03/03/2017 3:52 PM IST | Updated 03/03/2017 4:17 PM IST

How Gurmehar Kaur's Protest Shows That Politics Is Not Necessarily A Bad Word

Say it loud and clear.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Gurmehar Kaur's witch-hunt on social platforms, as well as by a section of the mainstream media, ended with the 20-year-old Delhi University student making two clear statements: that she wanted to be left alone and she did not wish to enter politics.

The suspicion that Kaur may be affiliated with a political party was quick to spread, thanks to those who made it their full-time preoccupation to abuse, harass and threaten her with sexual violence, on social media. The video, where she spoke of her father, a soldier martyred in the 1999 Kargil War when she was barely two years old, had been made by one Ram Subramanian, who has volunteered for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). According to troll logic, this must make her an AAP accomplice as well. 1+1 = whatever.

The belief that Kaur was an AAP stooge, by virtue of this stray association, deprived her of any agency in exercising her judgement over supporting a cause. That an individual could share the sentiments of a party without necessarily claiming to be a card-carrying member of it is an idea too complex to be processed by people whose only arsenal against intelligent protest is to cry murder and rape. Just because you consider yourself a good Hindu doesn't make you a supporter of saffron politics. By the same logic, you may be just as deeply appalled by inequality as by the tactics of the Left parties — without compromising the integrity of your politics.

Politics is perhaps the most sullied word in the lexicon of contemporary public discourse in India, thanks to its indelible association with party politics over several decades now. The sordid workings of governance had blighted it so profoundly that it is hard to redeem its ancillary meanings, one of which, as the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, is "a particular set of beliefs or principles". The word and its cognate (political) are uttered with disdain, spat out with distaste, and used pejoratively.

To many, "politics" conjures a vision of parliamentarians scuffling among themselves or rallies where elected leaders spew hate. But in its original, more pristine form it alluded to conviction, courage, values and determination. That's why it adds ballast to the struggles of feminists, queer people and other minorities, who are fighting to seek specific forms of justice.

Apart from the monstrous legacies of our recent political past, middle-class India has another reason to shun politics — and to encourage the younger generation to stay away from it as well. In an essay in The Indian Express, reflecting on Kaur's experience, Pratap Bhanu Mehta outlines the trajectory of student politics in India's states, co-opted by political parties down the decades, now waiting to be taken over and transformed at the Central universities too. A cursory knowledge of the course of this history — from the rise of Naxalism in the 1960s and 70s to the saffronising of education in our time — should make us feel uneasy about the legacy of our educational institutions.

Parents and elders, with the best interests in their hearts, may want to keep the young away from student politics, when the evolution of a political consciousness ought to be celebrated as a sign of maturity.

Parents and elders, with the best interests in their hearts, may want to keep the young away from student politics, when the evolution of a political consciousness ought to be celebrated as a sign of maturity. In its broadest sense, politics should enable the young to recognise injustice, speak their mind fearlessly, oppose views that are detrimental to the well-being of themselves and their fellow beings as well as instil in them the humility to stand corrected of any misconceptions.

Some of the greatest social revolutions in the history of humanity — be it the civil rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam War or the oppressions of the Chinese state — have involved mass participation by the youth. These have been sustained and successful because of the enthusiasm, perseverance, courage and resilience of the young in the face of violent opposition by the state and its actors.

The thousands who marched in Delhi recently to protest against the attack on the faculty and students of Ramjas College or those who took to the streets of Kolkata in numbers demanding the removal of the vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University in 2014 proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that embracing a personal value system or holding on to one's belief in what is good, fair and just is a quality to be only proud of. It is a virtue that should be nurtured and communicated. That politics is not such a bad word after all.

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