Does State-Funded Education Mean That Students Cannot Criticise The Government?

Posted on February 16, 2016 in Campus Watch, Society

By Neelima Ravindran:

Image credit: V. Arun Kumar/M.Phil., JNU.

Over the last few days, a protest by students inside the four walls of its (Jawaharlal Nehru University) campus has snowballed into an ugly national controversy. Sides have been taken, abuses have been hurled, arrests have been made and violence incited.

Many sentiments have been resonating in the social and mainstream media, the prominent among them being that “we pay taxes for your studies, not your politics.” It has been iterated and reiterated that those paying subsidised fees should not have any political opinions. What a presumptuous sentiment it is! It reeks of patronising arrogance and is condescending to the intellect of the youth. It is small-minded to think that activities in colleges have to be limited to academics.

Universities, colleges and educational institutions have been, since time immemorial, the grounds where the seeds of political change have been sowed. From those seeds have emerged the leaders of the country. In those spaces, arguments are built, debates take place and the politics of a country develops. It is among those classrooms and campuses that politically and socially aware citizens of the world are bred. It should continue to happen. Whether they pay subsidised fees or not, we should not stifle the conversations, thoughts or opinions of the students.

‘Anti-nationalism’ seems to be another favoured word thrown at the drop of a hat. From food preferences to the music you hear, from your political opinions to the cricket team you support, every personal choice is made into a nationalist vs. anti-nationalist issue. Having a varied thought is not anti-national. Questioning an elected government is not anti-national. Supporting the Pakistani cricket team, listening to the songs of Ghulam Ali or debating over a judicial execution is not anti-national. It is deliberation over the mix of ideas that makes a nation move forward. An outdated sedition law should not have any place in the rules of a progressive nation. No country has ever blossomed choking the difference of opinion among its citizens. A peek through the pages of our history itself would prove that. Let nationalism be what unites us, in diversity.

From politicians to police officials, many have spoken elaborately and eloquently about freedom of speech but with lines drawn. Freedom should not come with strings attached to the people in power. When the government agencies decide on the conditions of freedom, it ceases to exist. The maturity of the country is measured in its ability to hear dissenting opinions and move on. To hear inflammatory speech and not get inflamed. To hear an extremist opinion and not be enraged. To have debates, discussions, arguments and then to take a bow to show respect for the opposing position. To co-exist with the one billion views, notions and opinions, peacefully. That is where the line should be drawn. Unfortunately, that seems to be a distant dream for our nation right now.

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