A group of students, protesting with a fairly legitimate set of demands, gets roughed up by the police. Sounds like Jawaharlal Nehru University? Or perhaps Hyderabad University? Sure it does. Only, this one is in Srinagar. And, unlike the cases of the other two universities, this one saw social media commenters who identify themselves with right wing politics, come out in rousing support for the students.
Why? Because this was an issue that was completely in line with their ideas of 'nationalism'. It all started with locals celebrating India's loss in the WorldT20 semifinals, when students hailing from outside Kashmir protested. Consequently, the students, who also wanted the college to hoist a national flag in the campus, sought a meeting with the Human Resource Development ministry officials. As soon as they tried to step out of the college campus, the police allegedly cane-charged them.
The issue has snowballed and now is highly politically charged.
The bare facts of the incidents indicate just one thing: students in the college responded to activities which they found to be objectionable with a non-violent protest and demonstration. However, they were subjected to physical aggression by state agencies. In their pattern and the complicity of state machinery, the JNU, HCU and NIT Srinagar incidents are not vastly different.
Yet, instead of commenting about the needless and autocratic involvement of state machinery in a student's protest, social media has taken to pitting one incident against another, holding one up to put the other down. The right wing voices, especially, seem to have turned NIT Srinagar into their answer to JNU, though the students of the college made no references to other universities even while giving statements to the press. Thus Chetan Bhagat tweeted the following:
Salute to brave students who held India's flag high in #NITSrinagar despite security fears. Hope govt does everything to keep them safe.— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) April 6, 2016
Dear BJP,no alliance,no state-govt worth it if u can't defend Indian students standing up for India in India.Do the right thing.#NITSrinagar— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) April 6, 2016
Dear Media, you made Kanhaiya into a hero.You know the real heroes? The #NITSrinagar students who stood up for India and were beaten for it.— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) April 6, 2016
However, we would like to present Bhagat and his ilk with some facts that may help them view the issue with more clarity.
Firstly, Bhagat, like some others on Twitter, has emphasised the idea that the NIT students were standing up for 'India', thereby, indicating that the JNU students weren't. The NIT students were demanding the hoisting of the national flag in the campus as a symbol of their allegiance to the country and its ideals. The JNU students too were demanding the same from the government and its associated agencies--only, they chose to hold up the constitution as the symbol of what the country stands for. A constitution which calls India a socialist, secular democracy.
Since Bhagat has mentioned Kanhaiya Kumar, one can perhaps re-listen Kanhaiya's speech before he was arrested. He is heard demanding azadi (freedom) from bhukhmari (starvation), 'manuvaad' (caste-based oppression), Brahmanvaad (Brahmanical dominance), punjivaad (capitalism). He is asking for a country free of poverty, starvation, casteist oppression and unequal distribution of wealth. If the constitution is a yardstick to judge him by, he is fighting as much for 'India' as the students in NIT are.
Srinagar remained tense following alleged police atrocities on NIT students.
Then, Bhagat suggested that the 'media' had 'made' Kanhaiya Kumar the hero. Kumar isn't the first students' body President of JNU, neither was his politics and its expression remarkably different from predecessors in his own college or peers in other colleges, who follow left-of-centre politics. So, how, indeed, did he become a 'hero'? Here's how: the police picked up a student who was delivering a speech, exhorting people to protest the many wrongs in this country. He was later made to languish in jail for several days. He was beaten up in the court premises by 'lawyers' as the police watched.
His travails, which he has perhaps unwittingly brought upon himself, showed the country how their elected government can tighten its iron fist on the citizens' democratic rights when they fancy. That's why he became a 'hero'. It was not Kanhaiya, or Umar, or Anirban who were heroes--it was what they represented that became many people's hero. A reminder that the country shouldn't stop demanding it's rights, never mind to what length oraganised political forces in power try to stifle them.
Finally, we are surprised that Bhagat is surprised that BJP has failed to keep Indian students safe in India. After all, in Delhi and Hyderabad, BJP's government machinery had actively condemned protesting students and have been somewhat complicit in making the students 'unsafe'. Maybe, Bhagat needs to be reminded of various statements made by the likes of Smriti Irani and Rajnath Singh where they valiantly declared that anyone who they think has insulted a fictitious mother figure, will not be spared.
Bhagat is right about one thing. The NIT Srinagar students deserve applause. For protesting, making themselves heard, for keeping democracy alive. Absolutely like the students in JNU or HCU.
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