By Bestin Samuel:
In Kanhaiya Kumar’s bail order dated 2nd March, Justice Pratibha Rani noted that Kumar and his friends “enjoy the freedom to raise such slogans in the comfort of University Campus but without realising that they are in this safe environment because our forces are there at the battle field situated at the highest altitude of the world where even the oxygen is so scarce…The kind of slogans raised may have a demoralising effect on the family of those martyrs who returned home draped in tricolour.”
Certain points are indeed beyond doubt here. The Siachen Glacier, situated at altitudes of above 5000 metres and temperatures often dropping below -45 degrees Celsius, is probably the world’s toughest battlefield. The sorrow of the families who lose their loved ones to battle is indeed heavy. But one also needs to ask if the presence of highly committed and courageous armed forces cancels out the right to critique the government or debate ideas. Can the soldier and student peacefully co-exist in India in the ideological realm? Why are they made out to be a study in contrast?
The differences are obvious and many. Both the soldier and the student go about their affairs in naturally contrasting styles. While the former is more accustomed to unquestioning obedience, uniformity and singularity of objective, the latter feels at home in an environment that provides the space for questioning set notions, exploring the new, and embracing multiplicity. Peacekeeping, ironically, is a task that is scarcely performed without weapons and bloodshed – worlds away from academia. The very nature of the ends of both these projects is starkly distinct, with one being a very physical, tranquil order and the other, an intangible, calamitous boiling over of ways of looking at things.
It is ludicrous for a government, and more so for the judiciary to use the soldier as a pawn when it runs out of arguments. When the bail order talks about disturbing the tranquility of the State, it does not seem to consider the academic angle to it – how it is imperative for a responsible student to argue, critique and protest. In a free fall of democratic values and the rise of violent authoritarianism – where students are seen as leeches eating off taxpayers’ money, research deemed unnecessary and debates deemed as acts exciting disaffection towards the government – political guile mandates revering the soldier above the student.
The sacrifice of the soldier, and tranquility of the nation, implies a mind free from fear. Rather than using the images of the soldier or the student to deride the other, it needs to be understood that they complement each other as vital cogs in a functional democracy. The common thread of fearlessness that runs through them both is a force to be reckoned with, going by recent events! The pen is at least equal to, if not mightier, than the sword.