“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This famous quote doesn’t seem to be important in today’s context, especially when it comes to voicing your opinions. Even if you want everyone to live peacefully, it seems you can’t speak that out freely.
A gang of self-proclaimed nationalists, wearing a false cloak of hollow nationalism, is roaming the streets of the country with sticks in their hands. They are correcting every other person whose opinions do not match with their narrow imagination of a diverse country. They are also often using brute force to uphold their beliefs and definitions of nationalism.
I am referring to the chain of events which took place in Ramjas College. This episode saw events ranging from the cancellation of an event in which supposed ‘anti-nationals’ were invited to speak to the beating of peaceful protesters by the ‘messiahs’ of nationalism. A girl also raised her voice on social media which led to her harassment by trolls and some responsible citizens.
Speaking in a generalised manner, though, this is the environment we are facing everywhere across the country.
It all started when the Ramjas College decided to invite a so-called ‘anti national’ (Umar Khalid) to speak in an event organised by the college’s English department. What enraged the ‘nationalist’ students’ union of Ramjas College even more that this ‘anti-national’ guest came from the equally ‘anti-national’ Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
The college administration surrendered to the demands of the students’ union and cancelled the invitation to Umar Khalid. However, as it turned out, there were deshdrohis (traitors to the country) within the premises of the Ramjas College. But, how they escaped the notice of the fervent rashtrabhakts (patriots) till this incident is still a mystery to me!
These ‘anti-nationals’ decided to take out a protest march, opposing the college administration’s decision. This only managed to enrage the ‘nationalist’ mob even further. As this mob views the protest as a ‘territorial’ threat, they inevitably turn up at the venue of protest and start beating up the protesters, including the professors and the girls.
It is possible that they didn’t like the protesters being all peaceful, and hence made efforts to instigate, provoke and indulge in violence. The highlight of the ruckus, though, was the failure of the police to stop the mob. For the most part, they stood like mute spectators. The complicity between the police and the mob has also been highlighted by several first-person accounts. And this is exactly why I have been compelled to view this as an ’emergency’.
The events didn’t end here. Following the mayhem, an online campaign was started ag ainst this ‘nationalist’ gang. Students across India conveyed the message that they weren’t afraid to stand up against a ‘nationalist’ mob (the ABVP in this case). One such student, a 20-year old girl from Lady Shri Ram College, posted a similar message. The girl (Gurmehar Kaur), also the daughter of a Kargil martyr, had earlier posted a video message on her struggles of growing up without a father and how she had come to shun the hatred between Hindus and Muslims in order to advocate peace between India and Pakistan. For these ‘anti-national’ messages, she was ruthlessly ridiculed and threatened on social media by patriotic trolls. Most of these threats were rape threats, that could have traumatised her.
Moreover, a famous cricketer (Virender Sehwag) and other celebrities started putting up videos and messages in her style which essentially mocked her message of peace. This added fuel to the already raging fire.
This has led to several debates, with the ‘patriots’ and ‘anti-nationals’ simultaneously voicing their opinions. The debates are still raging.
This chain of events has raised serious questions to which we don’t seem to have satisfactory answers.
These questions aren’t limited by debates or by the educational institutions in which such incidents keep occurring. They are much larger. These are questions regarding our society and our collective consciousness. These are also questions which pertain to the direction towards which our hitherto tolerant society is headed.
Finally, these are questions about our very narrow conceptions of nationalism, and the subsequent haste with which we are labelling our fellow citizens as ‘anti-nationals’, just because their views on nationalism do not match theirs.
These aren’t hypothetical questions at all. In fact, the space for free speech and expression is rapidly diminishing in our so-called democratic society. Societies which censor the opinions of the people cannot be called democratic at all.
We take pride in calling ourselves the ‘world’s largest democracy’. However, what kind of democracy is ours if we can’t even tolerate criticisms or views different from the accepted norms? A democracy should ideally tolerate views, criticisms, dialogues and debates of all kinds. Instead, in the Indian democracy, mobs patrol the streets, curbing criticisms, preventing debates and dialogues and targeting those who hold views different from ones accepted by mainstream society.
It is high time that we rise up to these mobs and uphold the values which made our nation and society great. Only then can we also uphold those ideals that the freedom fighters aspired to, while liberating our country.
It’s either now or never. We were and still are a liberal society which takes pride in its values. We must therefore uphold the very values that make us proud Indians!