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Between ‘Anti-National’ and ‘Anti-India’

Student community of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai also voiced their opinion on the issue. 

It must have been in class sixth or seventh when I first came to know what ‘Right to Freedom of Expression’ is. Our civics teacher, in very simple language, explained to us that India being a democracy, guaranteed its citizens the right to express their opinion and that no one could curb it.

It’s been ten years now, and here at a post graduate level, we are still being taught what this ‘right of expressing’ really is.

Courtesy: The Financial Express
However, there was one thing that was never taught to us, never; how do we respect someone else’s opinion? 

Most of this faasad, that we see today is primarily because we have lost the ability of respecting someone else’s opinion and always happen to be in the race of imposing ours on someone else. 

The situation within the higher academic institutions of the country isn’t really at the best of its times and from what it seems, and as mentioned before, most of it is because we have failed to respect each other’s opinions. The issue with the entire nation is that we consistently fail to draw a line between what an opinion is and what facts are. And whenever we do, again we try hard to impose our opinions over others.

The perfect example of this is that prime time show where people are called with diverse opinions to debate on an issue and we all know that it eventually ends with what the pre-conceived opinion of the anchor is.

To streamline the conversation further, let’s step into this debate of ‘nationalism’. For a layperson, the word nationalism always comes with a very positive connotation. There is one dominant perception of it, that is being installed into our system and some of us just refuse to let it go. For most of us, nationalism is the spirit or the aspirations common to the entire nation. More often, its one’s devotion and loyalty towards his/her own country. So basically nationalism is that view which constitutes what a nation is.

So let us raise a question here. Can there be just one view of nationalism? Just consider this; a group of four working on a music video assignment has divergent opinions on what a good music video is. And here we are talking about a nation with a population of more than a billion talking about what their views of the nation really are.

The point here is self explanatory, and to quote what Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar of The Economic Times wrote in his blog, 

“The  notion that there can be only one concept of what constitutes a nation, and that every other view is anti-national, is intellectually empty at best and authoritarian at worst.”

The explanation, however, isn’t that simple. Taking into account what happened in the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, where it was alleged that there were ‘anti-India’ slogans raised, one must understand the binaries between what is being called ‘anti national’ and what is ‘anti-India’.

Here, I would actually echo what Anklesaria Aiyar said, there is nothing called ‘anti national.’ While ‘anti-India’ is something that threatens the integrity and sovereignty of India.

The logic which a section in the country failed to understand is that, a view expressed against an act of state isn’t always really ‘anti India’. However, something ‘anti India’ would rather be those ‘acts’ which threaten the integrity of the nation, instead of just views.  

One thing which I would totally agree with is that certain slogans raised within the JNU Campus were highly problematic and those who raised them must me appropriately identified. But it’s entirely unfair to label the entire University ‘Anti National’, just as it is being done now.

Chanting slogans about the Barbaadi of India is highly problematic but what is far more problematic are instances of food ban and the killing of someone because he ate something which certain groups of people do not approve of. These are actions that threaten the integrity of a nation much more than a group of students protesting against what the government does. Why it is that students here are the soft targets?

Mere sympathizing with Afzal Guru does not qualify for one to be anti national. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Not that I am comparing both, but there are groups which sympathize with Nathuram Godse, who killed the ‘father of the nation’, but do we call them ‘anti-national’. If someone believes that the hanging Afzal Guru was wrong, they have every right to express their opinion on it.

If mere expressing of an opinion is seditious or anti India; then I am not sure where I put in statements made by someone called Sakshi Maharaj.

In 1962, the Supreme Court, read down the provision even as it upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) despite it restricting the right to free speech and expression.
“…words and speech can be criminalised and punished only in situations where it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action. Mere words and phrases by themselves, no matter how distasteful, do not amount to a criminal offence unless this condition is met.”

So by that, I wonder how statements like "We are ready to kill and get killed to protect our mother - cow" and “No person will be allowed to keep even a brick in the name of Babri mosque," went without coming under the purview of this section. Anything that threatens the very idea of India is far more seditious than anything else. And by the idea of India, I meant ‘Unity in Diversity’ and not what certain fringe groups are trying to impose on us.

To conclude, understanding and appreciating the concern that certain students might have been misguided and it’s somehow well established that there were non-JNU elements whose presence made the situation far more complicated, the way the Government and the Delhi police acted wasn’t correct at all. The way charges of sedition were imposed on Kanhaiya Kumar was totally  inappropriate. 

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  • Friday, February 19, 2016
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