Ranjona Banerji: Gurmehar Kaur is anti-national!
And the true job of a nationalist is to hound people you disagree with on social media and offer violence as a way of dealing with them
Delhi University students during a protest against Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad members at the police headquarters in New Delhi last week. Pic/PTI
The most frightening person to India’s administration right now is a 20-year-old woman with an opinion. That this opinion stands for freedom of speech, against violence, against fake and illogical conflating of nationalism with aversion to state injustice, and that the opinion comes from a belief that India is a democracy, makes the reaction to it all the more frightening.
In fact, this young woman’s opinion that she is not afraid of the ABVP and she is not alone in this fight set off the most bizarre storm on social media, in the mainstream media and in government circles. The ABVP is the student wing of the RSS and has been involved in a number of battles across colleges in India since the BJP came to power at the Centre, fighting against freedom of speech and anyone who does not agree with the fundamentals of Hindutva. Many of these battles are garbed in the disguise of “nationalism” which is used to every irrational extent it can be.
If Guru Golwalker said you must not sit on a chair on Fridays, then sitting on chairs on Fridays can be tantamount to anti-nationalism to these patriots who best embody Samuel Johnson’s description of patriotism.
The most recent battle has been played out over the last week in New Delhi’s Ramjas College, where scores of students and professors have been affected. Any discussion organised by students, professors or colleges, where the government or the ‘sitting on chairs on Friday’ rule is shown in a bad light becomes a legitimate reason for violence.
To make matters worse for our Fake Nationalists, the young woman with an opinion about the ABVP, also had one about war and death. Her father was a Captain in the Indian Army and died defending his Company HQ in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999, according to news reports. The young woman who dares to have an opinion stated that her father was killed by war, not Pakistani.
Imagine her temerity? To stoke our basest jingoism by letting Pakistan off the hook here? What is she but a traitor? I am very tempted to do an AB Vajpayee here and ask, “Who made an unscheduled stop to eat birthday cake in Lahore?”, but I am holding myself back.
The young woman’s opinion is, apparently, so offensive that our Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, wanted to know “who’s polluting this young girl’s mind.”
That is, for our government, having an opinion in a democracy which runs counter to its own is tantamount to “pollution”. It is no wonder that the honourable minister was so concerned about the apparent falling Hindu share of population in Arunachal Pradesh, because “pollution” in that sense is a very Hindu concept. If indeed he understands Hindu concepts, since Hindutva’s concepts of pollution are not quite the same.
Of course, it goes without saying that if you put forth an idea on social media, you will be trolled, excoriated, threatened with rape and death and so on. These could come from ministers in the government, well-known cricketers, embedded journalists and any number of famous and unknown people. Anyone who supports you also falls in this category of “anti-national who deserves threats of rape and violence”.
We now know that the true job of a nationalist in India is to hound people you disagree with on social media and offer violence as a way of dealing with them. There are other advantages here as well. You may get followed on Twitter by the Prime Minister no less and be invited to “social gatherings” where you meet various other putative rapists like yourself. Must be an honour to be such a fervent nationalist.
Meanwhile, you might ask yourself, what makes a political party and belief system so frightened by these opinions? This is not the first time opinions have been expressed. These expressions are neither rabid, nor are the voices behind them indulging in hate-mongering. They are not dangerous to the foundation of the Indian state.
A 20-year-old does not agree with the ABVP’s actions. Is that now illegal in India? Is one forced to swear allegiance to the ABVP in one’s passport application to be termed a nationalist? How does a minister in the Union government have the time to comment on a tweet from a student?
Gurmehar Kaur’s bravery has exposed a terrified and touchy establishment. More power to her!
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org