Saturday 30 April 2016

JNU: Much ado about nothing

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

This poem by Rabindranath Tagore is the contemplation of the Poet’s credence about the kind of freedom he trailed and invoked to God. True freedom means liberation from fear and head ‘held high’ is a manifested posture of that liberated mind. True freedom lies in the mind which is always led forward by the universal mind of the father into ‘ever-widening thought and action.’
But the irony lies here. Being a treasurer of culture, India is far way from this kind of freedom. Freedom is here being treated as Prometheus, who is chained by the Zeus, a capitalist sovereignty.

In India, if some students in a university had buoyed slogans against the state and demanded to over through a democratically elected government on the basis of some unsubstantial or factual grievances, how would have the state reacted? The recent Jawaharlal Nehru University mishaps have raised mammoth probe into freedom of speech. The contributors of the meet allegedly shouted anti-India slogans, leading to the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. This scintillated a debate regarding what constitutes sedition, who was in the wrong during & the aftermath of the clash and how much of what the media reports is true. At this juncture, Let us take a hypothetical example of US where this kind of anti-national sloganeering had been raised and neither the university authorities nor the State mandarins would have taken notice of the matter. “That is a point of view and all points of view are welcome in a university campus” – this would have been their standard reply. Only if the sloganeering by the students would have been escorted by violence or destruction of property, then the might of the State would have come down heavily on them because such rowdy behaviors would have adversely affected the freedom of the fellow students.
So long as their revolutionary fervor was confined to words, verbal or written, they would be protected by the First Amendment –“The Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or press or assembly”.

  Writer and social activist Arundhati Roy has strong views on the strife-torn and troubled Valley, which many may disagree with, or regard as extremely contentious. But what possible justification can there be — as the Bharatiya Janata Party has outrageously demanded — for slapping a case against her under Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, for exciting “disaffection” towards or bringing “hatred or contempt” against the government? Do we lock up or threaten to silence our writers and thinkers with an archaic section of the law that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, merely because they speak their minds.

This exact things took place On the night of 9 February 2016, left-wing students organisation Democratic Students Union (DSU) held a protest at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus against capital punishment that was awarded to 2001 Indian Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The university authorities withdrew permission for this event after protests by members of the right-wing students union Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Anti-India slogans were raised at the DSU-protest, which not only led to the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar but also of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya on charges of sedition, the latter two being the organizers of that particular event.

JNU Vice-Chancellor constituted a disciplinary committee for investigating the controversial event. On the basis of the initial investigation report, Kanhaiya Kumar and seven other students were academically debarred. Kanhaiya Kumar has been granted six month interim bail by the High Court, on 2 March 2016. On 11 March the involved students were allowed to attend their classes again. The high-level inquiry committee of Jawaharlal Nehru University found out that provocative slogans were raised by a group of outsiders, wearing masks inside the campus. This is the story of JNU in a nutshell.

In his classic defense of free speech, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill laid down what is known as the ‘harm principle.' It suggests that the only justification for silencing a person against his will is to prevent him from causing harm to others. It is the powerful libertarian mid-19th century principle that we are stuck to the idea and free speech cannot be tabooed merely because we find it disagreeable, and that suppressant may be imposed only if such proclamation comprises a direct, explicit, and indubitable incitement to violence.
 There is no such nexus in sloganeering anti-national slogans on Kashmir & India, which are shaped around the theme of gross human right violation. But it is a tragic comic that there is talk of ‘sedition' at a time when it is regarded obsolete in many countries. Courts have ruled that laws that aim to punish people for bringing a government into hatred or contempt. In Britain, the last completed trial in a sedition case dates back to 1947. In the United States, Supreme Court rulings have rendered toothless the most recent sedition law, the Smith Act enacted in 1940.
                                                               If the First Amendment in the US gives the American student the unhindered right to profess subversive ideas, why can’t the Article 14 of our Constitution give the students of JNU, or students of any campus for that matter, a similar right? Those who are pitching in favor of sedition must be some illiterate, weak or pusillanimous person knows nothing about the true meaning & difference of patriotism and freedoms of speech.
So, the controversy over anti national remarks in JNU is essentially much ado about nothing.

Joy Das
( PG MEDIA 2015-2017)

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