I’m terribly offended right now. Once you get around to forgiving me for that travesty of a blog title, you might ask why. No, not because I just watched the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trailer. Like 90% of the global female population, I adore Jane Austen. You’d think that this abomination would offend my (Sense and) sensibilities, but it left me feeling weirdly conflicted- I want to stick my nose up at it, cluck my tongue and declare that poor Miss Austen must be rolling in her grave, but OMG it looks SO much fun.
I’m terribly offended by the public’s reaction to recent happenings in educational institutions across India. You’d think the world’s largest democracy would have some inkling of the actual meaning of the term ‘democracy’, but a shamefully large number seem to believe that the Orwellian way is the way to go.
When Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) was arrested for sedition, the country exploded. Exploded in rage, questioning why a) the archaic sedition law, created during the British colonial era to crush freedom fighters, still exists in modern India? b) young students have to fear for their lives after airing their opinions? c) the police and government have the right to curb dissent on campus? According to malicious news channels, government officials and social media commentary, the answer is d) none of the above.
One could laugh at the range of responses, from the evergreen,”WE ARE TAX-PAYERS! We will not tolerate our taxes being used to educate people with differing opinions! We are TAX-PAYERS!” to those that, in all earnestness, call for the complete shut down of the university. But the horrifying images and news reports- of Kumar being attacked by lawyers outside the court house while the police watched, of the ‘nationalist’ lawyers patting themselves on the backs for attacking the ‘traitor’, and of the bloodthirsty mob turning on reporters and calling for the student to be hanged- has every sane citizen feeling sick to their stomachs. A reaction of such blind fury, that not even rapists and pedophiles have been on the receiving end of it. What ever did he do to warrant such a crazed reaction? The details are blurry, but much credit can be given to the ‘exposé’ broadcast by a number of news channels, consisting of doctored footage and blatant lies. Another student was branded a terrorist and Islamist, despite being a staunch atheist, with one of our most prized journalists going all out to set a lynch mob on him. Never change, Indian media. Never change.
The students were guilty of daring to use their democratic rights to question the Afzal Guru hanging- a controversial issue, that has been debated for years now (and that I’m not touching with a ten-foot pole). Of course, no one stops to listen that criticisms of the hanging have more to do dissecting the murky details surrounding it, and less to do with declaring, “INDIA SUCKS I LOVE PAKISTAN” while stomping on the national flag. Sadly, it’s been proven time and again that shushing the kind of people who passionately accuse others of being ‘anti-national’, long enough to make them actually listen and engage in respectful dialogue, is an impossible task that demands levels of patience way beyond human capabilities. You’ve really got to admire how these guys manage to reduce any meaningful discussion to the standard “How dare you disrespect our brave soldiers?!” Frankly, I see no better way to disrespect soldiers than by using them solely as a convenient means to shut down intelligent discussion, but you know best, Self-Proclaimed Nationalists.
As for the alleged ‘anti-national’ slogans, at this point, it doesn’t even matter what the students said. The completely disproportionate reaction by the government and rabid masses should cause a massive shift in our priorities. Salivating jingoists are going to hear only what they want to hear, politicians are going to continue to lie through their teeth, hate-speech will continue to fall on eager ears, and biased journalists are going to keep deciding for us whose side we should be on. It’s shameful how so many young people seem to be totally on board with the police infiltrating universities to curb dissent, barely a month after the country failed another valiant student who fought for the oppressed. The real issue, that any respectable citizen should be fighting for, is getting rid of the oft-misused sedition law. Not, like what’s happening right now, arresting students based on half-baked information, and then scrutinizing their speeches for any hint of ‘anti-national’ thought- which is the jingoistic equivalent of “she was wearing a short skirt, she was asking for it”. The current scenario seems to have borrowed its plot from one of those badly-written dystopian young adult novels that I really need to quit reading.
If only more people subscribed to the well-known adage (which is wrongly credited to Voltaire, yes I’m That Person who points these things out), “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”, we’d have some hope of normalcy. And instead of spending my weekend worrying for India’s future, I’d be contentedly munching on nachos, watching my favourite Bennet sister battle societal expectations and zombies.
“The most incomprehensible thing in the world to a man, is a woman who rejects his offer of marriage!”
― Jane Austen,
Oops, wrong quote! Here you go:
“Angry people are not always wise.”
– Jane Austen,