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Why I Was Dismayed By Kanhaiya Kumar's 'Freedom' Speech

04/03/2016 1:00 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 3: JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar addressing JNU students after his release on March 3, 2016 in New Delhi, India. Kanhaiya Kumar was granted interim bail for six months by the Delhi High Court after spending 20 days in jail. Kumar was arrested on February 12 on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy after alleged anti-national slogans were raised on the JNU campus on February 9. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

First and foremost, I was delighted to hear about Kanhaiya Kumar's interim bail. However, I was deeply disappointed by the speech he gave upon his return to the JNU campus. I had been expecting him to act responsibly and to clarify that 'anti-national' slogans are not acceptable, not on the JNU campus nor anywhere else. A formal apology to all the families who lost their loved ones during the attack on Parliament would have been fabulous.

He spoke of freedom and some of it made sense:

"Once again let's raise slogans for freedom - not from India, but within India. Freedom from those who looted India. Freedom from hunger, poverty, the caste system--all of that."

It was an angry, political speech more than a sincere call for justice.

Yet, instead of making a strong case for this stand, he resorted to low blows at the country's Prime Minister, ridiculing the country and making a mockery of India as a nation. In doing this he is well within his rights, but the raising of slogans such as "Bharat se nahi, Bharat me Azadi" just highlights his talents as a rabble-rouser. It was an angry, political speech more than a sincere, path-showing call for justice. I'd also like to point out that "freedom from caste" should also include freedom from reservations.

If our country's freedom of speech and the Constitution were indeed under threat and run by the RSS, Kanhaiya wouldn't be out on an interim bail, which is basically a Constitutional right guaranteed under Article 21(right to liberty). However, this does not mean he is exonerated. Kanhaiya's speech may be seen to violate the court's conditions for his bail, which noted that he should not participate in any "anti-national activity". He is toying with this condition and already disrespecting the court.

I would urge Kanhaiya that before asking others to listen, he may want to read the Constitution of India, specifically the various rules and provisions governing free speech and the limitations thereof. In the tumultuous times that we live in, where individual freedom can be used to abuse and sometimes jeopardize the very state and Constitution that provides that freedom to the individual, it is the responsibility of the executive and the judiciary to draw some lines on individual freedom. And it is the responsibility of the citizens to honour the responsibility that comes with the power of free speech. I am not in any way suggesting that Kanhaiya should not speak in mind, but a little restraint could go a long way in making his message more powerful and less destructive.

It is frivolous, irresponsible and unfair to mock our hard-achieved freedom and fundamental rights.

For example, his continuous use of the rather loaded word 'azadi' or freedom could be replaced by a call for fairness. It took a lot for our country to achieve freedom; it's been just 69 years since then and yet we have made our mark in the world. It is just misleading and wrong to suggest that we are in some sort of totalitarian state (predictably, Hitler found a mention in the speech!).

The problem with most of the people in our country today is we tend to support parties and not policies and issues. We defend our party of choice by pointing out flaws in others. No party can be right all the time. And while there is nothing wrong in highlighting such flaws, it is frivolous, irresponsible and unfair to mock our hard-achieved freedom and fundamental rights.

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