By Bhaswati Borgohain
In his book The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen speaks of the long argumentative tradition in India beginning with the Vedas which ask questions on the creation of the world by God or even the existence of God! Such existential philosophies existed in ancient times side by side with intense religious beliefs. But the India of today lacks space for dissent. Holding views not in agreement with the domint ideology may cost people serious injuries or even life. Based on their religious, caste, ethnic or gender identity, those who disagree are called terrorists, anti-tiol, anti-developmental or foreign-instigated by the media, state and other domint forces. Such forces need no proof for it but roam freely and even claim to be the conscience keepers of the tion.
An example is the arrest of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) President, Kanhaiya Kumar using the colonial law of sedition for assisting at an event on the abolition of capital punishment as judicial murder and Kashmiri people’s human rights. It is a new law of intolerance and suppression of dissent. We as a country have reached a phase where jingoistic tiolism is used to crush constitutiol rights, legal tyranny to crush dissent, political power to settle petty scores and administrative power to destroy institutions and people. The sequence of events is that JNUSU along with the Students Federation of India and All India Students Federation helped Democratic Students Union to organise a cultural event on the anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru, the prime accused in the Parliament attack of 2001. Many feel that he was condemned to death on circumstantial evidence, only “to satisfy the collective conscience of society”.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) called the event anti-tiol and charged the organizers with sedition and crimil conspiracy. The Delhi Police acted on their complaint, arrested the JNUSU President, searched JNU hostels without a search warrant and detained people who they claimed looked like JNU sympathisers. Sections of the media along with the ruling party and “other important panellists” became the prosecutor, judge and jury and condemned the JNU students as anti-tiol. Home minister Rajth Singh accused them of links with a terrorist outfit based on a fake twitter account, and called for strict action against “such anti-tiols”. Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani echoed him by calling for stern action on those who “insult Mother India.” A BJP MLA along with some hooligans beat up students, jourlists and professors attending the court proceedings. Some want the JNU closed “as it creates anti-tiols”.
The sequence of events was shockingly similar to those that led to the death of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad University. In both the cases, it was intolerance of difference in ideology. In Hyderabad a debate on caste discrimition and in Delhi judicial discrimition became a tiolist drama. In both the cases ABVP called for political intervention and use police power. Through it, what was a difference of opinion in a university campus became an issue of tiol security and integrity. They reduced the real issues that need a democratic debate to tiolist rhetoric. Sections of the media by confusing issues with different contexts turned it into a debate on hyperbolic tiolism. Rohith raised the issue of caste discrimition in institutions of higher learning and the injustice of the unequal caste system in India and the lack of access to education, landlessness, poverty and violence faced by dalits and adivasis. It is similar to racism in the USA and South Africa but we live in denial and refuse to give caste that me. We suppress the voice of the few who mage to come out of the vicious circle of poverty and margilisation, in order to give them a message that the unjust system is here to stay. It is intolerance and violence against dissent by the weak. But in the me of democracy we welcome the opposite voices coming from the powerful.
In JNU the issue was death pelty and human rights of Kashmiri people. Death pelty has been abolished in 105 out of 196 countries, 50 have not used it for 10 years or more. Only India and 36 others have it both in practice and law. Its opponents state that none has the right to take away human life. Criminology has moved way beyond the deterrence theory that the stronger the punishment, the greater the deterrence. Many people in India oppose the death pelty. But when it is discussed with regard to Afzal Guru, India’s hyperbolic tiolism blinds us to sound logic. We see him only as a terrorist though even the Supreme Court found him guilty only on circumstantial evidence. Despite idequate evidence, lapses and violation of procedural safeguards the SC hanged him to appease the collective conscience of the tion. The students of JNU are not the first to term this a judicial murder. To reduce the abuse of state and judicial power it is important to discuss his case together with the abolition of death pelty. But a discussion on Afzal Guru and even on the death pelty hurts the “tiolist sentiment” of the powerful because they link it to the issue of Kashmiri self-determition. These sentiments blind us from seeing that it is the highest militarised region in the world with four army personnel for every citizen, and three generations paying its price. Moreover, a government that claims monopoly over tiolism is ready to use the colonial law of sedition. They exploited the ignorance of law that mere slogan shouting does not amount to sedition, only inciting physical violence does. The use of a colonial law is not anti-tiol because it suits their purpose.
These debates have been taking place in Indian universities. For many years, students and young people have been at the forefront of protests across the country, against relentless land acquisition by the neo-liberal regimes, corruption, sexual harassment, gender discrimition, homophobia, cutbacks in education budgets, anti-worker policies and rampant caste-based discrimition. It is important because the university should promote critical thinking instead of turning students into unthinking buyers of ideas. Such creative thinking is a threat to the fundamentalist forces that have manifested themselves at Dadri, Hyderabad, JNU and elsewhere. The same forces have attacked dissenters like Prof KanchaIllaiah, Sai Baba and Dr SandeepPandey. Some have been jailed, ostracised or accused of being anti-tiol or xalite and others have been physically elimited. These forces are a threat to the tion because of their faticism, sectarianism and oppression of a vast majority of people. They consider themselves the only tiolists. Time has thus come for all people of goodwill to take a stand against such suppression and in favour of participative democracy. Say loud and clear that crushing thinking and an environment of debate is the most anti-tiol act.
The author is a Research Associate at North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati.