When many pyres burnt, all were silent.
When many coffins were laid, all were silent.
When division of minds was sown, many justified.
But what spurred the pseudo-nationalists into action was an opportunity to implicate a student as anti-national, and use it to silence dissent. Dissent has always acted as a feedback in the democratic system and freedom of thought/speech/expression nurtures an evolving society. When rationalism was attacked (Narendra Dabholkar, Aug 20, 2013; Govind Pansare, Feb 20, 2015; and M. M. Kalburgi, Aug 30 2015 – all shot dead); when casteism raised its ugly head and led to death (Aniket Ambhore of IIT Bombay, Sep 4, 2014; Rohith Vemula of University of Hyderabad, Jan 17, 2016 – both victims of caste biases); and when communalism found space in the media (a few ‘honorable’ ministers had spoken some very objectionable things and we saw ‘food fascism’ as well), our nation was under attack. Those were the times when one expected spontaneous action from the government. But what we experienced was either a deafening silence from the corridors of power or rhetoric.
These are changing times, and voices are being choked. The media, which lampoons any accused person and even resorts to a public trial, has become a dangerous tool in forming wrong and distorted perceptions. We have seen how the media cherry-picks statements to make situations sensational. This sensationalisation of each and every event has led to a race among different media houses which feed the masses with information that suits them.
Episodes of media cherry picking statements was seen at the time when ‘intolerance’ had become a highly intolerable word. Many took this word as a direct attack on our ‘National Fabric’.
Cunningly chosen phrases were used as news bites without ever looking at the complete story. Then, people who believe themselves to be custodians of our national prestige labelled all those who spoke out as ‘anti-nationals’ – Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were the victims then. Such hateful labels have been in the news for many months, and all have one thing in common. Any criticism of the Centre led to this verbal diarrhoea by right-wing sympathizers.
The ones who remained fearless in spite of suppression were students. The walls of our educational institutions were impenetrable. Any educational institute should have the courage to speak fearlessly. If a student can’t roar today she/he will mew tomorrow. No one wants a weak nation tomorrow. Those who are students today would be leaders tomorrow. If they are silenced now, our tomorrow would be hopeless. A nation never evolves by holding on to the past, it moves forward by looking to the future. If student voices are censored in the present, tomorrow they will only stammer in the face of reality. Student voices need their space to discuss, disagree, debate and appreciate differences. This is all the more important in a state like India where we differ in what we eat, wear, the faiths we practice and even in the langauges that we speak. This difference needs space for disagreement and mutual understanding and any attempt to limit this space is against national interest.
Often, a discussion can go beyond the comprehension of the general public, like the philosophical discussions on the concept of violence, the ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’, the society and its biases vis-a-vis caste and class. Whether or not such discussions dissuade some people, they do not have the authority to label the discussion or its organisers as ‘anti-national’, extremist or divisive. Situations created to crush student voices for political gain are threats to the future of our nation. Dissent is a need.
PS: While we discuss the necessity of dissent, it so happens that there is a major chunk of the student community being conditioned to be robots for their future bosses. Their insensitivity towards things happening around them would leave us shocked. There is a group of people which believes that by dissenting and resisting they only waste their time. Time which they would rather spend having fun or devoting to academics. They are a hard-hearted bunch of gentle looking students who believe that the Rohith Vemula issue got too extensive coverage. They are the ones for whom the media’s verdict is far more important than seeing through the fog of lies. They are the one who trust chest thumping news anchors more than their own mental faculties to see, analyse and understand any piece of news.
I personally feel that there is a huge need to cultivate a culture of discussion, agreement, disagreement and dissent in campuses so that none of the issues, whether local or national, go unchecked by the critical eyes of eager young minds.
To save dissent, you need to #RaiseYourVoice.