An Open Letter To Fellow Indian Citizens
By Rutuja Deshmukh Wakankar
15 February, 2016
Dear Fellow Citizens,
Today I write to all of you and especially the Indian upper and middle class (emphasize mine), as one amongst you. We are at the brink of destruction; by we I mean us as a nation. I fully understand the implication of my statement, which is very serious in nature. But I am afraid we have reached here with solely our indignant efforts and misinformed perseverance. In the recent times we have made ourselves prey of mindless propaganda, development agendas without really understand the meaning of truly developed state and hyper-nationalism. Of all these, Nationalism has been aggravating us almost in an un-natural manner; or rather the anti-national. The definition of the anti-national is something we are defining and tightening with every passing day! To an extent that we are just not ready to hear any argument, counter argument or discord against the perpetuated right-wing ideology in recent years.
I will bring your (and mine) attention to the recent arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, President of JNUSU and a student of in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Many of us showed our outrage in the social media against the ‘traitor JNU Students and professors’, asininely compared the situation to the death of an Indian Soldier Hanumanthappa to the agitating students in JNU. Mind you we were not doing this for this first time; we are in the habit of picking up two entirely different situations from absolutely different backgrounds and comparing them. Earlier we have compared noted actor Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran, whom Aamir had quoated in an award function saying that his wife felt unsafe in the current environment of the country to the wife of martyred Col Mahadik, who apparently made a statement saying her children would also join the Indian Armed Forces. We resorted to dissecting each statement, which were made in the completely different scenarios and context. Not only that we tried insanely to connect these two statements but also branded one as anti-national and the other as epitome of patriotism.
Yesterday on social media I read some of us again making this stupendous blunder of comparing the media coverage of Hanumanthappa, who died in an avalanche in the Siachen glacier and that of the arrested JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar. The latter we claimed was getting more coverage than the former! First of all that is not true, there was enough media coverage of Hanumanthappa and his struggle to stay alive and his fighting spirit (which I admire); in fact we made a voyeuristic display of emotion when he fought death in the hospital. I remember a channel playing a Bollywood song while reporting on his health conditions! And if at all Indian media is reporting on the crises and resistance from the students at a university; it is its primary job! Moreover while demanding justice for JNUSU president, no one is disrespecting Hanumanthappa. Death of soldiers and 800 soldiers till date is a very critical issue that needs an independent platform for discussion. The war in Siachen glacier is with nature, which both the nations’ governments need to understand and take concrete steps towards de-militarization.
We have to understand that the words and speech can be criminalized and punished only in situations where it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action. Mere words and phrases by themselves, no matter how distasteful, do not amount to a criminal offence unless this condition is met.
Not only were there no exhortations to violence in what he said, Kumar openly embraced the ideals of the Constitution of India and the freedom struggle. If any of us bothered to hear his speech, he went on to idolize Bhagant Singh and Babasaheb Ambedkar. We need to understand that being anti-government does not equate to being anti-national.
The same strategy was used, again using the charge of anti-nationalism, in Hyderabad University to discipline Ambedkarites to the ABVP's advantage, leading to Rohith Vemula's suicide.
We are falling prey to hyper nationalism thereby destroying our very own ability to question and counter everything that falls under the public domain. Instead we are question people’s private issues like dietary habits and love choices.
In the dangerous times like this where our home minister goes on national media to claim that the Lashkar-e-Taiba head Hafiz Sayeed organized the protest meet at JNU and his only reference to this is a fake tweeter handle, we as citizens fall prey to this not only irresponsible but juvenile behavior.
We cannot promote a patriotism that proposes to wipe out plurality! It is essential that we do not confuse several issues and even if we feel that certain opinions are misguided nevertheless a person has the right of expression. We are also missing a point that using coercive state power against anyone who disagrees is harmful for liberal democracy.
Have we become mindless people who get agitated without knowing the facts? Or are we conveniently siding with the situations that are easy to stand for?
We need to ask these questions to ourselves. If we do not, I am reminded of the lines from Allama Iqbal’s poetry-
Na Samjhoge Toh Mitjaoge aye Hindustanwaalon
Tumahari Dastaan bhi nah hogi daastanon mein..
PS: I hope quoting a Pakistani poet does not amount to sedition.
Rutuja Deshmukh Wakankar is a former journalist with Indian Express. She has taught Cinema Studies at Allahabad University. She is an avid photographer and held exhibitions of her work in Pune. She is also a qualified Advanced Open Water SCUBA Diver.