Sedition and less

Universities, college campuses and students have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. A wave of unrest has hit the youth across the country. A certain amount of dissent is expected from young blood and is necessary to make educational institution a nurturing ground for new ideas. Sadly with the rise of intolerance, disagreement has been equated to betrayal. Nationalism, patriotism, and sedition have been redefined. Loyalty is no longer a sentiment which lies deep within. It has to be worn on the sleeve for everyone to see.

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In these times of frayed nerves and raw emotions two incidents continue to baffle me. That they occurred almost simultaneously adds to the irony. The sloganeering at JNU based on unsubstantiated video footage and the riots in Haryana, the remnants of looting and arson are in plain sight. Surprisingly, the former caused more outrage in the media, invited harsher redressal by the government and indignation from the public.

Before going further I’d like to clarify that I am not debating the virtues of nationalism over liberalism or getting into the legitimacy of the Jat’s claim to backwardness. My concern is in the way the events played out and the response they generated. I do not endorse anti- national slogans, I don’t believe that freedom of speech is absolute. But in a nation as large and diverse as India there will always be voices of dissent and discord. Does the country need to go after every misguided student with such vigour ? A case was registered and the student leader was arrested within days of the incident. In sharp contrast mobs went on a rampage in Haryana for more than a week while the government watched helplessly. Houses were burnt, business establishments looted, public property damaged, roads and railway lines blocked. The entire state was brought to its knees by leaderless rioters. What started as a stir for Jat reservation metamorphosed into targeted plundering. Casteless antisocial elements joined the mayhem in the ensuing lawlessness. Rough estimates have put the losses at 35000 crore rupees, thirty lives were lost and reports of molestation and rapes have been substantiated.

I am an ordinary citizen and lack the vision of statesmen. I don’t fully understand abstract concepts like national pride. Probably thats why the gravity of the sloganeering escapes me. I feel more deeply for the needless loss of property and lives of my country men. I am concerned about the mistrust that has been created. I am scared that the communal tension will simmer and surface at the slightest provocation. I am worried that the state and its machinery may not be able to protect me from unruly mobs. I am outraged that confidence building exercises of ‘ imposing curfew’ and ‘ calling in the army’ have lost meaning. I despair that a wrong precedent has been set which will encourage more instances of lawlessness and anarchy.

As a commoner, the incongruity of the response defies my ‘common’ sense. Although there was no proof of actual incitement to subversive violence, the students of JNU were charged with sedition, and reluctantly let out on bail after twenty days. In Haryana, the frenzied mobs got away with the loot as the government succumbed to their demands. While I appreciate the government’s effort to snuff out traitors before they take root I would feel safer if I could rely on the state’s might to protect person and property. Someone hurling insults at my country makes me cringe but destruction of national property makes me seethe. As a tax paying Indian, I had a share in the 35000 crore which went up in smoke. It was my money too!

In the past two months I have tried long and hard to see the bigger picture, to understand the concept of nation states and social responsibility. I have tried and failed to comprehend why reams of newsprint and infinite sound bytes were spent on the antics of Kanhaiya and company while Haryana burned in relative silence. If anti national slogans cause more concern than blatant destruction of public property then our definition of patriotism and respect for the motherland needs to be re-examined. For what do we love and respect if we do not love and respect the lives and property of fellow citizens. A nation is not only a geographical entity because boundaries change, it is not the fantasy of a glorious past or breast beating jingoism. It is a pulsating mass of humans who, mostly by accident of birth, commit to live together in unison. Destroying an Indian’s life or livelihood is a slur on India.

If I have to endure it, I choose the lesser evil. Protect me from physical harm and tangible losses. I can live with hurt sentiments and verbal abuse. Sticks and stones break my bones, words hurt too, but not as much……

( carried in the Tribune as a part of my Sunday Column on 8/5/2016)

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17 thoughts on “Sedition and less

  1. Sunita singh says:

    Well said Manju. Definition of Nationalism and patriotism need to be discussed seriously. The laws of sedition can’t be the same in democracy as were in preindependence era.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Sunita. Yes these words need to be debated and redefined. But who will bell the cat. In any case voices of reason are drowned in the cacophony of insanity.I find it intriguing that
      Rabindranath’s Tagore was critical of the modern idea of nation/ nation-states. He had a affinity for non-sectarian humanist/modernist position.

  2. Rahul Gupta says:

    Ma’am
    Today i read your excellent column on Tribune wherein you’ve done brilliant analysis of fake nationalism and patriotism. You’ve rightly said “If anti national slogans cause more concern than blatant destruction of public property then our definition of patriotism and respect for the motherland needs to be re-examined.” Yes we can live with hurt sentiments and verbal abuse but not violence every now and then.
    I would again say thank you ma’am.. Also i’d like to tell you that i share your piece on my twitter handle “rrahulsays”. Looking forward to your future columns.
    Thanks!!!!

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks for taking the trouble to write in and thanks for the kind words. I write frequently for various newspapers, you can find my articles on my blog ALifeExtraordinarilyOrdinary.com. Read them whenever you have time. I look forward to your feedback

  3. Ripujit Randhawa says:

    SEDITION AND LESS’
    Perhaps the best thing I found in the paper today … Thank you.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      An exaggeration….but it certainly made my day. Thanks a lot

  4. LR Sharma says:

    Respected Dr Gupta
    Jai Hind!
    The comparison between the destruction & loot during the Jat stir in Haryana and the Kanhaiya episode in your ‘Sedition and less’ (Tribune May 8) was simply marvellous. I agree to every word you wrote. And what a choice of words! It was a piercing message in poetry. Hats off to you!
    Er L R Sharma from Sundernagar.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thank you sir for your kind comments. Hoping to hear your comments on other articles I have written. You can find them on my blog ALifeExtraordinarilyOrdinary.com.
      Rohtak ki Roohtak will interest you. Mr Harish Khare included it in his weekly column and called it a free verse poem

  5. Dr Minoo Thakur says:

    Yes, I agree with what u have to say ,u have exppressed it v well.If we have such weak governance insecurity is of great concern.
    So Manju keep writing ,your efforts added to your writing talents may be a wake up call in many a issue.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thank you Dr Minoo. We, as a nation, need to differentiate a threat to our security from a threat to our sentiments and Choose our battles wisely

  6. rohini sehgal says:

    Totally agree that sedition has to be redefined. Also agree that media over hypes certain situations .But at the same time there is a distinct line between freedom of speech and sedition which should never be crossed .A lot of struggle and pain has made us a free country .have heard painful stories of partition from my father and it pains me when young people shout slogans against our country in the name of freedom of speech.You can say against a political party,against a person and against government but against nation speech I can never take it under freedom of speech. Whether it comes under sedition I can not say but never under freedom of speech.
    On the other hand destruction of public property for proving that one is backward again baffles me .
    Both situations need to be controlled in a way so that people are afraid to repeat them

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      I agree with your stance on anti national slogans but the question here is ….did they? Didn’t they? This opposed to ‘in your face ‘ evidence of the jat riots.
      My concern is how is the latter ‘ less than sedition’?

      1. rohini sehgal says:

        Manju i would say there is no comparison. Different issues
        Riots to be condemned first and irresponsible freedom of speech a close second

  7. kavita aneja says:

    Manju u are a thinker …an analyser …probably that is why u r a writer…ur write up was thot provoking. …else we dont really set to equate instances…..
    I like ur closing sentiment that says …u can live with verbal hurt but dread broken bones……..
    As is rightly said…..choose ur battles wisely. ..if u fight them all….u will b too tired to fight d real ones. ….
    So wch was d real one here…..ur writeup sets me thinking. ….and i think I cant agree more……

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Kavita. Yours and the others (you know who!) inputs on nationalism and patriotism gave me a lot of clarity on this issue.

  8. Mr L. J Singh says:

    Apropos,Sunday Tribune,8 May,HERE & NOW page ‘Sedition and less’,by Manju Gupta,the article has well highlighted that what is more and what is less seditious.
    Which has caused more devastation and public peril,the JNU incident or the destruction by the frenzied fanatics’s lawlessness in Haryana?The JNU sloganeering students were charged with serious Sedition,and the vandalising Jat protesters were rewarded with the acceptance of their Reservation,unjustified demand,after holding the people to ransom.
    Going by the recent incidents being tarred with the brush of Sedition charges, there is urgent need for a Re-Look at Sedition Law . The charges of sedition against some of the JNU students, even before any proper investigation by authorities, had set the stage for intense protests else where that have followed.Some time back Hardik Patel was charged for sedition just for his demand of Reservation for his community.The sedition law is very clear that it can be invoked only when any action or speech constitutes incitement to any violence ,which does not seem to be the case in the earlier Hardik or recent JNU cases.In any case,just taking exception to the controversial alleged anti-India slogans and criminalising JNU students is to deny them the right to express their ideas and opinion,however intense they may appear to be.
    There seems to be a dire need for the wiser heads of our political parties to introspect.
    Thanking you.
    Yours truly.
    L.J.Singh, Retd. Chief Engineer(M.M)
    419(GF), E.M.Nagar. S.W.ROAD, AMRITSAR

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      The Tribune forwarded your letter to me. Thanks sir for your appreciation and insightful comments.

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