An Open Letter to a Closed Mind
Dear Nationalistically-inclined, morally-supreme, omnipotent,'liberal-sickular-presstitude' annihilators,
You must already have judged me by the statement in Italics above (*The font was obviously not chosen because Mrs.Gandhi hails from Italy).
A lot of questions, pertinent at that, must be thronging your mind. Your fingers must be frantically dancing on your keypad, your mind- occupied with devising the choicest abuses to throw my way. How dare I talk about free ideas and opinions? How dare I utter the R word ? What gives me the right to insult our soldiers by denouncing the use of armed weapons? Where was I when the emergency was imposed? Why don't I just accept it that the Congress has paid me to write this? This is a statement of anti-national conjectures and I must be immediately packed off to Pakistan.
Well, so be it. But just so you know, you will have to, hereon, quit your stake to Shaheed Bhagat Singh's legacy because these are precisely the words he used to defend his acts of rebellion in the Lahore High Court. Surprised? Don't be. Indian history is an ocean of sheer magnificence. It can not be moulded to either suit the tunes of the first dynasty or fit the bill of Sangh's ideology.
I write this letter as a worried citizen who is being subjected to needless quarrels and bitter arguments about the status of my country, everyday. Flipping between the tags of 'pseudo-intellectual' and 'anti-national', my beliefs need to be aggressively labeled until I subscribe to a specific line of thought. The din of the past few months has ripped the sheen off the proverbial 'Achhe Din' (Pun intended). Though I can cull numerous instances which have now been conveniently shoved under the carpet, let me focus my energies on just one- Kanhaiya- The not-so-glamorous 'Student of the year' who was branded, detained and reprimanded for having spoken his mind in a place which has been legitimately devised to air free ideas. Welcome to the world of a University, Dear 'Viraat' Nationalists- A place many of you might not have witnessed first-hand, quite like the minister with a Yale-certification, who has mastered the art of veiling her apparent flaws under layers of acute histrionics. I will not take the liberty of talking about how student movements are handled in the United States or across most parts of Europe. Evidently, these countries are not the benchmarks we have set for comparison. Our standards revolve around Pakistan and Bangladesh whose levels of tolerance/intolerance we often refer to. I will also not take this opportunity to talk about what transpired in the Jawaharlal Nehru University. It has been shown (both doctored and original versions) and talked about relentlessly. What I am instead going to remonstrate is the law which was used to give shape to this entire incident. At this point, let us quickly steal a glance at the following-
"Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or a system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence. But this is a section under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it; I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me, to be the highest duty of a citizen".
These words, attributed to the man we revere as the Father of our Nation (Nation being the keyword here), found voice when Gandhi was charged with the sedition behemoth. And he was not alone. Lokmanya Tilak had to bear the brunt of this draconian law as well. It is only intriguing that while the political environ has transformed massively today (democratic ideals notwithstanding) these remarks, still hold water. Of what use is a law which has outlived its utility? Having given to ourselves a pluralistic constitution, why must we retain an anachronism whose singular purpose is to stifle dissent? The Constitution, under Article 19 (1)(a), already provides for a well-founded platform wherein reasonable restrictions have been placed on the freedom of speech and expression, 'maintenance of public order' being one of them. Why should then, Section 124 A be held on to, in its current form, unless it is clandestinely being used to bestow unlimited power to the high and mighty? This point having been made, let us come to the second. On what grounds has sedition been recently invoked? It was lately brought to the fore when a group of students were allegedly found to have raised slogans which threatened the sovereignty and integrity of India. The Supreme Court was said to have been disrespected, hardened terrorists were supposedly idolized and it was forewarned that this country would be shredded to pieces. The content of these slogans remains unjustifiable. No right-minded citizen would be swayed by these words of dastardly incompetence. However, let us accept the fact that these students aren't the only ones who have taken up the cause of the terrorists. Prominent political leaders, including a plethora of formidable regional satraps, have taken up the cudgels for them. Judgments have been fairly criticized, harsh debates have followed and hate speech has been eulogized. And yet, none of it has been classified as sedition. Let's get this straight. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that as long as an utterance does not cause 'incitement to violence', it does not constitute sedition. So much so, that the apex court considered it wise to let go of even those who were caught shouting 'Khalistan Zindabad', a few years ago.
Going strictly by this definition, a Maya Kodnani waving a revolver, asking her companions to go for a kill was sedition; a Babu Bajrangi beseeching his comrades to cut off people's genitals was sedition; a Jagdish Tytler exhorting his partymen to lead a rampage was sedition. Arresting students on flimsy charges and playing a part in politicizing a non-issue is nothing more than an old trick up a dispensation's sleeve, to distract our attention from the 56-inch disillusionment which has begun to steadily creep in. Irony, in fact, will die a silent death if a religiously-propelled party like the BJP is endangered by someone called Kanhaiya.
At the risk of sounding anti-national (which I probably am by now), I'd like to make a mention of another word which has been ruthlessly pushed down our throats in the past few days.'Nationalism'. As if 'Intolerance' was not enough, we now have to prove our love for our country by either endorsing that everything is hunky-dory or being denied a certificate of patriotism. Television anchors who make a living off shouting out their lungs, have grabbed these bits of news like hungry wolves and changed them into shoddy sensationalism.
Let me swiftly take you back to 2011- A year which changed the course of Indian history. A man in his seventies, surrounded by a few good Samaritans, took up the cause which bled the hearts of many common folk- Corruption. The movement sprang many surprises. It catapulted Mr.Kejriwal to the high-bred chair of a Chief Minister, twice in a span of four years. It saw Ms.Bedi, Mr.V.K.Singh and Mr.Anupam Kher (well, almost) going into the folds of the BJP, to seek solace from the ills that plagued the country. And most importantly, it trounced the grand old party from its ivory tower and reduced it to a measly number of 44. Now remember the time when the movement was at its prime. Did anyone cry hoarse? Did someone transform a spontaneous uprising into an engineered assault on the state? Was sedition used for spreading 'disaffection' or 'disloyalty' towards the popular government? Were people in the Ramlila ground arrested for having aired their opinion? Come back to 2016. All it takes for one to be charged is a simple mention of 'Mahishasura'. All it takes for one to be labeled anti-national is to offer a diverse perspective. Where is this coming from? Why have the limits of tolerance suddenly plummeted? Why is the fabric of a heterogeneous country like India being dyed in the winds of European homogeneity? I hope you can recall the last time the concept of a 'Nation' was nurtured so vigorously? Yes, it was the reign of the Third Reich. By the way, Dear Nation-loving-Humanity-hating creed, did you know that Rabindranath Tagore, the man who opened the Indian shores to a Nobel was actually anti-national? Here, have a look-
"What is a nation? It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power which insists on people becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort to become mechanical, drains man's energy from his higher nature where he is sacrificing and creative. Yet he feels all the sense of moral exultation and thus becomes supremely dangerous to humanity. By this device, people who love freedom, perpetuate slavery with the comfortable feeling of having done one's duty; Men who are honest can blindly rob others of their human rights for self-aggrandizement, all the while abusing the deprived for not deserving better treatment"
At this age and stage, India deserves better. We deserve better than to relegate ourselves to cat-fights over who said what and why. We deserve better than to injure this country's soul by resorting to sheer hypocrisy. We deserve better than to brand everyone who registers dissent as having some hidden motive. We deserve a thriving, striving and lively atmosphere where diverse ideas form the foundation for collective action and a multitude of compassion transcends the narrow inroads of hatred. As I end this letter, I'd only like to remind my fellow citizens of a quote by Martin Niemoller, which (by my own admittance) I have taken the liberty to tweak (and certainly not doctor)-
Yesterday, they took away my secularism and I didn't say anything.
Today, they are taking away my nationalism and I am not saying anything.
Tomorrow they will take away my individualism and I will not be left in a condition to say anything.
Another guy next door