Politics · Society

The JNU Conundrum

JNU, the acronym of the premier Jawaharlal Nehru University has been the centre of unwanted and despised attention in Indian politics lately. Why is it so? Sections of waylaid students and teachers of this so-called prestigious university have been allegedly found involved in ‘anti-national’ activities by protesting within the precincts of the JNU campus the execution of Afzal Guru, one of the conspirators and mastermind in the Indian Parliament attack of 2001 that left 14 policemen martyred[1]. This seems to be very odd. It begs the question, why would these ‘Indian’ students, studying in an Indian government subsidised university, protest for someone who was involved in the attack at the heart of Indian democracy, the Parliament? There can be many reasons attributable for the same.

First, to be in the attention of both press and electronic media i.e. attempt to hog the limelight, second, to make a start to political career and shape the dream with a bang, third, to give a direction to their career by swaying away from their dismal performances in academic arena, fourth, to ordain a place for themselves in the hotbed of Indian polity etc.  And all these stems from the undisputable fact that these section of people are not Indian (in spirit and mind), which sadly, they are, and second, they have no sense of ‘nationalism’ left in them. Whereas, the silent majority populace of this country call them anti-nationals condemning their actions either by violence or just by venting out their anger on social media platforms while the ones protesting at the event portrays Guru as a ‘Martyr’ who gave up his life for the liberation of Kashmir.

Interestingly, they didn’t just call Guru a martyr, but also resorted to Anti-India sloganeering by chanting, ‘Bharat ki barbaadi tak jung rahegi, jung rahegi[2] (We’ll fight till India is destroyed), ‘Kashmir ki azadi tak jung rahegi, jung rahegi[3] (We’ll fight till Kashmir gets freedom), ‘Afzal hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hai[4] (Afzal, we are ashamed that your killers are still alive), ‘Tum kitney Afzal maroge, har ghar mein Afzal niklega[5] (An Afzal will be born for every Afzal killed), ‘Afzal tere khoon se inqualab aayega[6] (Afzal, your blood will bring about a revolution). Ironic it may sound, these students pledge to fight for the person who was involved in Parliament attacks. In the aftermath of what happened of late, the ever so tolerant India not very long ago was branded/labelled intolerant against an issue which was not an issue from the very start.

It also brings to fore a question in the minds of all sane citizens that there exists deep down conspiracy to fish in hot water through ‘divide and rule’ policy and to destabilize the very fabric of our country. This begs of another question, are these students really Indian? Or they have lost their sense to distinguish between hate speech and freedom of speech? What makes them think Afzal guru to be a ‘hero’? Shockingly, there has been a splurge of support from other academic institutions who share the same view that their fundamental right of freedom of speech is being muzzled. Unfortunately, they, despite being from prestigious universities, have no sense to distinguish between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘hate speech’. Does openly sloganeering against the country come within the ambit of freedom of speech? No. Even freedom of speech is subject to reasonable restrictions. And chanting slogans against the country definitely comes under the purview of reasonable restriction. Such acts are also a prime example of anti-nationalism.

It is imperative to understand the reason behind such protests by these students. Have the students become so liberal that they have lost their sense of nationalism? Or were they never given proper teachings of Indian history? There definitely are vested interests involved of a select few but why did all of them join the splurge? It is also important at the same time to analyse whether the imposition of sedition against those individuals at JNU by the government was justified or not. Let’s deal with the latter first. Sedition, according to Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code[7], 1860 defines sedition, in layman terms, as, Whosoever, by words, either spoken or written, by signs or visible representation brings or attempts to bring hatred, excites, or bring disaffection towards the Government of India shall be charged of sedition.

Now, it has to be seen whether the words spoken and written by them, in the form of placards/brochures fall under the category of sedition or not. As mentioned earlier, there have been videos where the students of JNU chanted anti-India slogans. ‘Bhaarat ki barbaadi tak jang rahegi, jang rahegi’, ‘Afzal tere khoon se inqualab aayega’ were some of the many slogans chanted by them. The first slogan translates as – The war will continue till India is destroyed and the latter clearly means ‘Afzal’s blood will bring a revolution’. These slogans aim to incite the mass by portraying the government as a ‘villain’ for executing someone who was involved in terrorist attacks. Chanting about India’s destruction and bringing revolution for a terrorist’s execution very clearly falls under the ambit of sedition laws. Former Attorney General of India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee says that sedition law does not apply to those shouting anti-India sloganeering. The question that remains unanswered by him is – what amounts to sedition and whether Guru’s attack on Indian democracy and people supporting him for such heinous perpetration is not an act of sedition?

The genesis of nationalism traces back to Europe in the 18th century[8] which means ‘devotion and loyalty to one’s own country’[9] or simply put, patriotism. The sense of nationalism is something which comes from within. No force can instil the feeling and pride of nationalism within a person towards his country. Therefore, even a poor, uneducated person is as nationalist as a wealthy, educated person.

It was rightly said by Indira Gandhi – “People remember their fundamental rights but tend to forget their fundamental duties”[10]. The students chanting anti-India slogans take the umbrage and protection of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression as mentioned under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Indian constitution. But they, at the same time, forget their fundamental duty to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. Not only did they fail in this, but also failed to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India. This is sheer hypocrisy and very despicable.

It is worthy to mention that under Article 19 (2)[11], the state is empowered to impose reasonable restrictions on exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression so as to maintain law and order. It is also necessary to place reins on this freedom for the maintenance of social order. In Kishori Mohan v State of West Bengal[12], the apex court said, when it concerns matters pertaining to law and order, there can be reasonable restrictions imposed on the fundamental right of speech and expression.

It is important to understand for the self-declared individuals that, there are much more important matters impending progress of the nation. Highlighting and giving patronage to such petty issues is not only divulging the attention of the government to pursue its goal of economic development, but also portraying the country in bad light. Not to forget, as we keep fighting against such ultra-liberal forces, the enemies get an anvil to hit the hammer on by creating internal rift among the people. This is just a rational way of looking at it. And the politicians, who seek to garner political support, need to understand that the silent majority of this country, who prefer not to speak, doesn’t mean they support such actions. They cannot be easily be manipulated and can show their power by ousting them out from power. It’s high time there is a change in the political discourse of the country. And the students at JNU, well, they really need a teaching of nationalism after all.

By: Prashant Gupta, Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University

References

[1] BBC News, “Afzal Guru: Delhi parliament attack plotter hanged”, (BBC News, 9th February 2013), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-21392156), Accessed on 5th March 2016.

[2] Manish Kumar Pathak, “Anti-National Slogans are not sedition, says former Solicitor-General Sorabjee”, (India Today, 16th February 2016), http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/anti-national-slogans-are-not-sedition-says-former-attorney-general-sorabjee/1/596950.html, Accessed on 5th March 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sec 124-A, IPC defines Sedition as – “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law in India, shall be punished with im­prisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

[8] Anna M. Cienciala, “The Development of European Nationalism”, (The University of Kansas, USA, Spring 2002), http://acienciala.faculty.ku.edu/hist557/lect5a.htm, Accessed on 6th March 2016

[9] Merriam Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationalism, Accessed on 6th March 2016

[10] Dipankar Mukherjee,”Chronicles of an Urban Nomad”, (A Quote by Indira Gandhi, 15th July 2008), http://coaun.blogspot.in/2008/07/fundamental-duties-right-we-ignore.html, Accessed on 6th March 2016.

[11] A. 19 (2) – Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

[12]  AIR 1972 SC 1749

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