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.
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)