With India celebrating its 72nd Independence Day, the question arises ‘are we really free?’. The Constitution of our nation safeguards the fundamental rights that allow us to be in a space that is liberal. ‘Right to Freedom’ is an important fundamental right and assures the citizens of India, six types of freedoms. These freedoms come with reasonable restrictions, which are also mentioned under Article 19 of the Constitution. One of the six types of freedoms given to Indians is the Freedom of Speech and Expression. This is where dissent comes in. Dissent is a form of disagreement, wherein one can voice their opinion that varies from an opinion which is commonly held. It provides people a platform to express their disapproval and alternate views. In a democratic setup, dissent is often expressed by critiquing the government in power, and the Freedom of Speech and Expression allows for it to take place.
Modi Ji, you had asked for suggestions for your IDay speech. I have a suggestion to make – can you please state that you gurantee that there will be no attack on those who criticize your govt & its many failures.
My statement on the attack on my life: https://t.co/Kypw4FCpum
— Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) August 14, 2018
I want this Government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong: PM @narendramodi
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) April 18, 2018
Lately, it has been difficult to criticise the current government and its policies. A sense of fear is being instilled amongst those who try to speak up. Several incidents have taken place which indicates that people are forced to be silenced for voicing their viewpoint. The common methods are incessant trolling, online hate and threats. The frightening bit is that these threats are now coming out of the virtual realm, straight into real life. The most recent case is that of Umar Khalid, a JNU student who was shot at, outside the Constitution Club of India two days before the Independence Day.
They can’t scare us into silence, a lesson I learnt from Gauri Lankesh!
(Detailed response in the morning). pic.twitter.com/MJbtPK5El4
— Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) August 13, 2018
Dissent forms an integral part of a democracy. A dialogue between the government and the governed is necessary for the smooth functioning of a republic. As a citizen, I believe that we should speak up and talk about what we feel, especially when someone’s life is in danger and when our fundamental rights are at stake.
If this doesn’t chill your spine what will? If you choose silence now when will you speak?
If this is not wrong, what is wrong?
— Kunal Kamra (@kunalkamra88) August 13, 2018
If you don’t condemn violence unequivocally be sure it’ll be at your doorstep sooner than you think.
If you embolden the mob, they will eventually come for you too.
Anger and hatred are blind.
— Shruti Seth (@SethShruti) August 14, 2018
Here is a short timeline on some of the incidents associated with Umar Khalid which led to what took place on Monday, August 13, 2018.
Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were charged with sedition for allegedly organising an event to protest the killing of Afzal Guru which took place on February 3, 2016. There were allegations made that ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised at the event as well.
In February, Khalid and Bhattacharya surrendered themselves to the police and were granted bail on March 17, 2016, for being ‘highly educated persons’ as reported by NDTV.
On February 21, 2017, the English Department of Ramjas College organised a seminar called ‘Cultures of Protest’. The department invited Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid as participants of the panel. However, the discussion was brought to a halt by acts of hooliganism organised by ABVP. Bricks were thrown at the windows of the conference room. Glass panes shattered while students and professors were present inside the room. The opposition by ABVP initiated a whole lot of conversations about student politics, academic spaces, what is anti-nationalism, and the importance of peaceful, non-violent protests.
— Anuj Chaudhary [Charso Bess] (@AnujCha420) February 28, 2017
On the September 29, Khalid delivered a talk in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. The talk was hosted by a students’ club called Azad Mann.
On July 23, the administration of JNU refused to accept Umar Khalid’s submissions as a punishment in relation to the event that took place on February 9, 2016.
On August 13, a gun shot was fired at Umar Khalid. He was outside the Constitution Club of India, to attend and assert ‘Khauf se Azaadi’ (Freedom from Fear). He escaped unhurt as his friends managed to overpower the gunman.
Khalid has been critical of the present government, and quite openly so. We may or may not agree with his opinions, but he is exercising his rights as a citizen of India. To be attacked for voicing your opinion is not what a democracy stands for. Resorting to violence, taking laws in your own hands is not acceptable, there’s a system already present in the country. If you’re not happy with the system, talk about it, express your dissent.