By Muzaffar Shaheen
“Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…The power to choose, to respond, to change”
In a democracy, where every action is governed by the fundamental principle of the right to freedom, suppression of dissent against the views held by the government elites is worse than autocracy. More so when the gagging of voices is ascribed to patriotism. Debate and dissension are supposed to be instrumental in bringing about growth and vibrancy in a true democratic society. The aftermath of the JNU event was obviously a perversion of law. Slapping charges of sedition on students was politically motivated and the result of imprudent and extremist management of the affair.
The government resorted to autocratic tactics and muscle to ‘solve’ the situation. The hostile disagreement in JNU is once again questioning the right of freedom of expression in present day India. The notion is gaining impetus that anything confronting the saffronised political ideology will be construed as sedition.
“Anti-nationals” are now being defined all those who dissent and deviate from the propositions forwarded by the government and ardently supported by the media. Media has a hyper-hypocritical policy of appeasement of the party in power. It will up the ante only when it comes to its own interests. Fortunately, the JNU event on Afzal Guru’s death anniversary was not organised and lead by Muslim or Dalit students alone, or else it would have been assumed as a direct terrorist attack! This incident has revealed that even ‘patriotic Hindus’ can now be labeled as Pakistani agents, if it fits the scheme of interests. The right to freedom of speech, expression and right to disagree on issues has been rendered unwarranted and subject to conditions. It is conditioned and determined by how close or far one stands to the ruling party ideology. This is akin to a state of monarchy.
Minorities, particularly Muslims and Dalits, have become easy prey to be convicted in cases of anti-nationalism, terrorism and sedition. They feel completely disempowered. Sending Muslims to the gallows has become a symbol of patriotism for governments in present day India. Disrespectful treatment of Dalits in India has assumed monstrous proportions. A majoritarian monopoly is plaguing the social order. There is escalation in intolerance against minority religious practices and beliefs. Intellectual freedom is being curbed and an overwhelming hostility is being spread. A host of factors are collectively influencing the minds of youth, who feel suffocated.
Afzal Guru’s anniversary has simply become a catalyst for anguish, as seen in JNU. Afzal Guru’s hanging has been constantly questioned by rights groups and the civil society in India. Guru’s incrimination in the parliament attack conspiracy was flawed according to these groups and he had no proper legal representation. His hanging was ordered amid growing political pressure on the then-Congress government at the hands of opposition BJP. This was a unique case for the then-government in New Delhi, in the sense that it seemed to have ordered the execution on sheer political compulsions in order to de-escalate the mounting pressure at the hands of the rightist opposition. Guru was sent to gallows at a time when the parliamentary elections were drawing close and Congress wanted to thwart the opposition campaign regarding the demand for his execution by the BJP, a campaign run in order to mobilise masses against the Congress. Thus, the execution of Guru was deemed to be politically motivated according to various rights groups and civil society, for which both the Congress and BJP’s intrinsic politics was thought to be responsible. It was termed as an example of the travesty of justice.
The Supreme Court of India maintained that his execution was upheld in accordance with the prevailing majoritarian sentiment in the country. Even top Congressmen after losing elections started manifesting signs of guilt and confessed that in Guru’s case justice was not done. The conscience of justice and rights-loving people is haunted by his death. I would like to quote Gandhi here, who maintained that “There is a higher court than the court of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts”.
The JNU protests, call it the cry of conscience or the trail of blood, has invoked serious charges. The career of many students of the varsity would be at stake if political retribution is sought for sympathising with a dead person. Some people see JNU on 9th Feb 2016 as a moral awakening that can spread in all directions, absorbing conscientious people into it. Solidarity shown by the varsity students is a reflection of the perception of pain and agony inflicted on the oppressed and a robust manifestation of opposition against oppressors. This event has brought into the limelight the growing disinclination, particularly of youth of the nation, to allow moral conscience to be held hostage to political machinations. Reactions against human rights violations in a country known to be a democracy are inherently bound to surface. The JNU scenario has baffled political patronisation of injustice and its guilty conscience. Peaceful political movements have always invited sympathisers and gained impetus on the simple logic of innocence, non-violence and urge for justice.
It is for the government and the opposition to ponder over the issue with utmost prudence, rather than battling each other in the media. Freedom and justice must be ensured to students of JNU before it is too late, for it has the potential to take the shape of a nationwide student’s movement. Student movements, history is witness, can be very strong. Truth always prevails. It does not need muscle, but time and human patience to surface.
And this episode at JNU underlines that Afzal’s hanging would continue to haunt the political class for a long while, like the Babri mosque demolition, which brought power to some people but shame to India.
—The writer is a senior associate professor