“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
This quote by Mark Twain resonates more in our country today than at any other time in our history. After all, it is today that protesters, who’re largely students, are being conveniently (and dangerously) labelled as anti-nationals—an ‘epithet’ that has been arbitrarily ‘bestowed’ for carrying out their duties: debating legislation, protesting over issues, talking about a failing economy and increased unemployment. So much for ‘acche din’? So much for ‘youth empowerment’ when 60% of the country’s population is under 30 years of age?
The World Inequality Database has estimated that half of India’s adult population earns less than ₹5000 a month and 90% of the population less than ₹12,000. Surely then, it is ‘anti-national’ on the students’ part to protest against fee-hike in our subsidized premier central universities when affording private education is a luxury for so many!
These ‘anti-nationals’ have been waging a long, yet peaceful struggle against the ‘nationalist’ acts of the government such as fee hike, lack of jobs, violence, etc. Surely then, it is ‘dangerous’ for ‘national security’ to protest against discriminatory legislations such as the CAA, especially when the country is witnessing the highest unemployment rate in 40 years! Surely dubious charges of violence upon such peaceful protesters are ‘nationalist’. Surely it is ‘nationalist’ to arrest 69 people in Banaras Hindu University, the majority of whom were students, for protesting peacefully. Not to forget that the majority of the protesters therein didn’t belong to a minority community.
After all, one doesn’t need to belong to a particular religion to see inherent discrimination in legislation that grants expedited citizenship on religious grounds to certain religious communities. The UP Police’s brutal actions in the BHU (and other areas) are a testimony to the fact that the current ruling regime is uncomfortable with the idea of peaceful and rightful dissent that is the hallmark of our Constitution prepared by visionary leaders after the country’s independence.
Who the government finds ‘anti-nationals’ are, in fact, India’s new civil society. These protesting students, across Jamia, JNU, DU, AMU, BHU, etc., have done what others haven’t been able to: launch a new freedom struggle against a divisive ideology. What makes this struggle difficult is not just the divisiveness of that ideology, but also its usurping of the legacies of visionary freedom fighters such as Sardar Patel and Mahatama Gandhi. But this struggle will not just protect the ‘idea of India’, but also steer the government’s priorities towards solving urgent and more fundamental issues of education, equality, etc.
The struggle shall deter any government (including the present one) from deviating the national narrative from important issues and challenges. It will bend the narrative towards constitutionalism, morality, unity and inclusive growth, etc. It is this spirit of the youth to talk about genuine issues that is making the current government wary of its protests and demands. This wariness is what made the government order lathi-charge and internet shutdown in the protest areas. Only a government banking on fake-news to spread its narrative would clamp down on access to the internet and information.
Despite the continuous repression, the students’ determination to not bend in front of such dangerous powers is what has made them ‘anti-national’. This is what has led the 56-inch chest to destroy the temples of these ‘anti-nationals’—the Universities. After all, what else but universities would be attacked in a nation governed/ruled by the uneducated?