Youth Ki Awaaz

Why Gurmehar’s Response To Memes Against Her Isn’t An Attack On Free Speech

Co-authored by Ananaya Pande:

Gurmehar Kaur – the girl you saw flashing all over your television screens, holding a placard in hand, eyebrows raised, gaze fixed at the tiny round lens of a cell phone camera has been bullied again, and this time, without any reason.

This time, it is about two 20-year-old boys, who received about 11,000 views just by posting memes that weren’t amusing, and secondly, were defamatory in nature about the 20-year-old girl and many of her contemporaries. They targeted females by challenging their contributions and ideologies. This meme depicts the hypocrite mindset and rigidity against people changing.

The memes which were posted by Squint Neon

The incident that happened with Gurmehar is a perfect example of how a narrative can be twisted to suit the story and sensationalised beyond boundaries that are acceptable. The entire idea of Gurmehar cyber-bullying the ones making the memes is flawed and illogical. How can we consider the act of someone standing up for themselves against the meme creators as bullying?

Incidents that happened with her previously had the sole purpose of targeting her – and not defending anyone in general. Some people with extremist ideologies want to break Gurmehar down, but not build the country up. In their defence, they criticise the ‘left-leaning’ systems. People like them threaten the women of their own country in the name of ‘nationalism’.

Gurmehar Kaur tried to take away the memes targeting her, and she didn’t target any entity in general. Most of the people who are being brainwashed by a portion the media forget the difference between the ‘freedom of expression’ and bullying. They forget that the Supreme Court itself has called the defamation laws to be reasonable restrictions on the ‘freedom of speech’.

Gurmehar Kaur requested the admin of the page to put down the content.

Gurmehar was being kind, despite the admin of the page Squint Neon being extremely insensitive and promoting hate. A meme page promoting hate is not worth it. And here, Gurmehar again has done nothing wrong by asking someone not to exploit her identity by posting insensitive memes which can result in defamation. Gurmehar has the right to maintain her well-being and protect her intellectual identity that she has made for herself, by herself.

Facebook pages have criticised how Gurmehar is constricting the ‘freedom of speech’ practiced by the youths but they fail to recognize the various clauses and exceptions mentioned in Section 499 and Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). According to Section 499 of the IPC, “Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.” And this might result in an imprisonment of up to two years.

“Criminal intimidation” under Section 499 of IPC.

The pages go as far as calling the prey the predator and accuse Gurmehar of cyber-bullying. But when one does look at the exchanges, Gurmehar’s message clearly shows no intimidation from her side. In fact, it shows repeated courteous request made to people she is unaware of.

It seems people have taken offence to her popularity and fame. Many die to become popular, but people rarely have an idea of how their statements and actions will be misinterpreted and tampered with. And this case right here is the best example of it.

Genuine and polite requests made by Gurmehar to the page.

The saddest part is that she received a lot of hate messages even though she was just exercising her right and ‘requesting’ to put the content down. Some media houses even stated that she wanted to mass report that Facebook meme page, but no evidence of this could be found. It was a voluntary action by those to whom it seemed suitable and morally correct to block the page. The only thing she asked was to put the content down. Even then, there were a few who continued to harass her saying that they would continue making memes even if these posts were deleted.

Apparently ‘logical people’ exercise their rights in the guise of insults, threats and derogatory messages.

Directly throwing offensive messages through memes, and making efforts for peace without blaming any country or politician are two very different things that we need to understand. We need to remember that we eventually perceive things the way we want.

If you hate someone, all you see in their words is hate. But if you are reasonable enough, you will be willing to explore all sides of the story. And lastly, if Gurmehar Kaur standing up for her own rights threatens the ‘freedom of speech’ practised by ignorant, biased and inconsiderate youngsters, so be it!


Ratnadeep Chakraborty is pursuing his Honours in Journalism from Christ University. He has written over twenty articles about student politics and protests. He has worked as a research analyst for multiple politicians and political bodies across the country like B.PAC. Presently, he is working as the general secretary for Dialogue, a student-run, policy-making institute. You can get in touch with him at Ratnadeep.author@gmail.com.

Ananya Pande is a student from Christ University who is pursuing media studies, economics, and political sciences. She has a knack for literature and enjoys writing poetry as well. You can get in touch with her at ananya.pande5@gmail.com.