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Secular Or Sickular: BAD TASTE SIGN OF DEMOCRACY, By Poonam I Kaushish, 16 Feb, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 16 February 2016

Secular Or Sickular


By Poonam I Kaushish


“Jung rahegi, jung rahegi Bharat ki barbadi tak! India murdabad. Ghar ghar me Afzal Guru janam lega!” Slogans in India’s premier educational institution JNU named after India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to protest Parliament perpetrator’s hanging. Words espoused by Pakistan terrorist Hafiz Sayeed?


Not at all, but those by the University’s Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar on Tuesday. That too, after the University administration revoked permission for staging a protest march stating the varsity was not a platform for activities that violate the Constitution. It also debarred eight students from academic activities.


Predictably, all hell broke lose. Kumar was arrested under IPC’s Section 124A (sedition), Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and Section 34 (criminal act done by persons for common intention) Followed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh thundering, “The nation will not tolerate an ‘insult’ to Mother India, its unity and integrity. Those who do so will not be spared.”


Congress’s Rahul Gandhi jumped in to the fray grandiosely accusing the BJP-led NDA Government for throttling free speech as “the right to dissent and debate is an essential ingredient of democracy.” While CPM boss Yechury equated the fracas and arrest with an “emergency-like situation”. While others visited the campus to express solidarity with the expelled students.


Raising a moot point: Is the NDA crushing free expression, suppressing debate and dissent which are essential pre-requisites of creative and thinking minds? Is the Government trying to tell us that outpouring like Kumar’s will not be tolerated ever? Replete with ‘It’s my way or highway’ attitude?


Is the polity afraid of the clash of ideas in our public life? Should this become litmus of one’s patriotism?’ How does merely criticizing a belief or thinking tantamount to spreading “hatred”? Is it mere coincidence or a sign of an increasingly knee-jerk, reactionary country where one is forced to go public about a frown, removal from job or punishment? 


Obversely, can an Indian national and passport holder denounce his country? Is this the Sangh’s way of teaching us a lesson in rashtra prem and desh bhakti? Do we want to produce robots on the campus who only act at the command of what their leaders and chela thinkers, benefactors, innovators, scientists and wealth creators’ desire?


Undoubtedly, one can argue that universities and other educational institutions are established to impart learning and skills to students and arm them with the requisite knowledge to prosper later in any sphere they desire. Further, as these institutions are heavily subsidized it stands to reason that the students study and not create nuisance, fan hatred or ignite communal fires.


Specially against the backdrop that their education is heavily subsidized by the Government. Over Rs 244 crores of the tax payers hard earned money is given to JNU alone every year. Whereby, each student’s education is financed to the tune of Rs 2,93192 and a further hardship allowance of Rs 21,000.


Certainly, Kumar’s speech was in bad taste, but in no way does it warrant the arrest or debarring of students as sedition is a severe, intense, desperate crime where one takes up arms to threaten the legitimacy of a regime.  Indeed, students have a right to protest so long as they do not threaten or resort to violence.


Besides, this matter should have been settled by the varsity’s Vice Chancellor, if not the students themselves. As it stands, the Indian State has endured worse diatribes.


This apart, many feel that universities must provide an unencumbered haven for free thinking and debate alongside a nurturing environment for exercise of one’s democratic right to dissent. Article 19(1) (a) which grants a citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression.


Further, attempts to criminalise freedom of expression on campus or to curtail it by classifying a group of students as “anti-national” could result in showcasing the State as rigid which abhors any criticism whatsoever. If one doesn’t like a film just collect a crowd and burn the theaters where it is shown. If you don’t like a novelist’s book get the Government to ban it or issue a fatwa against the author.


In the last year alone, India is witness to many such incidents, Hyderabad University’s student Rohith’s suicide last month for remonstrating the hanging of 1992 Mumbai accused Yakub Memon. Remember, the controversy over IIT Madras derecognizing the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle for spreading “hatred” against Prime Minister Modi.


Or innocuous cartoonist Assem Trivedi being arrested for sedition by Mamata Bannerjee in Kolkata. Before him another of his tribe famed Shankar’s cartoons of Ambedkar in NCERT school books were posthumously removed. Notwithstanding if India's first Prime Minister, Nehru, called sedition laws “objectionable and obnoxious”.


See how Bollywood’s Amir Khan has been replaced by Amitabh Bachhan  and Priyanka Chopra in the Incredible India media campaign simply because his wife said they could consider moving to another country due to the growing intolerant climate in India.


And Shah Rukh Khan was cornered on what it is to be a Muslim in India and got caught in the crosshairs of an unseemly Indo-Pak spat post Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik that India provide security to him. Leading the heartthrob of millions to say he was a proud Indian


What to speak of Tamil Nadu banning noted actor-director Kamal Hasan’s 100 crore magna opus Viswaroopam which dealt with the issue of terrorism on the fallacious that it would hurt the sentiments of ‘unknown’ Muslim groups and create a law and order problem.


That a protest in JNU has touched off such agitation in the corridors of power reveals, at the very least, a lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding, of the role of the university. Things will only worsen if Ministers themselves foreclose dialogue instead of telling a varsity’s administrators to negotiate and make students see reason.


Rightly or wrongly, the country seems to be in the grip of self-styled chauvinism and cultural dogmas wherein celebrities, films and now students are fast becoming soft targets with knee-jerk reactions taking over debates and calibrated decisions and no writer, thinker, historian or social scientist can honestly do his/her research objectively.


Our leaders need to realize that when it balances between sedition and patriotism, democracy does not stand a chance. Sedition becomes an epidemic term, emptying out the rest of the thesaurus. It becomes a blanket condemnation of dissent, difference, eccentricity, protest, actually anything you do not like or approve of. Life is lived in the slim strip called the official.


Thus, far from being tolerant and turning a cheek to varying opinions it would seem that we are determined to turn most things into a bone of contention. In an era of political correctness and ethnic sensitivity, where fundamentalists march as patriots in uniform, a wry irreverence, or a tongue-in-cheek reference, becomes an act of “hatred”.


Time is ripe for our leaders not to obfuscate the issue as sedition exaggerates the world creating a demonology of its own that sees every slogan or act of defiance as a monster. Sedition applied in this blanket form does not allow a citizenship of irreverence. After all, bad taste is still a sign of a good democracy! ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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