It’s been quite some time since that incident in JNU happened. Social media was filled with hate posts and comments, so was the electronic media. Our intellectuals debated on and on, for weeks together around the incident. Protests, counter-protests, attacks, counter-attacks, blame-games. The issue in question made us question the grounds on which the government took such harsh steps. Some questioned the motives of the students involved. What was right and what was wrong? Who’ll define the rights and wrongs? The government? The students? The civil society? The intellectuals who come on air to blabber?
Two weeks into the controversy, another news channel claimed that the videos were doctored. It appeared to be a plot planned by the right-wing student union to keep the left in check. The media cried yet again. We debated, yet again. Nationalism and anti-nationalism were the “in” words now, just as secularism and intolerance were in the fall of 2015. We, the citizens of the virtual world, were fighting with our own brothers, friends and sisters (I added the last one to be kinda gender neutral).
Two months have passed and Kanhaiya Kumar is a hero of sorts in certain sections of the society. Bihar and its once-NDA-ally-now-archenemy-ChiefMinister were joined by the ever-complaining-ever-protesting CM of Delhi in showing solidarity and support to the new hero. I even wondered at a point of time whether this fellow is a PM in the making!
And then, there was that incident involving Yatra.com taking a jibe on the concept of “azaadi” that has been sown afresh in the minds of some students of JNU and other such universities, not to mention some Kashimiris. Last week, two students were expelled for the running semester and our hero was fined a hefty sum (poor guy, how will he pay that?)
“Azaadi. Manuvaad se, jaativaad se..” and so it goes – the protest. But now, let’s sit back and dissect the whole incident.
If the protesters really protested against the caste system and such social inequalities, it’s quite fair and acceptable in a democratic setup. But sloganeering against the nation (whether they did it or it was doctored is a different debate altogether), is a different issue altogether.
In a democratic setup, the citizens have the right to lodge peaceful protest against the wrongdoings of the government. The government can use its powers to control the protest from spreading into a violent showdown. In India, and maybe it’s true with other parts of developed world, the government (in general) and the cops (in particular) have stayed out of university campuses. University campuses are places where seeds of knowledge are sown and ideas are nurtured. Students belonging to a university that excels in the field of sociology and politics are expected to take strong stands in order to defend the ideologies they identify themselves with. You’ll have left-wing, right-wing, left-centre, right-centre, extreme left, extreme right – all sorts of wings (Chicken wings, anyone?). So, how justified is it to quell the voices emerging out of campuses? Wasn’t it such activism which led to the birth of Jan Sangh?
At the same time, how justified is it to raise voices against the nation (not government, nation)? When we ask this, other questions arise – Who is to define what nationalism is? What is freedom? Who is a freedom fighter? What action amounts to sedition? Let’s tackle these…
- Nationalism is the proudness for the nation. Some people take pride in a nation’s successes and merits, while criticizing its failures and shortcomings. Some people take pride in just about everything related to the nation, sometimes blindly defending those shortcomings. Some accept the shortcomings amongst their own people and criticize, or even work towards improving those parameters while defending the same shortcomings when facing people who are not part of the nation. Like any other ideology, some nationalists can go to extremities to defend their concept of nationalism. As we can see, nationalism is a concept that can differ from person to person. It all depends on where we want to stand and what we want to see. No angle can be right here (and voila! We have acute and obtuse :P)
- Freedom is a vague concept. It’s relative in nature. A bird flying is free from captivity. But its freedom to live in its natural habitats is curbed by humans. As a free man, I’d like to live in a world that has no boundaries. I want to be able to move around freely, live wherever I want even as I ensure that I don’t exploit someone else for that – humans and other species, alike. In this modern world, such an idea of freedom is far-fetched. Our forefathers and their fathers fought against the British Empire seeking freedom from the colonial rule. Common people from different princely states joined hands against the British. We gained freedom from them. India freed Bangladesh from Pakistan. Balochistan wants India’s help in gaining freedom from Pakistan. Kashmir, at least a part of it, wants to be free too. While the issue of Kashmir and Article 370 of Indian Constitution are complex issues to be debated in this context, it can be considered for a while that certain people within that region want freedom from India. Based on what was signed in 1947, India has rights to protect its sovereignty over its land. That’s India protecting another invasion! That’s India ensuring that it’s not exploited.
Based on the above definitions of freedom, we can now define who a freedom fighter is. Aang-San-Su-Kyii is a freedom fighter, so were MK Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Azad – the list just goes on. Is a freedom fighter a person who, being unhappy with the establishment, protests / leads a protest (silently or violently) against an establishment for basic human rights? If yes, and if certain Kashmiris feel their lives are being exploited by India, then Afzal Guru becomes a freedom fighter from their standpoint. The person we hanged branding him as a terrorist, is a freedom fighter now! And the arguments are still sane!
And when Afzal Guru, a freedom fighter for the section of people unhappy with the Indian establishment, arranges an attack on the Parliament of India, such an action automatically becomes justifiable. When you look at it from the standpoint of the Indian government, it’s sedition. Supporting that action or the persons involved also amounts to sedition. That’s common sense! At the same time, from the standpoint of those Kashmiris wishing for freedom from the clutches of India, Afzal is a revolutionary. He becomes a martyr who laid his life down for the noble cause of freedom. For justice. Against fascism (absolute or perceived). Against exploitation.
There’s an inspirational movie from mid-2000s called V for Vendetta. The movie preaches similar ideologies. It touches upon the subject of fascist governments exploiting and curbing human rights. It mentions the tale of Guy Fawkes – a man from the 16th century who protested against the then British government by plotting to bomb the parliament. It also depicts what governments are capable of. Watch it and you’ll feel inspired to bomb your parliament even if your government is not as fascist. When we watch such an idea on-screen, we applaud. V, the protagonist, does nothing different than what Afzal apparently did. Yes, he joined hands with Pakistani outfits (and maybe their government) in order to achieve his motive. But that’s true with a 50-year old Baloch woman canvassing in Indian cities for Balochistan’s freedom from Pakistan. From Pakistan’s standpoint, she’s Afzal Guru.
From a moralistic point of view, whatever I’ve stated above stands true. I’m a firm believer in the idea of people not being afraid of their governments. It’s our right to protest against governments. That said, there are soldiers who lay their lives down so that we can sleep peacefully in our well-built concrete homes. They are freedom fighters too. They protect our freedom, fighting the enemies of the nation.
A naturalist may claim that wars are waged by governments and not nations, but, wars kill us citizens too. We are the ones who’ll suffer. Our kins and generations that follow us will suffer. We’ve seen enough wars in the world’s history. Although, I’d like to say that I’d want no nation to ever wage another war, it’s a far-fetched dream. It won’t happen. Wars, effectively, are between nations and not just governments. If we have to protect our people, our families, our kids from war, we have to see to it that a war doesn’t happen again. When a soldier from the other side crosses over and threatens to kill your children, you’ll try to defend your children. You have to pick a weapon up and fight. That’s natural instinct and you can’t say no to it.
Wars will be waged. Freedom will be lost. One side has to lose it. Another has to gain it. Considering the eventuality, every nation has its right to protect its sovereignty. It has the rights to kill voices that can disturb peace and stability. It has the right to label an attack on the parliament as a terrorist attack. It has the right to label any act or display of solidarity and support towards a banned outfit, a terrorist or a person who is considered to be dangerous to the fundamental pillars of a nation, as anti-national and seditious.
Afzal Guru, was a terrorist. Those who support him are anti-nationals. If those students did demand “Bharat se azaadi”, it’s sedition. That’s the law of the land. And I’m happy it’s that way!