By Sharanya Manivannan
The thousands of people who have taken to the streets around the country this week to protest the curbing of our fundamental freedoms are only a fraction of those who strongly believe that India might be taking a sharp turn away from democracy. Others are waking up to the fact that the only thing developing in this country today is a climate of fear and oppression, including the ABVP leaders who bravely resigned, wanting to have nothing more to do with it.
The student dissent at JNU, the arrest of JNUSU’s leader Kantaiya Kumar and the events surrounding the same have brought these freedoms – and the need to defend them – into our daily dialogues.
Despite this, doctored images and various materials designed to arouse fear and hatred through obscuring facts remain in circulation. Among them is a viral video, entitled “Logical Proof That Afzal Guru JNU Protestors Are Idiots!”, by a channel called Mensutra (yup, more on that later).
The video addresses “young friends”; this point-by-point takedown of it does the same.
1. “Calling Afzal Guru a martyr, a man who was charged with abetting the attack on Parliament in 2001 that killed 9 people.”
You could call Lance Naik Hanumanthappa a martyr, because he died serving the army in dire geographic conditions. You could call Nathuram Godse a martyr, because he was disheartened by the way this country was divided and decided to murder M.K. Gandhi for it. You could call Afzal Guru a martyr, as many in the PDP – the party that is the BJP’s ally in Jammu & Kashmir – do, because he believed that his homeland deserves freedom. You could find some or all of those statements distasteful. But that doesn’t mean that someone else, especially someone whose circumstances were directly affected by what the “martyr” in question stood for, doesn’t have a right to feel differently. “Martyr” is a sentimental word.
2. “…far-fetched theories about the whole judicial system being flawed and corrupt.”
Why is it a far-fetched theory that the judicial system is flawed and corrupt? We need to look no further than the very recent and high profile release of the juvenile gang-rapist in the December 2012 case in Delhi. Did you feel that he deserved to walk away a free man after three years in a remand home, that too with money and equipment to start a new life (a sewing machine and Rs10, 000)? Many people did not. But the decision was absolutely in line with what our current legislative framework provides for. What did you think about Salman Khan’s acquittal, by the way?
3. “A sensible person would argue by saying, ‘because I don’t know, I would like to know for sure, by debates, discussion, questioning, and opening a line of fair investigation and answers from our government.”
Excellent point! And precisely what thousands of people are doing in this country today. You should be sensible, too.
4. “Because I don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent, his execution was unfair.”
Umm... That is correct. Going beyond the Afzal Guru case, but taking it into account as well, shouldn’t punishment only be meted out if it is truly deserved? Also, capital punishment is an extreme measure which many human rights groups oppose.
5. “Unlike everybody, I am not even saying you are wrong. I am actually accepting your argument and then explaining to you how moronic it is.”
The word “moron” was coined by a eugenicist, Henry H. Goddard. Eugenicists believe in racial supremacy and inferiority and seek to prove the same through mental and physical characteristics. “Moron” was the term used to deport or force medical procedures on Jews, Italians, Hungarians and others who sought to migrate to the United States in the early 20th century. Know of any groups or institutions that target people of certain communities? Oh yeah, that’s right…
6. “India has always been here, you idiots.”
India has had only 68 candles on its cake so far, last time we checked. A nation is a political construct. Its borders are created and change based on conflict, greed – and occasionally – self-determination. But more to the point, the slogan “India, go back” is from the Kashmiri separatist and pro-Pakistani movements (they are two different movements, with factions within them too). If you’d like to know more about the Kashmir situation, there is a fabulous graphic novel called Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir by Malik Sajad that shares his story of what it is like to live in occupied territory. It also explains the recent history of the region, and how it got a raw deal in 1947. Don’t let me condense it for you. Go read it yourself. Let that be your standard procedure before forming an opinion on anything.
7. “When you say that you’re going to destroy people, you’re simultaneously implying you are a potential security threat to the nation.”
But the question remains, who shouted those slogans? No one so far has been proved to have done this. Theories abound that moles were planted in the rallies to do so in order to cause trouble. More importantly – compare the size of the gathering to the number of people (even alleged) to have made these statements. Why should so many people – from those who were arrested to faculty who were beaten up to journalists who were sexually harassed – have to undergo so many problems on the basis of slogans shouted by a few? Slogans are not sticks, stones, guns or bombs. The only violence that has resulted from these student protests has come from goons.
8. “Nowhere will you find a creative person being defined as a natural expert on moral, social or political commentary.”
So then who is? The disparaging of the arts, culture and creativity often goes hand in hand with imposing fascist rule on people. We often think of dramatic examples like the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan and the Cultural Revolution in China – but we also need to see when it happens in the smaller and more subtle forms. It’s also useful to remember that lawyers, police personnel and government officials – people who should have a strong grasp of morality, society and politics – have behaved shamefully with regards to this JNU issue and countless others.
9. “She is famous as a fictional writer. Fiction means not real. So a fictional writer basically means a documenter of imagination.”
The last time Arundhati Roy published a work of fiction was in 1996. Since then, she has published non-fiction exclusively. Her bibliography on Wikipedia lists 16 books of political commentary, and numerous essays. You don’t have to agree with what she writes (and even some people who align with left or liberal thought don’t), but to dismiss her as a writer of fiction is both false, and rubbishes the value of the arts in a free society (see point above). And incidentally, that work of fiction from 1996 was the book The God of Small Things, which was centred on a person being murdered because of an inter-caste romance. Do you think casteism is a figment of the imagination? Did you hear about the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student in Hyderabad, recently?
10. (After bringing up the bogeymans of Chinese and Pakistani censorship, and then moving on to dissent in the USA) “You’d be scooped up by the FBI, which will then map your genome to get details of your entire ancestry; you’d be labelled a potential threat to the nation, and will be put under some sort of surveillance programme…”
Hang on a sec. So when someone like Kanthaiya Kumar is arrested on extreme charges, beaten up not once but twice in front of a courthouse, has doctored propaganda circulated around him, and fears for his life in Tihar Jail – that’s not anything like the way dissent is treated in other parts of the world? And when Umar Khalid’s Muslim ancestry is used against him, and his sister and mother are sent rape threats, that’s not like mapping a genome or having your life ruined? Funny how similar these situations sound to what happens in countries with regressive laws and oppressive regimes. But no – India isn’t, right? Why not compare ourselves with more progressive countries, like Canada for example, instead of consoling ourselves by saying, “at least we’re not China…” Not yet, anyway.
11. “And this is why they will never admit they are anti-nationals because deep inside they believe they are doing a highly patriotic thing. Basically it is a debate between stupidity and sensibility.”
The independence of this country was won by people who were, in the context of their time, technically anti-national. They did not feel beholden to the British, they did not want to belong to the empire. They were called “nationalists”, but from the standpoint of the political construct they existed under at the time, they were anything but. From M.K. Gandhi to Subramania Bharati to Rani Lakshmi Bai, they dared to disagree, and claim allegiance to a country of their own making. Perhaps they were also stupid? In a democracy, every single person has the right to disagree with their government. We elect governments into power. The power itself always belongs to us.
12. “Comically speaking, these are kids who think the world owes them a big deal, so screw any constitutional procedure, they will just force it out of the government by putting it in a headlock.”
Did you watch or read the speech that Kanthaiya Kumar made the day before his arrest? Go. Now. You should have done that days ago. Instead, you chose to watch Mensutra’s video and post it on Facebook. Go see Kumar’s allegiance to the constitution and his commitment to human rights for yourself and then think about who’s been put in a headlock. Because he was, literally. Nothing comic about that.
13. “Chances are, in order to aggressively motivate you, they will target three basic emotions: hatred, discomfort and fear.”
If you showed me this clip alone, I’d think he was talking about Arnab Goswami, the shrill media commentator who is one of the people responsible for the terrible image the student protestors have. What the speaker is doing here is quite clever: he had claimed the language of those who support freedom and used it against the right to be free and to speak freely. But he is right, when taken out of context. Those who want to suppress freedom also prey on your insecurities by telling you that you’re not safe, and that you’re not intelligent enough to make your own decisions.
14. “So, my young friends, if you have to follow someone, then why not follow the one with the better message for humanity, and not the opposite?”
Good advice. But let me give you some even better advice: read more. Research more. Only then will you know what’s worth believing in. Cultivate principles, let them be challenged, and refine them.
Finally, let’s consider the source. The video was made and shared by a channel that calls itself “Mensutra”. Have you heard of “meninism”? It’s a counter movement which challenges feminism, the struggle for gender equality, by claiming that discrimination against women either doesn’t exists or is wildly exaggerated. Take a look at this video in which the speaker alleges that women lodge false reports of harassment and rape. “Guys, beware,” it cautions – beware of every woman because she could be a “psycho with an ego the size of a pumpkin.”
Are you really allowing a channel that promotes violence toward and maltreatment of women to influence your political opinion? And if you stumbled at the false rape statistic in the video, bear in mind that false allegations are not a feminist act, and that the pressure and humiliation that come with following through on a legitimate case can lead to survivors recanting their testimonies. We cannot withdraw our support for people who have suffered harm on the basis of the misuse of law by those who haven’t. That’s something to keep in mind, for this situation and many more.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.