On February 9, 2016, JNU became a hot topic of discussion because of a cultural event that questioned the hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. The organisers had allegedly raised ‘anti-India’ slogans; three students were arrested on charges of sedition. Quite a few media houses started calling the University a budding ground for ‘anti-national’ activities.
This event was organised by ex-members of the Democratic Student Union that included the likes of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. The DSU could be called an extreme left wing organisation that believes in Maoism. Mao Zedong’s doctrines advocated the toppling of the government through armed rebellion, as they see the State as a puppet that dances to the tunes of a group of imperialists and feudal lords and eventually aims at installing a people’s government.
The organisers believed the hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat was politically motivated and called it a judicial killing. It is to be noted that they are not the only people to question these hangings. Many human rights groups had earlier condemned these killings. The PDP had called it a “travesty of justice” and, A.P. Shah, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, had called it a politically motivated decision.
Arundhati Roy, Markandey Katju, Shashi Tharoor, Praveen Swami and other prominent personalities had already heavily criticised this decision. With so much of dissent already present against this decision, the organisation of this event shouldn’t have been a big issue, and any sacred democratic state should have a free space for such discussions.
The trouble, reportedly started, just 20 minutes before the commencement of this event, the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad), the youth wing of the RSS wrote to the administration asking them to withdraw their permission.
It was at this moment that the office holders and members of the JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru University Student’s Union), the SFI (Student’s Federation of India) and, the AISA (All India Student’s Association) were said to have gathered there as they saw the ABVP take away their hard-earned democratic space and decided to go ahead with the meeting without using microphones.
As the event was open to all, it was attended by insiders as well as outsiders. Some claimed that the members of the ABVP reached the venue and started shouting, “Yeh Kashmir hamara hai, saara ka saara” (Kashmir is completely ours), to this, the outsiders who were Kashmiris retaliated with, “Hume kya chahiye? Azaadi! Hum leke raheingein azaadi”. (We do we want? Freedom! We’ll get freedom.)
A video clip was played on some of the leading news channels in the country over and over again, focussing on two slogans. One being “Bharat ki barbaadi tak jung rahegi, jung rahegi,” and the other was “Pakistan Zindabad”.
The first video was said to have been shot in the dark and failed to show any faces while the latter, apparently, clearly showed the faces of two ABVP activists shouting “Zindabad Zindabad” to the slogan of “Pakistan Zindabad”. When I visited JNU and asked students about the slogan of “Pakistan Zindabad”, I was told it couldn’t have been spontaneous and was pre-planned by the ABVP to fulfill its own organisational motives. It was later clarified that the former slogan was raised by the outsiders, but the dye had already been cast, as the organisers had already been labelled ‘anti-nationals’ by panels in newsrooms and JNU had become an ‘anti-national’ university.
The custodians of nationalism saw this as a golden opportunity to propagate their high-octane version of nationalism to divert people’s attention from the failures of the government.
A case of sedition was slapped against Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, while none amongst the three were seen raising any such slogans and, Kanhaiya wasn’t even among the organisers of the event. This was later followed by a thrashing of Kanhaiya Kumar, his supporters and media persons inside the court premises by a group of lawyers and a CPI-M activist was beaten by O. P. Sharma, a BJP MLA.
If someone says, “Bharat ke tukde tukde hone tak jang rahegi jang rahegi”, we won’t let that happen. But when pamphlets to a cultural event reads, “In protest against the judicial killings of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat,” then it calls for a democratic space, where one could discuss and either counter or accept this viewpoint on the basis of facts.
It is absurd to label any voice that questions the Kashmir issue to be ‘anti-national’, especially the ones in universities, as they are temples of thoughts and home to free thinkers. If such places are labelled ‘anti-national’, the end of the good days might not be far.
Umar Khalid said on the ‘Newshour‘ that thousands of Kashmiri women have been raped, lakhs of Kashmiris have been tortured and many more killed and he isn’t the only person in the country to think this way. So, instead of labelling them all, we need to find out why Kashmir is angry with us and how come some people in the rest of the country view things the same way as Umar Khalid does. We also need to ask ourselves, when did the media become the judge, the jury and we the people the executioners?