Trial by Media

Trial by Media
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In a liberal democracy, the individual, his/her rights – are sacrosanct. Among these rights is the right to free speech which can be interpreted symbolically, figuratively, metaphorically and by the act of locution or speech itself. But, it would appear that there is a rather restrictive and constrained definition of this right in India as two students of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University(BGSBU) have discovered. The University, has initiated an inquiry to ascertain if two of its students sat while India’s national anthem was being played during a valedictory function inside the varsity campus . A video of the two students sitting and clicking selfies while the anthem was being played was shown on a news channel and also reported on other media channels and websites. If “disciplinary” action is taken against the two students for what amounts to an omission, then might not be farfetched to assume that their rights are undercut and undermined. It may be recalled here that the Supreme Court of India had ruled , in the context of standing up prior to the screening of movies at cinemas was not required. But, in the current climate of opinion and mood in India, “patriotism has to be proved by “wearing it on sleeves”, so to speak. But , this is besides the point, the real point , with respect to the two students of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, is that their freedom of choice and speech appears to be squelched. That they might be punished for their omission is, in some senses, a reflection of hyper-nationalism that dominates India contemporarily. In the schemata of hyper-nationalism, anything perceived as not toeing the line of its narrative, amounts to being “ anti-national”. There then, in India contemporarily a tension between liberal democracy and nationalism. While democracy accords an expansive notion of rights to an individual, hyper-nationalism seeks to curtail these. In specific terms, the omission of the students and its reporting to the media( social or mainstream” amounts to snitching by students and irresponsible reportage by the media, that actually has the potential to mar the future and careers of the two students in contention, which can only be ominous. Squeamishness which emanates from hyper-nationalism does not reflect maturity and gravitas. Prudence dictates a sense of proportion be injected in the whole saga and let a measure of sobriety define powers that be. In terms of the case of the two students, let them be and let them not be victims of a trial by media.

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