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How Paresh Rawal Set The New Normal In The Violent Narrative Against So-Called 'Anti-Nationals'

What honour does Paresh Rawal bring to his motherland? 

23/05/2017 12:08 PM IST | Updated 23/05/2017 12:08 PM IST
Jean-Christian Bourcart via Getty Images
Writer Arundhati Roy poses January 23, 2004 in New York. Arundhati Roy's most famous book is 'The God of Small Things.' (Photo by Jean-Christian Bourcart/Getty Images)

Perhaps Paresh Rawal was making a bad joke. Or perhaps he was not. But when he tweeted "Instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep tie Arundhati Roy!" he set off waves of social media shock and outrage (alongside the "Hear! Hear" adulation).

But the real shock and outrage is that we have come to such a pass that we are actually discussing who deserves to be tied to an army jeep and used as a human shield. This is not something beyond the pale. This is a subject on which we can now have opinions, a vigorous back and forth, perhaps a television debate or two with the usual pontificating talking heads. We are shocked that so-and-so is being considered as a candidate for human shield instead of being shocked that we are considering anyone as a human shield at all.

But the real shock and outrage is that we have come to such a pass that we are actually discussing who deserves to be tied to an army jeep and used as a human shield. This is not something beyond the pale.

After the initial story of the shawl embroidery artisan in Kashmir being used as a human shield broke, there was some outrage and shock. But very quickly the Whatsapp forwards changed and soon the action was being more than justified. Stories circulated about the character of Farooq Ahmed Dar, the 26-year-old man who was used as a human shield. The army said the commanding officer took the decision reluctantly and as a last resort to pass through stone pelters.

That act of justification found high level political backers and not just within the ruling party. Congress leader and Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said the army major deserved a medal for his "remarkable presence of mind and timely action that probably saved the lives of many of his men". And he added that he could not "support the view that an army officer should behave like a gentleman, come what may, and whatever the provocation."

Now comes the news that Major Leetul Gogoi will in fact be honoured for "distinguished services till now in counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir" even as the inquiry into the human shield incident continues.

And just like that we have set a new normal where we can calmly discuss a civilian being used as a human shield. Once the new normal is set, the ante is upped.

And just like that we have set a new normal where we can calmly discuss a civilian being used as a human shield. Once the new normal is set, the ante is upped. Some uber patriots said on Twitter that what Rawal suggested was non-violent. They would rather drag Arundhati Roy behind the jeep. The singer Abhijeet would like "traitors" shot. In a few days Rawal will almost sound like the calm voice of reason in the midst of those baying for blood.

The BJP's spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao tells The Wire: "Arundhati Roy has been known for anti-India propaganda over Kashmir as she is a compulsive attention seeker. Such people are best ignored than being commented upon."

It's as if Roy is the one who made the comment, seeking attention for her causes or perhaps her upcoming much-anticipated novel. By washing his hands off what his own party's MP has said Rao lets the statement stand and effectively creates a no-rights zone for those the government perceives as dissidents. Smriti Irani too has said that the government will not support "any violent message by anybody, against any individual of the country" but the statement still stands.

This is not about Arundhati Roy's politics which has its admirers and detractors. Even many who identify on the left disagree with some of her stances. This is about the growing perception that if you protest against the state, whether you are Arundhati Roy or Kanhaiya Kumar or a random young Kashmiri, you somehow give up your fundamental right to protection from that same state's constitution.

It's as if patriotism becomes an Aadhar number you must furnish, in order to claim any of the other rights that are due to you as a citizen.

It's as if patriotism becomes an Aadhar number you must furnish, in order to claim any of the other rights that are due to you as a citizen.

That's why it was perfectly OK for a BJP politician to assault those "seditious" JNU students in broad daylight on the premises of a courthouse. And that is why in launching Republic TV, anchor Arnab Goswami said bluntly "all Indians should be pro-military and pro-India. If that makes us right wing, then so be it...There can never be enough nationalism. The more the better."

Goswami basically designated his own no-go zones where no questions and no debate would be allowed. It will be met with great approval because when lawyers refuse to defend the likes of an Ajmal Kasab, it becomes a cause for national pride rather than alarm that we are going against the basic tenet of justice that everyone, no matter how horrific the crime they are accused of, has a right to be defended. Patriotism (as defined by the ruling party) uber alles.

To grant rights and protection to those whose ideology we oppose is never easy. It's much easier to say that we cannot pretend this is a game of civilized chess where both sides are playing by the same rules. It's much easier to say stone pelters need to be shown their limits. It's much easier to say that the likes of Roy need to first stop lambasting the state before demanding any rights or protection from it. It's much easier to say the Army will practice restraint once stone pelters do.

Rawal casually turns him into a stone pelter as if through guilt by association. But to even point that out would almost suggest that had it been a bona fide stone pelter, the act would be justified.

But by strapping anyone, in real life or figuratively, to the jeep we are changing the contours of the debate. To go back to Rawal's tweet. The man who was tied to the jeep was not the stone pelter but apparently a shawl embroiderer. He has challenged anyone to prove he was a stone pelter. Rawal casually turns him into a stone pelter as if through guilt by association. But to even point that out would almost suggest that had it been a bona fide stone pelter, the act would be justified.

Thus we will no longer be talking about the morality of the act. The debate will have shifted to a shortlist of worthwhile candidates for use as human shields whether it's a shawl-artisan in Kashmir or a Booker-winner from Delhi. Rawal thinks he is being a patriot. But as an MP cavalierly suggesting an act that is called a war crime by the Geneva Convention, what honour does he bring to his motherland?

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