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In defense of a free India: An appeal to centrist politics

I write this piece reflecting on somber images playing on my television, blanketed under the
cacophony of news anchors ascertaining whether undergraduate students are anti-national or
hooligans with ‘experts’ from various ideologies telling us the constitutional position on free
speech and the limitations therein. The events that have unfolded at Delhi University over the
past few days as well as those in other universities such as HCU, JNU, etc., are disturbing to say
the least. They have vitiated opinion to the extent that an innocent daughter of man who gave up
his life for this country, has been intimidated and harassed by the very same people who have
proclaimed themselves to stand for soldiers and ‘request’ others to emulate their sacrifice in all
walks of life, from demonetization to standing for national anthem in movie theaters. The girl’s
fault was that she suggested that the responsibility for her father’s death lay with war and its
associated barbarity rather than with a particular country. Irony just died a thousand deaths.
In this article, I do not intend to lay down the law as declared and then re-interpret it to suit my
arguments, my intention is to lay down an argument for what society do we intend to build and
whether our present interpretation of law is in consonance with it or not. I am not a legislator, so
questions about my qualifications are but natural, however, I do strongly believe that given each
one of us has a right to vote, by virtue of the Constitution we gave to ourselves, we are all
legislators because we choose what sort of people we intend to hold office and that decision we
make based on the options they elucidate as policy for the country. In effect, we decide whether
we want a capitalist economy or a socialist one, whether we want a nuclear deal with US or not,
or any other issue that comes to the country. That being the theoretical position, it becomes
imperative on each one of us to consider where we are headed with the present choices we are
making.
Before I get into the discussion of what happened in the recent incidents, I would like to plainly
state the facts, as I understand them as well as my position on them. In the case of sloganeering
at JNU, recent reports suggest that investigation has cleared those involved of any wrongdoing.
Be that as it may, for the sake of argument, this article will presume the worst, that atleast
someone (since we can’t ascertain identity of the person and shouldn’t shove blame
unnecessarily on individuals) made those slogans. As someone who believes in the promise this
country has on offer, and who strongly believes in the richness of its civilization, I detest those
remarks. I find them to be not just condemnable but also abhorrently ignorant of the complexities
of state building and conflict resolution. The ‘protests’ against the presence of one of those
individual’s at an event at Ramjas led to the violence we were all witness to.
The fact that violence took place because someone made some slogan or gave a speech that has
disturbed not just me but a majority of students who otherwise do not concern themselves with
campus politics.
The argument that is heard from most people implicitly justifying such vigilantism is that they
are doing so to protect their motherland and her integrity, or out of a rage that should be seen as
analogous (and thus somehow justified) to how a person would react to their family being
abused. They argue that soldiers who serve the country should not be berated publicly for they
make important sacrifices. One view I heard went as far as to say that lack of literacy in our
country means that people should be shielded from such opinion that is divisive. It is here that I
believe we as a society are forgetting our roots. When you defend something, you are attempting
to save it from being changed, if in the process of such defense, you alter the very nature of that
thing, you have failed at your job. This is exactly why people were outraged at the US human
rights violations in Guantanamo Bay despite claims of it being done to defend the country,
because such violations destroyed the essence of American society. It is why people oppose
Trump for his immigration policies because it betrays the ethos of American society as a nation
of immigrants.
The ethos of India is that this is the only major country that achieved a largely peaceful transfer
of power, largely because of a man who understood the values of tolerance, free speech and non-
violent response- Gandhi. This begs the question that when we as a society engage in acts of
overt or covert violence against people with differing opinions than us are we actually defending
India as it was envisioned to be by her father? By giving unnecessary importance to a bunch of
students shouting slogans, are we not also saying that somewhere we are worried their words
might actually break this country? Make no mistake, those who indulge in such acts are not
doing any service to this country or its soldiers, my country is not so weak to be dissected
because someone without an understanding of the actual problems in Kashmir considers himself
to be important enough to chant slogans.
I believe that the actual motive behind doing such things is to politicize the issue for votes, and
in the process, the self-proclaimed saviors of India have made heroes out of people who berate
this country though their ignorance. No one knew a Kanhaiya Kumar or a Umar Khalid before
the JNU incident, almost the entire country does today. Such actions have actually eroded the
center that had always provided ground for nuance to the benefit of the far right and the far left.
It is truly depressing to see that parties which believe that the solution to this country’s economic
woes lies in the socio-economic policies of Joseph Stalin have today become the focal point of
students agitating for expression sans intimidation. It is disconcerting to see that parties which
were critical of the emergency are now going around saying that Fundamental duties (a relic of
the emergency) are a pre-requisite for Fundamental Rights. They talk of supporting the soldiers
while dilly-dallying over OROP. What have we become as a society?
With what little political science and sociology I know, I identify myself with the political
convictions of Margret Thatcher and socio-economic principles of Tony Blair, but most
importantly, I am a Nehruvian democrat. Despite this, I find myself writing this piece under a
pen name, because I have people who have invested a significant amount in me and hence I
cannot afford to face intimidation. This is not just something that moves me personally, but also
saddens me deeply. The country of Tagore, Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar deserves better.
Courage and conviction of a society is displayed not by silencing opinion that is discomforting,
but by engaging with it. Nothing that is said from the other side is something that cannot be
rebutted with facts. While it is true that this country has problems of poverty, disenfranchisement
and such like, but it is also true that it has done enormous good in the last 70 years because it has
been open to criticism, has been tolerant of ideas and because it has had a society that believed in
these ideals. Dissent and plurality have been a mirror to our society that egged us on to better
ourselves and we must not break that mirror, it is what defines us. And that is my appeal, to
every person who, like me finds themselves in a conundrum; support of dissent, free speech and
tolerance is possible while being patriotic, infact its who we have been for so long and we must
carry this torch forward by constantly reminding ourselves of the same and not falling prey to
extreme ideas.
-Silent Cacophony

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