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Why Anupam Kher Should’ve Talked About Celebrating Dissent At JNU Instead Of Shaming It

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By Sparsh Upadhyay:

Anupam Kher at JNU.

“If you are telling the truth you don’t have to remember it,” said Anupam Kher who was in Jawaharlal Nehru University on March 18 to screen his movie. He had refused to do so initially on the grounds of prep-time for his speech which still had nothing good in it. The mere narration of his life’s story by the actor was a deliberate assault in disguise (read loudly audible) with him treating the student fraternity as inmates of a jail released on bail. Their act of questioning was not to be welcomed or encouraged as an act of heroism. Yes, they aren’t Saina Nehwal or Lance Naik Hanumanthappa and have brought no glories home but shame. Yes, these are a group of dissenting students who have been given bail by the Judiciary, the same institution which is an important pillar of democracy, but so is the notion of dissent.

The proud Indian, Anupam Kher, forgot that the warm welcome he received on the campus was nothing but people’s tolerance towards him and towards many such minds that consider dissenting people as ‘others’. In JNU, the actor was, in a way, the dissenting person and the great thing is that this dissent was wholeheartedly welcomed by the same students who have supported their leaders namely Kanhaiya, Anirban and Umar Khalid. In the true sense, JNUites are more than qualified to lend the actor such patient hearing.

Mr. Kher should talk about celebrating this democracy, where the dissenting people are not arrested but are celebrated and are given proper space to speak their mind out. Imagine the JNU crowd as a country and Kher, the dissenting civilian. Couldn’t he have been arrested for the views he presented in his speech if the precedent set by the state is followed?

I was at Institute of Law, Nirma University’s lecture series on International Relations, and the speaker was Lajwanti Chatani of the Department of Political Science at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. She opined that politics is not just any arrangement but is an attempt to make everyone agree and, in order that the process remains impartial, the freedom to have an opinion and to have a choice is indispensable. Looking at the thought in today’s context, we get a view that it is not the People/Citizens who tag others as ‘Others’. It is only when the regime considers them as ‘Others’ that they become so. The actor’s claim gets support from the regime, that is, the Government at the Centre. So, not only the actor but the regime is also to be blamed for such pitiful speech. We have had a culture of being friends with each fellow being and not just with those who hold any flag.

The truth, I wish he had asked us not to remember, is that Democracy isn’t just the rule of the majority but is rule with restrictions. And these aren’t really obstructions but, in fact, limitations that, in fact, strengthen the root of democracy. These restrictions are a control upon the ruling class in the form of Rights to Citizens, which are guaranteed to us by the Constitution. Unfortunately, the actor asks us not to pay heed to such people who do ‘Desh ki Burayi’ (criticise the state). The plausible answer to him could be that those who have a dissenting view may not be the ones abusing the nation. In fact, they’re the ones who want to see the nation at that place where it deserves to stand.

While listening to his speech at JNU, I was constantly reminded of one very famous saying in Hindi and that is ‘nindak neeyre rakhiye’ (keep your critics close). Truly, criticism is a phenomenon which is to be celebrated and the best example is the Parliamentary system of government. The irony is that despite having adopted it into our Constitution, there exists a deep gap between the ‘ruled class’ and ‘ruling class’. Could we imagine any law without dissent when the Constitution itself mandates the idea of recommendation from the opposition? When the top order has adopted a system of dissent in law making, why can’t it be secured at the grass roots level?

The actor went ahead and said that we must stand and do something for the country rather than just criticising. I agree with what he said but, since when did critiquing and protesting the policies of the ruling class cease to be the job of students/intellectuals/academicians? The actor tends to forget the Emergency period in India and various other occasions when the ruled class made its presence felt by just protesting. Mr. Kher, the building is made with effort. Yes, it is made with bricks of knowledge and hard work, and the JNU campus is still here because it has never been tried to be demolished by the people working under it.

The speech had so many flaws that it becomes tiresome and pointless to pick up and point out the underlying problems in the fundamentalism which the actor believes in, i.e., sticking to only one truth which he believes to be true. He tends to forget the difference between nationalism, patriotism and fundamentalism. You may very well love your country while respecting dissent and you can also love your country by not respecting the same. The latter kind of love is dangerous because then you are always fearful that your love must not be shown the problems in it.

If inner inquiry is not undertaken by the insiders who else would care to mend the problems? The love which the actor has towards our country has coincidentally come into public view only when the ‘bohot acha Pradhanmantri’ (very good PM) Narendra Modi became the leader at the Centre. The actor must, however, be given his space to be called ‘bhakt’, a title which he has readily agreed to accept. And since he has accepted that he has gone mad (the actor at the beginning of the speech tells the crowd that “aisi naarebaazi se unka dimag kharab ho gaya hai (such sloganeering has made him lose his mind)”), it is my moral duty to tell him that patriotism (Desh Bhakti) might create an infatuation and a feeling of enormous love but it can never be the dangerous poison which kills the notions of humanity and dissent from a human mind. And when a person ceases to be tolerant, and takes refuge in patriotism, he must be told that it is the worm of jingoism that has eaten up all the values that patriotism advocates and has given place to foul values that patriotism doesn’t advocate.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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