Will I be called anti national, Mr. Prime Minister, for expressing my dissent against your government?
The Indian government is at war with college campus activists across the country. Ever since Narendra Modi became the prime minister of the country almost two years ago, his government has launched a concerted attempt to stifle liberal voices in the country. His main targets have been India’s universities, which have historically been liberal and secular playgrounds.
The latest victim of this ideological crusade is the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru university (JNU), a prestigious and much-sought-after educational institution. The president of the JNU student’s union Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested under sedition charges and senior ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have termed his voice of dissent on the university’s campus as “anti-national.”
It all started last week, when a group of JNU students held an event to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru, a convicted terrorist in the 2001 attack on India’s parliament who was hanged to death in 2013. According to the reliable sources inside the campus, some Kashmiri students shouted anti-India slogans when members of the BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), provoked them and claimed undisputed rights over Kashmir. These sorts of clashes of ideas and points of views are supposed to be the identity of the JNU campus. Students debate openly and challenge established notions.
The government now questions this openness and freedom—the very democratic right of dissent—in the name of nationalism. It’s not that such questioning has taken place on the campus for the first time: Anyone who has studied in Delhi and has been part of the university culture in the city can vouch for the culture of nonconformism across the JNU campus, which was built in 1960s to promote higher education in India.
The Hindu right-wing government, which has never found any considerable foothold on the campus, is trying to infiltrate this bastion of liberalism and free thought by using the might of the state. The academic life of the campus is now in a complete state of paralysis, with students and teachers alike out on the streets demanding the release of the student union president.
In a hard-hitting article in the Indian Express Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that “we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent. It is using nationalism to crush constitutional patriotism, legal tyranny to crush dissent, political.. (read further)