Trolling Gurmehar, blot on democracy

The vicious trolling of Delhi University student Gur­mehar Kaur and the rape threats made to her after she condemned last week’s violence in the capital’s Ramjas College show how some of the most important freedoms of citizens and the most precious values of society are in danger. The girl, daughter of a Kargil martyr, has withdrawn her campaign and left Delhi after the attacks made on her not only by the hoodlums whom she had criticised but also by leaders of the government and society. She had raised her voice against the violence unleashed by the BJP student wing ABVP on the campus of Ramjas College, called for peace and understanding and underlined the value of freedom of expression in a democratic society. She was dubbed an anti-national for it, compared to Dawood Ibrahim by BJP MP Pratap Simha and mocked by cricketer Virender Sehwag. Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said her mind had been polluted.

The attacks on Gurmehar, the physical violence in the college and the entire series of events are signs of a dangerous situation that has been developing in the country. The violence was over the invitation to two JNU students to participate in a seminar. When the ABVP objected, the invitations were cancelled. But the issue developed into a confrontation. What was involved was the freedom of expression of the students, not only of those from JNU and Ramjas College, but also of others like Gurmehar. Anyone who expresses views different from those of the ruling party and its establishment is called an anti-national, terrorised and demonised. It is in an autocratic and authoritarian state that free speech is met with suppression and violence. An ideological authoritarianism has gained strength in the country and it is being flaunted and enforced by sections of the BJP, some of its leaders and organisations ass­ociated with it. Those in the government are often seen supporting it.

Independent and neutral observers have maintained that it was the ABVP that triggered the violence, and others got into it to counter it or in self-defence. The police helped the attackers and did not protect those who were attacked. It made a gesture of action only when public pressure built up. But the issue is not just what happened in Ramjas College. It is an encore of what has happened in other universities and in the entire country in the recent past. The nation is equated with the government and the party, and some even equate it with religion. Falsehoods and misrepresentations are manufactured and promoted. Gurmehar Kaur and all other protesters have shown that this will not go unchallenged.

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