By Swati Verma:
It was on 1st March of the year 1995 the Supreme Court of India observed the following in the case of Balwant Singh vs the State of Punjab: “It appears to us that the raising of some slogan only a couple of times by the two lonesome appellants, which neither evoked any response nor any reaction from anyone in the public can neither attract the provisions of Section 124A or Section 153A IPC.”
Two decades later we feel the need to revisit this landmark judgement in the face of the current crisis faced by student politics in India. Marking the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, a group of students that held an event in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on Tuesday and shouted slogans against the government for hanging him have now been charged with sedition.
Niyati is a student of JNU who had attended this event named ‘The Country Without A Post Office’ on her way back from class and posted it on social media with a lengthy piece of opinion two days before it caught media’s frenzy. Her post and subsequent media coverage on Zee News revealed that the event planned to protest the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru, convicted in 2008 Parliamentary attacks, also “condemned the Indian State for militarized occupation of Kashmir”. “It seemed to some the evening was about capital punishment, to another person the evening was about judicial/institutional killing where Rohith and Afzal were put in the same category, to another, the agenda was Kashmir’s freedom,” she says. Being a Kashmiri Pandit herself, she ventured to question the organizers, “Who will be held accountable for the massacres of Kashmiri Pandits and when you attain the so-called freedom, what happens to those Pandits who are also an integral part of Kashmir?” The response to which was met by a moment of silence only to be broken by resumed sloganeering.
Niyati does not belong to any student outfit functional within or outside JNU. A simple search on Facebook would reveal a number of people from JNU writing fervent status messages with an equally fervent need to come clean of subscribing to ideologies of any particular student party, whichever side of the argument they happen to be. With various media outlets reporting day in and day out with JNU in background, the case has turned sour with the hashtag #ShutDownJNU trending for the second consecutive day.
In a debate on one of the most viewed channels, the anchor reportedly lashed out at JNU student activist called as a representative from the university. The visibly furious anchor then went further to say that it was disgraceful to put the taxpayer’s money in a subsidized institution where people like him sit inside the JNU campus and say they will work hard till they destroy India.
Another student Siddhi, responds against this kind of stereotyping by media and says that the presence of police on campuses is largely unwarranted as not more than a handful raised the “seditious” slogans and also failed to excite any response from the audience present. The police patrolling and raiding hostels is a cause of concern for the students and a petition ‘Say No to Police Action in JNU and all Universities‘ floated on change.org overnight with over 1300 signatories at present. It contests, “the only way to counter such incidents, when they occur, is through a deepening of dialogue, not through police action. The police has no business to enter places of learning and harass students (including students who were clearly trying to defuse the situation and to take a stand against the irresponsible elements who gave the objectionable slogans) when there had been no breach of peace.”
The case is eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of Batla House Encounter in Jamia Nagar where Narendra Modi in one of his speeches called Jamia Millia Islamia a breeding ground for terrorists. #ShutDownJNU is currently trending with news stories of Ex-Army men threatening to return their degrees received from an “anti-national” university; besides demanding to stop the flow of funds to JNU.
Official sources from Jamia have confessed that they witnessed a steep fall in the number of companies wanting to recruit from them after the Batla House encounter. With the ongoing placement season and the upcoming admission season which is of great value to any university, it is but obvious to understand the frustration of a JNU student with the media. Students feel that one cannot malign an entire institution for the actions of a handful and the media has blown the story out of proportion to create one that can be sold. Activities and protest movements are a part of JNU and have always been given the space to speak, but there is an urgent need to make a distinction between being nationalists and jingoists. The adrenalin fueled aggressive brand of nationalism has to be replaced by one where we question ourselves and our nationhood.
With the student union calling for a strike until the release of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar students across universities are extending support to JNU. It would be of interest to see which way the judgement turns for the organizers and sloganeers at ‘The Country Without A Post Office’. Whether or not the court of law repeats its 1995 judgement from Balwant Singh vs the State of Punjab is a matter of speculation; however, it is imperative that normalcy returns to the premises of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and urgently.
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