By Irfan Yousf:
A premier institute of India, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is under severe attack by the ‘pseudo-nationalists’ of India. It all started on 9th February when, under the guise of a cultural event, some people allegedly chanted provocative anti-India and pro-Afzal slogans. Since then, it has snowballed into a major controversy, tarnishing the image of the very institute which throughout its existence has stood for the rights of underprivileged, rendered voice to the voiceless. An institution that has been a showcase of equality and a template for a casteless society which is otherwise hard to find in any other part of India.
The whole episode has boiled down to the question of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘sedition’. Sedition, as a tool to muzzle every voice that speaks against the injustice and tyranny of the men in power, has been in vogue since colonial times. But unfortunately, post-Independence, this potent tool has been constantly used to silence the voice of dissent. It undermines the basic fundamental right of freedom of expression that is guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Sedition itself is anti-national in nature and character. Its unfettered use has time and again violated the noble and cherished fundamental right to freedom of speech. What constitutes sedition is quite vague and ambiguous. It seems that everything which happens to offend the present dispensation could be sedition. One should not worry about being charged under this draconian law while speaking one’s heart out.
Quite obviously, freedom of speech isn’t unbridled. It ought to be limited. But limitations should be based on reason and rationality which still leaves wide space for its use and interpretation. To maintain the sanctity of this noble idea, one must respect this right by regulating one’s own speech and behaviour. But its sacredness can be upheld not by observing silence but by speaking out against inequality, injustice and giving voice to the underprivileged and voiceless. This was the underlying idea of incorporating it as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution.
But sedition is a heinous onslaught on the noble idea of freedom of speech, promoted and cherished by the founding fathers of this nation. It must be resisted in every form. It is high time that we do away with this archaic and draconian colonial invention, meant to silence dissent. A nation is ‘by the people’ and not the other way around. The idea of a nation hardly connotes anything meaningful to a hungry man, a slum dweller, to the underprivileged sections of society, to the ones who can’t afford good health and a dignified life. When in such case, the idea of ‘nation’ is preferred to the needs of the ones who give it its very essence and meaning, it renders the idea shallow.
Much energy is invested by our pseudo-intellectuals and the government to promote this idea of a nation where the people who give it its essence are being treated as trash. Empower the powerless. It could be the best and amicable way to give birth to feelings of nationalism in their hearts rather than forcing it upon them. Sedition would only breed hatred and it would harm the very idea of oneness which is the basic underlying assumption of the idea of ‘nation’.
Now, the media. Freedom of speech is what in reality gives teeth to the ‘fourth estate’ of democracy that is the media. This is what makes this pillar of democracy powerful enough to provide a platform to the masses so that their voice could be heard by those who are at the helm of affairs. Media is supposed to exist as a platform for the formation of public opinion. Impartiality is the principle which they are supposed to abide by. It is not meant to deliver judgments and draw conclusions but to further the idea of deliberation and discourse which forms the basis of public opinion. But the JNU crises presents us with a different reality. The reality that some media outlets have started to pronounce judgment on this whole episode without digging deep enough to find out the truth has left the lives of thousands of students in danger.
These media outlets have come up with such concocted conspiracy theories that the ‘yellow’ colour itself would hesitate to allow its use to label their unethical practice as ‘yellow journalism’. The only thing which seems to makes sense to them is ‘TRP’. Most of the media outlets are owned by big corporate houses so they would tread cautiously and as such would not take a stand which happens to offend the government or their corporate bosses. So, the fourth pillar is virtually on the verge of corrosion. The day is not far when it would be doomed forever if it continues to be hand in glove with those who are hell bent on stifling and suppressing the voice of voiceless.
Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say but I shall defend till the death your right to say it.” The idea of freedom of speech should be nurtured and inculcated as it helps to create an environment where mutual respect would be the basis of dialogue and deliberation. You can win hearts by words not by force. Force would only foster the already prevailing feeling of alienation. There can be no alternative to the idea of discourse and discussion. These are the true ideals of democracy which need to be protected and promoted across the socio-political spectrum in order to promote the healthy idea of nationalism and democracy where people are the core of the nation and not vice versa.