One of the most renowned universities of India, producing prolific academicians, bureaucrats, diplomats etc.- the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi became the hub controversy this past week. It all started with an event organized to commemorate the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, who had been convicted in the Parliament attack case and had been hanged to death. Before we discuss this issue, it is important to state at the outset, that much of the evidence in the case is still under consideration and is being revealed in stages. There have also been videos of the incident doing the rounds, but their veracity is yet to be fully attested.
On February 9, 2016, a group of students had decided to hold a protest event in memory of Afzal Guru and had been given permission for the same by the JNU authorities. However, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) objected to the same and informed the JNU administration about this. The administration cancelled the permission for the event but students who had gathered for the pro-Afzal Guru event were infuriated with this last-minute cancellation. Meanwhile, some ABVP members gathered near the venue as well to protest against this event if it was carried out.
Matters soon escalated and the two groups started shouting slogans at each other. According to videos released, the pro-Afzal Guru group started shouting that they will not rest until Afzal’s killers are alive and that India will be destroyed. Sources suggest that there are some other videos which show that some ABVP members, in fact, shouted anti-India slogans. The ABVP claims that the videos have been morphed. While the JNU administration instituted a disciplinary inquiry into the issue, JNU turned into a battlefield of sorts when the police was allowed unhindered access to the campus and given search powers. As a student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested on charges of sedition, several political bigwigs descended on the JNU campus to show their support for the student community and condemning the actions of the police and the government that was trying to suppress any and every voice of dissent against it. Some even compared the incident at JNU with Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide (whose voice, they said, had also been suppressed by the oppressive regime).
Over the past few days, opinion has been divided between the anti-India and pro-India ideology, some hailing the strict stance against such activities and how it was shameful that a prestigious Central university in the country’s capital had become a ‘hub of anti-national activities’ while others calling it a blatant attempt at silencing any voice of dissent and that such treatment of a peaceful march was uncalled for.
It is too early to take an informed stand on the issue for the investigation into the case is still pending. Having said that, one cannot deny that while the right to freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental and inalienable right, it must not be treated as a license to make unwarranted speeches against the country and its integrity. It is an especially sensitive issue for students are involved and tempers are likely to flare, many impressionable minds are likely to be affected and power-politics is likely to play a part. The days to come will shed more light on the issue, till then, let us pray for freedom of speech and expression and tolerance for a ‘united’ India.