The great infection: No reason to celebrate Kanhaiya's release

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 03, 2016 15:26 hrs
Students and activists shout slogans as they celebrate bail being granted to Kanhaiya Kumar.

The Delhi High Court judgement by Justice Pratibha Rani is a terrifying indication of where we are as a nation right now. While Kanhaiya Kumar has been given bail, this is no cause for celebration for either him or anyone else. 

For him, because it certifies him a criminal and a seditionist and he is neither. He is just a conservative, nationalist Leftie, law-abiding and with full faith in the Indian Constitution. 

For me, it is not because I have very little faith in the Constitution and am anti-national so I could be in jail next. 

And for all of us because we have been unequivocally told that to be free and democratic citizens, we have to love India and everything about it without condition.  

We have to sing patriotic songs from Upkaar, we have to think of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat as criminals and we have to realize that our democratic rights and freedoms in Universities are because the army is fighting wars for us on the border.

This is a frightening vision of democracy. Democracy, as I understand it, has little or nothing to do with what the army does. It is, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, a government by, for and of the people, not the army. By people, we mean the majority. 

In India, the majority might well be no different from Justice Pratibha Rani. But democracy also recognizes that there will be people who are not the majority and a democracy protects their rights to be who they are. 

A democracy also needs healthy criticism from its people. In Günter Grass’ words, a citizen’s duty in a democracy or indeed in any form of government is to keep his/her mouth open. This judgement shuts our mouths.

Justice Pratibha Rani is worried about JNU slogans demoralizing the Indian army. But what about the demoralized mothers, fathers, wives, sons and daughters of thousands of other Kashmiris who have been disappeared, killed, buried in unmarked, collective graves. 

What about the mothers and fathers of Nilofer and Asiya? Do they have no place in India’s democracy? Clearly not. Is it a surprise, then, that Kashmiris raise the slogans mentioned in the judgement? Kashmir is at the heart of this issue and the judgement does not consider it legitimate to even talk about it in Indian democracy.

But an even more pathetic and shameful politics is at work. Why has a UP Hindu (Kanhaiya Kumar) and a Maharashtrian Muslim (Umar Khalid) and sundry other Hindu boys the targets of government’s ire in JNU? Why not Kashmiri students of which there are many in JNU? Is it because of the BJP’s tie-up with the PDP, for whom Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat are martyrs? Why aren’t all the PDP leaders also booked for sedition? Why isn’t the BJP as a party booked for sedition for tying up with people who have no respect for the Indian army and what they are doing in Kashmir?

Does it mean, then, that the true seditionists in this country are the members and supporters of the BJP?  The fact is that the only people who hate this country are those who speak of the army and battles and loving India and ‘make in India’ but actually sell India bit by bit to the United States and the rest of the Western world and Israel.

Oh and some of us too, who do not like nationalism, do not want armies, do not want battles, do not need battles on the border to be able to have conversations in Universities. We believe that conversations in and outside Universities and anywhere in the world are our lifeblood. 

If that is an infection in our blood, we are proudly infected. If you try and amputate us, we will fight back. It is you who need amputation, not us.

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Ashley Tellis is an Associate Professor in Gender, Writing and Research at IMHST, BALM, Chennai

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