that were raised are completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Siding with their view, there is still one huge flaw. The fact that these slogans were raised by JNU students is not true and there is no evidence currently that dictates that Kanhaiya Kumar raised these slogans himself.
So, even though the ABVP and the Sangh parivar have a penchant for patriotism, the actions taken by them and the Delhi police are only partly understandable. Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested against sedition charges but then why weren’t those people also picked up who had formed the circle and shouted the above mentioned slogans?
Why did the police not arrest others involved in the gathering but only the JNSU President? Why didn’t the Delhi police arrest BJP MLA O.P Sharma who thrashed CPI(M) activist Ameeque Jamei unless the media created a furor over it? And even after arrest, he was let out on bail, but Kanhaiya Kumar was not?
When the journalists were being assaulted and threatened in the court house, the police stood at the back as mute spectators and did nothing to stall the indecent behavior by the lawyers. The sad part is that for ABVP national organizing secretary Sunil Ambekar, everything that has happened till now including the beating up of journalists and activists can be justified and is just a retaliation against anti-national elements and comes under the banner of ‘public anger’.
Pragmatism seems to have gone for a toss and one can only see the blame game being played. Even if the incident that happened in JNU was against the integrity of our country and was ‘anti-national’ then those who were actually responsible, why haven’t they been questioned?
On top of that, this incident does not have the authenticity to label JNU as having anti-national elements and having the backing of Hafiz Sayeed of the Lashkar-e- Taiba, a preposterous claim made by home minister Rajnath Singh. On the day of the court hearing after the huge scuffle, the police have still not arrested those responsible. The course of action is flawed but more importantly there seems to be involvement of other elements outside JNU too, but not the Lashkar.
The backlash that our country has been receiving from foreign universities and intellectuals seem inexorable. Their frustration seems to grow with every passing day. People are divided in their opinions and that is not the root of the problem. The problem stems from the fact that the action undertaken by the police could have had a different and less damaging approach, the Centre could have dealt with this issue in a more contained manner and violence should not have been allowed to occur.
To end this article I would just want to reiterate the fact that questioning our country’s decisions and acts is not ‘anti-national’ and more importantly, Kanhaiya is not anti national. People who shouted the slogans ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ were wrong and that is deplorable but those were not JNU students. Focus needs to shift on them, not JNU students. We need to stop the hate against JNU, support the right and condemn the wrong.
As JNSU President Kanaihya Kumar said in his speech:
‘Say “Long live Bhagat Singh”. Say “Long live Sukhdev.” Say “Long live Ashfaqulla Khan”. Say “Long live Babasaheb”. Then we will believe that you have faith in this country.’
– JNSU President Kanaihya Kumar
Image Credits – Google