What is a nation?
When did India become a nation?
Do its physical boundaries encompass one nation, or more than one ?
Are its boundaries sacrosanct?
What actions can be defined as “anti national”?
Is being “anti national” a punishable crime?
Can one be a patriot and still be guilty of “anti national” actions ?
I grapple for answers to these questions as the debate on the JNU crackdown rages on. In a manner of speaking, what happened or is happening in JNU does not affect me. I neither have Left leanings nor do my children study or aspire to study in JNU. I am not a Dalit or a Muslim. I hold a secure job, and speak only from the safety that is afforded by social media platforms. Because the Conduct Rules that are applicable to government servants proscribe free speech in several ways, and I do not really have the courage to speak out at the risk of losing my job, I do not make what could be considered “questionable” statements or assertions.
Nevertheless, what is happening in JNU today bothers me because it holds out the threat of a small minority arrogating to itself the authority to decide as to what can and cannot be said, in what manner one can or cannot exercise the right to free speech, and imposing these definitions on every one else on pain of being labelled , at the least, “anti national” or “traitor” and at the worst, being thrown in prison for sedition.
It is a very heterogeneous group, except for the common belief that its members have that they are the arbiters of “nationalism “. I have friends with whom I have worked on anti-corruption platforms or in civic initiatives or in such efforts as raising funds for the education of under privileged children who I now see/read telling people like me that it is “anti national ” to say this or that, that India’s territorial integrity can only be questioned by “traitors “, that those who shout anti India slogans should be summarily punished etc etc.
I fear this group because so many of them have walked the same road as I have, and it is as if they have suddenly sneaked up sideways and are trying to bludgeon me into submitting to a certain point of view. My defences are weak because I did not anticipate an attack on liberal values from this flank. “Liberal values”, I can hear them snort, “what are you, a sickular”??
I fear this group because they espouse some modern values at the same time as they work to obliterate others, so it is difficult to treat them as a monolithic “enemy” that one must be constantly alert towards.
I fear this group because so many of them are highly educated people who speak without any real understanding of the issues involved, they speak only from their hearts. Tomorrow, some of them could be in positions to influence those younger or less educated or less privileged, and to the latter they will transfer not only their emotions-disguised-as-factual positions but also a faulty manner of approaching the issues that confront India.
I fear this group and so do many of us who do not enter into debates with them for the simple reason that they are not listening to reason ! We need to stop being silent. Reason wins adherents slowly, but it is not a battle we should lose even before we begin fighting it. Prepare your arguments, and speak. Learn the legal definitions, and speak. Read the case law, and speak. Ask questions. Demand answers. Speak, so that we are not silenced.